Notes from New Zealand: Crazy for Muesli

March 19, 2014

A great healthy recipe to kick off our series from New Zealand!

Tara Kennon served as HSC’s communications manager before moving about a year ago to New Zealand’s Coromandel peninsula, where she has focused on projects to promote travel in this region. Now, she’s reporting back to us on a few of her observations related to food, fitness and school health in this particular corner of the Southern Hemisphere. Stay posted for perspectives on health and education issues. Today, we’re kicking off this series with something simple: wholesome and tasty cereal you can make in your own little corner of the world!

By Tara Kennon

We can’t always predict our loves and obsessions. It’s great — something that seems so simple and mundane one day can somehow become fabulous and exciting the next.

When I decided to move to New Zealand, one of my friends predicted that I’d become obsessed with adventure sports. Another said it was inevitable that I’d fall in love with kiwifruit and white wine. These are all good things. But two of my favorites are things that I never associated with New Zealand, two things that are comically low-adrenalin in comparison with adventure sports. I’m now crazy about birds and muesli.

A quick word about birds: New Zealand loves them. The Washington Post put it this way in this great article on efforts to ban cats because they threaten birds: “It’s hard to overstate just how much New Zealanders love birds, perhaps because theirs are unlike any others on the planet. Their dollar bills are festooned with birds. Radio New Zealand plays a bird call before the morning news. There is a multimillion-dollar bird sanctuary just minutes from downtown Wellington.” You can check out the Bird of the Year website for more (with photos!), or a quick article I wrote for NewZealand.com about the local bird center I adore.

But really, we’re here to talk about muesli! I realize that this love is not a uniquely Kiwi one. The first time I tried homemade muesli was when I visited friends from the Midwest who live here. I was in awe of the concept that I could start my day with a delicious homemade treat that is actually so easy to make ahead of time. (Also, I was impressed by the dreamy scent coming out of the oven.) The next time I went to the grocery store, I ventured down the cereal aisle and found an enormous percentage of it devoted to varieties of muesli.

So I brought up the topic with a few friends and realized I had stumbled onto a subject of intense feelings and heated debate. I had no idea that all these people around me had not only been making their own breakfast cereal as a matter of habit but were also so passionate about it. Two key issues in the muesli-making dialogue:

  • Fruit vs. Fruit-Free. Is dried fruit an essential element of morning muesli, or something to be avoided at all costs?

  • Big pieces vs. tiny pieces. Some say granola must be stirred frequently during the baking process so that it does not stick together and form clumps. This makes it easier to mix and pour. Others tinker with recipes until they find the perfect set of factors to optimize bar-like chunkiness. This makes it easier for snacking.

I stand firmly in the fruit-free, big pieces camp. I like to add fresh fruit to my cereal rather than include dried fruit in the mixture. (Confession: sometimes I stray from this stance and add dried coconut. So tasty.) I don’t like to mix the cereal constantly while it’s baking and I do like it to have little chunks of oats and seeds. This is great for breakfast or road trips! If you prefer fruit or a more pourable texture, you can find plenty of excellent recipes over here.

This recipe is adapted from a few different versions my friends have shared. You can adapt it completely to your own taste and really can’t go wrong unless you burn it. A few notes:

  • For the mixture of nuts, it’s best to choose ones that you like roasted. Walnuts and hazelnuts are delicious. NZ soil is low in selenium, so health folks here recommend eating Brazil nuts to make up for this. I chop them into the muesli and found the roasting brings out a nice flavor that isn’t as obvious when they’re raw.

  • For sweetener, you can really use whatever source you like. Maple syrup is my favorite — I like the flavor and find that it’s tasty without being overly sweet. Honey tends to make the oats stick together more, and is more shiny. Brown sugar is delicious but much more sweet — you might want to use a bit less. (I’ve never tried low-calorie sweeteners here but my guess is that they would probably not work very well.)

  • The egg whites hold everything together, so more egg whites = more chunks. If you want to make a batch specifically for snacking (great for road trips!), just add more egg whites and you’ll have nice big pieces.

The only problem I’ve found with this recipe is just how sad it makes me when I don’t find an hour to make a batch every week or so. So give it a try and let me know what type of adaptations you discover!

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

  2. In a big bowl, mix:

    • 5 cups rolled oats

    • 1 cup nuts (I like to use a mix of chopped walnuts, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts.)

    • 1 cup seeds (Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds are good.)

    • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

    • 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

  3. In another bowl, mix:

    • 1 tablespoon olive oil

    • 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup (You can increase the quantity if you like it sweet, up to 1/2 cup.)

    • 2 or 3 egg whites

  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until everything is well-coated. At this point, you may get a whiff of something that smells very much like cookies!

  5. Spread this mixture onto a cookie sheet, about one quarter-inch thick or just under the top edge of the sides of the sheet. You will probably need to bake it in two batches, so don’t worry about getting all of the mixture onto one sheet.

  6. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.

  7. Let it cool completely, then break into chunks and store in an airtight container.

  8. Serve with fresh fruit and yogurt for a beautiful breakfast or just enjoy as-is any time!

 

Read the full Notes from New Zealand series here.