Crunchy, Savory Chickpea Snacks

IMG_2811This easy snack is a great replacement for chips or Doritos when you are craving something salty and savory but don’t want to reach for an unhealthy processed food. Kids at my daughter’s elementary school enjoyed these snacks and were actually the ones who came up with the suggestion that they taste like Doritos!

Chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) are packed with fiber and when complemented with a grain provide a complete protein. This is why so many cultures around the world combine legumes and grains in their meals when meat is scarce (lentils and naan, beans and rice, peas and corn). It’s also why I allow my kids to snack on crunchy chickpeas and popcorn! (Chickpeas are a legume; popcorn is a grain)

Having recently hosted a Harvest of the Month demo at my daughter’s school, I happened to have several large cans of pre-cooked chickpeas on hand from Marias River Farm so I used canned chickpeas to make the crunchy bites pictured above. However, the healthiest and cheapest way to prepare these bites would be to purchase dried (uncooked) chickpeas in bulk and sprout them first. Sprouting releases more of the nutrients in the chickpeas for absorption by your digestive system. The instructions below assume you will take this approach. If you’re just using canned chickpeas, skip to Part II.

Instructions Part I – Sprouting and Cooking

To sprout your chickpeas, soak in filtered water for approximately 12 hours. Drain the water and transfer the chickpeas to a colander and cover with a cheesecloth or clean lightweight dishtowel. Rinse the chickpeas every 8-12 hours until you notice little tails beginning to emerge from the chickpeas (this will take 1-2 days). As soon as the tails begin to emerge, they are ready to cook, although if you wait a little longer and the tails begin to grow longer, that’s fine too.

Boil the chickpeas in enough water to submerge them with about an inch of water remaining above the top. After bringing to a brief boil, simmer for 20-40 minutes until the chickpeas are tender. Test the chickpeas periodically and keep an eye on the water level—you may need to add a bit more water as they simmer if they’re taking a while to soften.

Instructions Part II – Roasting or Dehydrating

Drain the excess water from your chickpeas (whether boiled or canned) and rinse with clean water. You have two options for preparing crunchy chickpeas: your oven or a dehydrator. For large quantities of chickpeas, a dehydrator works wonderfully. Simply spread the chickpeas out on the trays (make sure they aren’t completely jam packed) and set to 140 degrees for about 18 hours. Once they are crunchy, turn off the dehydrator, coat in olive oil and mix in the seasonings below.

If you are using your oven, spread the chickpeas out on trays on top of parchment paper or silicone baking sheets (I like silicone baking sheets because they are non-stick, dishwasher safe, and reusable so that I’m not constantly throwing out used parchment paper). Make sure the chickpeas aren’t too tightly packed or they will take quite a bit longer to cook. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-40 minutes, shaking the trays halfway through to facilitate even cooking. Once the chickpeas are crunchy, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool a bit before adding the olive oil and seasonings. This ensures that the heat of the chickpeas doesn’t damage the quality of your olive oil, which is best consumed unheated if you are using extra virgin like I do.

Seasonings (per 1 cup of dried chickpeas)

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

If you like some spice, feel free to throw in some chili powder or to vary the blend of seasonings to suit your taste buds. I’m thinking that a touch of fresh-squeezed lime juice would also be delicious!

How many chickpeas should you prepare? It depends on the quantity of final product you want. 1 cup of dried chickpeas will result in approximately 2 cups of cooked chickpeas—but then these will shrink back down again once they are roasted or dehydrated. In general, the quantity of dried chickpeas you sprout and cook will be the quantity of crunchy chickpeas you end up with. If you’re starting with canned chickpeas, then you will end up with approximately half of the volume of chickpeas in your final product.

As I mentioned above, I like to complement crispy chickpeas with stove-popped popcorn for a full-protein, high-fiber snack. Just as with the chickpeas, I use extra-virgin olive oil and a bit of sea salt to flavor my popcorn. Real butter also tastes wonderful, but it takes an extra minute or two to melt so I tend to go for the olive oil!

Guilt-free “Fudge”

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Mmm, doesn’t this look rich and delicious? It is! Even better, it only takes about five minutes to prepare and has hardly any sugar!

I actually discovered this recipe out of laziness. My girls wanted me to make homemade peanut butter cups, which requires an extra step of preparing the peanut butter base first, refrigerating it, then adding the chocolate covering. For this faux fudge recipe, I simply mixed all of the ingredients together at once, refrigerated, and enjoyed!

