Aspen Times Weekly: Crunch time

by Amanda Rae

Savory Granola

By Todd Slossberg,

executive chef of Chefs Club

by Food & Wine

2 cups old-fashioned oats

½ cup pistachios, fried*

½ cup walnuts, fried *

½ cup hazelnuts, fried*

1 cup puffed kamut or

puffed quinoa

2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

1 cup popped sorghum**

2 oz. butter

1 oz. extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tbsp. vadouvan***

2 Tbsp. sea salt

1 tsp. black pepper

• Preheat oven to 325ºF.

• In a small saucepan, melt butter with oil, vadouvan, salt, and pepper until well blended and fragrant.

• In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients except popped sorghum. Add spiced butter-oil and mix well.

• Arrange mixture evenly on a sheet pan lined with wax paper. Bake 7-12 minutes, stirring evenly to toast.

• At the last minute, add popped sorghum and mix thoroughly.

*Pan-fry nuts separately in canola oil in a skillet until crispy.

**For popped sorghum: Add 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil to a saucepan set over low heat. Add 4 Tbsp. sorghum seeds to pot and cover with lid. Shake pot continually while sorghum seeds pop; remove from heat when popping stops.

***Buy vadouvan, a French-Indian curry-like spice blend, online.

ON A LATE-NIGHT layover at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport recently, I set out in search of a snack. At the newsstand I found my favorite fruit and nut KIND bars, as well as the brand’s newly launched savory line, STRONG & KIND. I scanned the novel options suspiciously — Honey Smoked BBQ? Thai Sweet Chili? Roasted Jalapeño? — and recalled that our gear dude Stephen Regenold reviewed them in a recent issue of this magazine. I couldn’t remember if he truly enjoyed them or if he offered specific recommendations; regardless, I was skeptical. But airports by their very nature make me feel adventurous and impulsive, so I chose Honey Mustard and hoped for the best.

Later, midflight, I dug the bar from my purse as if buried treasure. Momentarily forgetting that it wasn’t my favorite Maple Glazed Pecan & Sea Salt, I chomped down…and my tongue recoiled immediately in my mouth. I may have croaked, “GAH.” Maybe it was the atmosphere of forced, dry air and musty seat cushions or the fact that my neighbor was literally spilling over the armrest into my personal space, but the sticky, salted bar of almonds, seeds, and pea protein glazed with Dijon tasted how I imagine that dried, crusty ring stuck atop the French’s squeeze-bottle in my fridge might. I spit discretely into a complimentary cocktail napkin and scowled all the way home. Choosing a new snack that turns out to suck really bums me out. Especially when I all I want a snack.

Since that trip in early July, I’ve noticed savory granola sprinkled through my news feed and on food blogs across the Web. “Granola on Salad? It Works,” read the headline on recently. The accompanying recipe was simple — three kinds of oats, walnuts, sunflower seeds, maple syrup, and fresh rosemary — a sort of savory granola for starters.

More research shows that next-level buttery “granola croutons,” or oat clusters boasting salty, spicy, and even sour elements, abound: curry and coconut; pumpkinseed, rye, and Parmesan; Sriracha-quinoa-millet-cranberry-orange-peanut. Salad seems to be the most common application, though food authorities including Bon Appétit magazine suggest showering herbed, umami granola over meats and veggies. House-made black pepper granola crunches up a dish of barley, sugar snap peas, asparagus, rhubarb, and pea tendrils at AF+B (American Food and Beverage) in Fort Worth, Texas; at Saint Martha in Los Angeles, duck breast, beets, and parsnip milk get a lavender granola garnish.

Downvalley, chef Mark Fischer has experimented with savory granola at The Pullman and TOWN, infusing oats with coriander and lemon zest for a dish of malt-braised Angus short ribs with blue cheese grits.

If this concept sounds strange to you, reader likely accustomed to munching on sweet, cinnamon-specked granolas studded with dried fruit or chocolate in the morning over yogurt or by the handful during a hike, consider the aversion psychological. Oats and nuts are blank canvases, after all. Following a day on the slopes in the dead of winter, the easiest and most satisfying meal to me consists of a bowl of warm, creamy, toothsome oatmeal stirred with a handful of baby spinach, maybe a few sundried tomatoes, toasted walnuts, Italian spices, big curls of Parmesan, and plenty of freshly cracked black pepper. A soft poached egg plus a few shakes of Cholula makes it a balanced meal. Granola is pretty much the same thing, just dehydrated.

So I was excited — if a bit apprehensive, thanks to the vivid taste memory of that in-flight mustard experience — to see savory granola hit the Aspen foodscape. Todd Slossberg, executive chef of Chefs Club by Food & Wine at the St. Regis Aspen Resort, bakes a nutty, crispy, slightly spicy version (see recipe, opposite) to top a new summer dish: Roasted baby beets with horseradish, goat cheese mousse, and citrus vinaigrette.

The dish was conceived by sous chef Brandon Lenz, who seasons Slossberg’s fried-nut and popped-grain granola with vadouvan, a French-Indian spice blend similar to curry. The lingering heat with a hint of sweet — not to mention the crackling contrast to airy, whipped goat cheese — balances the beets’ earthiness.

“I’ve done it before on salads (at Plato’s Restaurant at Aspen Meadows Resort) but not quite this style,” Slossberg says, eyeing my scraped-clean plate last Friday. “The place I saw it first was at Eleven Madison Park in New York — chef Daniel Humm was doing it. It’s just different. It’s texture. (Ours is) a very loose interpretation of granola.”

I ask Slossberg if he’s concerned that diners might automatically associate granola as hippie breakfast fare. He shakes his head no. “I think nowadays it’s pretty much everything goes,” he says. “More kitchsy things, to get (diners) thinking.”

Despite enjoying the savory granola trend, Amanda Rae won’t endorse mustard in a trail-mix bar.