Ingredients:

  • Natural peanut butter (any nut butter would do)
  • Virgin coconut oil
  • Dark chocolate

I don’t include quantities because I never actually measure any of these ingredients out–I simply approximate 3 parts peanut butter to 2 parts coconut oil to 1 part dark chocolate. Simply melt all ingredients on low heat in a saucepan, stir until well blended, then pour into a glass container and refrigerate. Depending on how much you make, it will take between 2-4 hours to firm up. You can speed up the process by freezing instead of refrigerating, but then you’ll have to break off chunks with a knife rather than cut smoothly like fudge. The “fudge” will need to stay refrigerated to stay firm since the main ingredients become soft at room temperature.

Feel free to embellish by adding chopped nuts or another favorite fudge ingredient. I hope you enjoy this simple, healthy alternative to a favorite treat!

Oatmeal Cake

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My daughters have been loving this version of oatmeal for breakfast. It would also make for a great snack or homemade granola-bar substitute. I concocted it for the first time a few weeks ago because I was getting bored of the usual oatmeal, and I think the girls were, too. It’s quick and easy to mix up and takes about 25 minutes to bake. Once it’s baked, you’ll have ready-made breakfast bars all week!

Oatmeal Cake

  • 2 cups dry oats, soaked overnight
  • 1 cup baked squash (canned pumpkin would probably work, too)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 1/4 cup milk or milk substitute (I use hemp milk)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract (vanilla extra works as well)
  • 3/4 cup coconut flakes
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins or chocolate chips (optional)

Mix all ingredients together, pour into greased 9 x 13 pan, and bake at 350-375 for 25-20 minutes. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before serving; if you serve immediately, it won’t keep it’s form–but it’s still yummy!

I like to use baked squash (usually butternut or kabocha) instead of canned because it tastes better to me (canned squash can be more bitter) and because I’m sure it’s more nutritious. I usually bake a squash at some point during the week when I’m around the house doing other things. Simply slice it longways, scoop out the seeds, and place face-down in a baking pan with about a half inch of water and bake at 400-425 for 45-60 minutes (the larger the squash, the longer the baking time). You’ll know it’s done when a fork slides easily through the rind and flesh. After you pull it out of the oven, drain any remaining water and turn the squash face up to allow the steam to evaporate off so it doesn’t end up too watery. If you’re busy like me, you can simply place the halves face down on a plate in the fridge (once they’ve cooled off) until you’re ready to use them; they’ll keep for up to a week.

I soak my oats overnight in water and a teaspoon of cider vinegar to reduce the phytic acid content of the oats as well as to make a moister cake; lemon juice is probably an even better choice than cider vinegar for an acidic medium (it tastes better), I just rarely have it on hand. For at least 30 minutes before mixing up the ingredients, you’ll want to drain the water from the oats in a colander, otherwise the cake will be mushy. If you let the oats strain for longer, that’s fine, too. I’ve forgotten about them on the counter for the better part of a day before getting around to making the cake for the following morning’s breakfast (the cake is excellent right out of the oven, I just don’t usually feel like baking first thing in the morning so I often make it the night before). If you forget to soak the oats overnight (for morning baking) or to set them out in the morning (for late afternoon or evening baking), soaking them for just an hour or two will still help. You can also skip the soaking and just use dry oats, but you’ll probably want to double the milk quantity.

This is a very forgiving recipe. Using a little more or less of any of the above ingredients will not make or break the cake–in fact, I never use measuring implements when I bake, so the given measurements are always approximate. You just want to make sure the consistency of the mixture you put in the pan for baking isn’t too runny (you don’t want it to be as runny as pancake batter, for example) or too sticky (you do want it to be wetter than cookie dough). Even if you do end up with batter that’s runnier or drier than ideal, it will still taste delicious!

Chocolate-Coconut Gummies

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I’m back! Well, sort of–I’m working a full-time job now, so posts will likely be few and far between, but I hope to continue to blog about my endeavors to remain a healthy, motivated mom despite being back at work and pursuing a doctorate.

The transition to me working again has been the hardest on my oldest daughter (now 3 1/2), who is the more sensitive of my two girls. To let her know I’m thinking about her during the day, I’ve been making a batch of these gummy hearts each week so that I can put one in her lunch every day. They’re super simple, taking about 10 minutes to make, and the ingredients are filling and nutritious.

Ingredients:

4 squares dark chocolate (about half a bar)
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 T. maple syrup
4 T. grass-fed gelatin
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 T. chia seeds (optional)

Instructions:

Pour the chia seeds into a small dish along with an equivalent amount of water (this will allow them to gel while you proceed with the rest of the instructions). Melt the chocolate in a saucepan, then add the coconut milk and syrup; warm over low heat. Add the gelatin one tablespoon at a time and stir in thoroughly, then stir in the gelled chia seeds. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into a glass dish, cover, and refrigerate.

I use Great Lakes brand unflavored gelatin, which is sourced from grass-fed animals. Gelatin is essential for joint and tissue health, so it’s not just fun to use but also good for you and your little ones. The coconut milk adds enough fat to make these snacks more filling than their juice-made counterparts, and the chia seeds add a few extra vitamins and minerals (and, purportedly, an energy boost). The maple syrup and vanilla help to bring out the chocolate flavor, which can otherwise be overtaken by the gelatin, which has a slight flavor of its own.

If you’re making these for adults or older children, an entire bar of dark chocolate will taste wonderful; I use half a bar for my girls simply to minimize the amount of caffeine in the treats.

Happy eating!

Bone Broth: A Super-Cheap Superfood

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What on earth is that clearish, goopy stuff in my crock pot? Only one of the cheapest, easiest superfoods known to man, of course! Why is it so amazing? What can you use it for? And how do you make it? I’ll answer all of these questions and more in this post.

Like many “new” health fads, bone broth is actually an age-old tradition aimed at extracting as many nutrients as possible from every portion of an animal’s body, allowing nothing to go to waste. It is made by boiling the bones and/or carcass of an animal in an acidic medium for hours or even days at a time. As the bones stew, the minerals, amino acids, and collagen that comprise the bones leach out into the water, creating a nutritious beverage or base for other dishes.

Collagen is essential for healthy bones, tissues, joint, skin, hair, and nails. When cooked, collagen turns into gelatin, which is why the bone broth pictured above looks so jiggly. If your bone broth turns into a bowl of jelly once refrigerated, you know you have a collagen-rich supplement to consume! Note that your broth won’t always turn out this way: it depends on the amount of collagen in the bones you’ve used as well as on the length of time you’ve boiled them. I always source my bones from the same ranch yet sometimes the broth is jiggly and sometimes it’s simply a thick liquid; even as a thick liquid, it contains a beneficial amount of gelatin and other nutrients.

So what can you use this stuff for? Almost anything! I use it instead of water when I boil rice, beans, lentils, or veggies, adding extra nutrition to my dishes. I also use it as a base for soups and as a hot drink when someone isn’t feeling well. When my girls were infants, I used it along with veggies, squash, sweet potatoes, and/or meats to puree homemade baby foods. Now that they’re older, I add several ounces of bone broth to their milk or water as a natural supplement–and they don’t even know it! (Note that this will only work with bone broth made from beef bones–chicken bones lend too strong a flavor to blend with other beverages, at least in my experience).

When you make your own bone broth, you’ll also be able to scrape off the layer of fat that forms on the top once refrigerated. Since only saturated fats are stable at high temperatures, I use this fat to grease my pans when frying eggs, tortillas, or stir-frying meats and veggies; unsaturated fats such as vegetables and olive oils shouldn’t be heated (for more on this topic, see this post and related links from the Healthy Home Economist).

Unless you live in New York City or one of the other metropolitan areas where trendy bone broth shops are popping up (check out NYC’s Brodo Broth Company), you’ll need to make your own broth. Fortunately, doing so is super simple and cheap. The hardest part will likely be sourcing your bones if you’re not already familiar with a place to procure organic, grass-fed animals. If you’re wondering why the way the animal was raised matters, see my post on non-pastured meat and eggs.

I purchase my bones from my local food cooperative for $2.29/lb, meaning I get about 5 quarts of broth for $4-$5. I’ve also found them at health food stores and butcher shops (just make sure to inquire about the way the animals were raised). During hunting season, our local meat market will give away deer and elk bones for free. You’ll want to ask your grocer or butcher for the bones to be cut into sections that will fit into a large pot (ask for cuts that weigh 1-3 pounds). If you have no idea where to find bones for your broth, you can visit eatlocalgrown.com or contact your local chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation for suggestions.

Once you’ve sourced your bones, you’ll want to place approximately 2 pounds in a 6-quart crock pot (or similar size). For instructions on chicken broth, see my earlier post on utilizing a chicken carcass. For bone broth from beef or game bones, follow the instructions below.

Once the bones are in your slow cooker, add a few tablespoons of vinegar along with enough water to fill the pot within two inches of the top (or whatever your max fill line is). Allow the bones to soak for 30-60 minutes before turning your cooker on low; this will help to maximize the amount of nutrients released from your bones. Once on, leave your cooker on low for 24-48 hours, adding water as needed to keep the pot filled to the max. After 12 hours, you can begin using the broth for cooking or consumption, making sure to replace the amount you consume with an equal amount of fresh water (I try to time my broth-making for days when I’ll be making the dishes mentioned earlier).

During the first few hours, you may need to skim off any scum that forms along the top of the pot (it will be dark and foamy). The bones I use rarely produce much scum, if any; if your bones produce large amounts of scum that you’re constantly having to skim off, consider sourcing your bones from elsewhere.

At the end of your 24-48 hour period, turn off your crock and allow the pot to cool for an hour or two before handling (unless you have a pair of oven mitts with really good grips). Pour the broth through a strainer into another large pot or bowl to remove the bones and any pieces of meat and marrow that have fallen off of them (eat these–just like the broth, they are full of nutrients!). Then store the broth in your refrigerator overnight to allow any fat to rise to the top and solidify.

Once the fat solidifies, skim it off using a slotted spoon to drain off excess liquid (it’s okay if some liquid remains); store it in a container in your fridge for up to a week or in your freezer indefinitely. Pour the broth into glass containers and likewise store it in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer indefinitely. In my experience, Mason jars are more likely to crack if used for freezing; I’ve found that using glass jelly jars, peanut butter jars, coconut oil jars, etcetera, works better (you could also use plastic jars, but I am wary of the plastics leaching into the broth). In either case, place the jars in the fridge for several hours before moving to the freezer, which will help prevent cracking; when defrosting, do so in the fridge as well rather than on the counter (faster temperature changes are more likely to induce cracking).

With so many uses for bone broth, I almost always use up a full pot of broth within a week. Once you get used to substituting water with broth every chance you get, you likely will do so, too!

No-Bake Mint Chocolate Pie

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This dessert was such a hit yesterday at Thanksgiving dinner that I decided to share it with everyone in time for Christmas, when it would make a great addition to holiday traditions. Sprinkle this little piece of delectable pie with some crushed candy canes and you’ve got yourself a festive treat that’s actually pretty good for you!

I’m proud of this pie because it’s my own creation, whereas many of my other recipes are modifications of meals I’ve come across elsewhere. The amounts in the recipe below are approximations since I’ve never actually measured anything when making it:

  • 1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 bar dark chocolate or about 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 18 mint-chocolate sandwich cookies (I use Newman-O’s)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

To make the crust, crush the sandwich cookies and mix with the melted butter. Press the mixture into the bottom of a 9-inch pie dish. For the filling, combine the first four ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour the filling onto the crust and refrigerate for several hours until the filling is firm. It’s THAT easy!

Not only is it easy, it’s pretty healthy as far as desserts go. In my post on chocolate brain pudding, I mention the health benefits of dark chocolate and coconut. If you really want to make this pie good for you, skip the crust and pour the filling on its own into a pie dish; you’ll eliminate the refined sugar and carbs found in the cookie crust. Another alternative would be to cut the number of cookies in half, in which case you’d have less of a crust and more of a light cookie crumble embedded in the pie; or simply sprinkle a handful of crushed cookies on top of the pie as a decoration. There are lots of possibilities!

Frozen Banana “Ice Cream”

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In my post on sugar, I mentioned that my girls don’t know the word “dessert” because we don’t eat dessert in our household. While that is absolutely true, it is absolutely NOT true that we don’t enjoy a variety of tantalizing foods that could easily be classified as desserts were it not for their dearth of sugar and depth of nutrients.

Frozen banana “ice cream” is one of those foods. Sometimes we eat it as a snack and sometimes it is simply part of lunch, but one thing is always for certain: the bowls are licked clean! It is one of the easiest treats in the world to make: simply peel 2-3 bananas, cut or break them into 1-2 inch pieces, freeze the pieces, and put them in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth (this amount will make about 2 servings).

If you have a single-serving processor such as a Magic Bullet, like I do, you may have to puree, then stop and shake the container, then puree, then shake the container, and so on until all of the bananas are blended. It’s a bit annoying, but I prefer it to cleaning out my full-sized blender every time I make the ice cream, which is almost daily.

It will take the banana pieces at least 4 hours to freeze, so I generally put them in a container in the freezer the day before I plan to make the ice cream. If you’re not the plan-ahead type, simply cut up several bananas once you’re done reading this post and store them in the freezer so they’ll be ready whenever you want to give it a try! Once you use up those banana pieces, refill the container with more pieces and put it back in the freezer for the next time you get a hankering.

My girls and I love to add nut butter to our banana ice cream; we’ve discovered peanut butter and sunflower seed butter to be especially delicious. Adding a tablespoon or two of nut butter to the blender along with the banana pieces adds a bit of fat and protein to make the snack more satiating. Half an avocado, virgin coconut oil, and/or coconut flakes will have the same effect. Other frozen fruits such as blueberries and strawberries taste good, too. If you’re sticking with plain bananas, adding a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract and a touch of heavy cream or whole milk will enhance the flavor.

Frozen banana ice cream is an excellent alternative to sugary desserts for those who’d like to transition their children to a lower-sugar diet. The natural sugars in the bananas make it sweet enough to pass as dessert for those used to eating sweets, while the complete lack of processed sugars makes it better for our bodies. Try some of the different flavor combinations above–or invent your own!–until you find one that you and your kiddos like. You will be so thankful to have a food that your kids crave and is actually good for them!