A few months ago, Megan's post on savory granola got my wheels turning. A truly savory, unsweetened granola seemed like a unique, gluten-free alternative to croutons on top of soup. And indeed it is — but it is also a light, addictive snack I can't stop eating by the handful.The inspiration for this recipe came from a recipe for savory pumpkin seed and rye granola on CHOW. I didn't feel like shopping around for rye flakes and the mustard seeds didn't appeal to me, so I went off in my own direction, using rolled oats, Gruyère, fresh thyme and a little onion powder. Egg white, olive oil and Worcestershire sauce take the place of the usual sugar or honey, coating the oats and pepitas so the seasonings can adhere.
I love the smell of sweet granola while it is baking, but the cheesy, toasty-herb smell of savory granola might be even better. Because there are no sugars to caramelize, the finished granola is lighter in color than its sweet counterpart, but no less crisp. I thought it might be strange to eat a salty version of what is usually a sweet cereal, but I was wrong. It is not strange at all to eat handful after handful of toasty oats and pepitas that taste like the best herb-seasoned cheese cracker. This stuff is good.
So yes, I've been using the granola to garnish soups, where its initial crispness gives way eventually to a nice chewiness, but it can be used for so much more than that: as a casual appetizer, on top of baked dishes in place of bread crumbs, sprinkled over yogurt or eggs for a savory breakfast, and of course, eaten plain by the handful.
Savory Cheese-Herb Granola
Makes about 3 cups
3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup pepitas
1/4 cup Gruyère cheese, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 large egg white
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, add the oats, pepitas, cheese, thyme, salt, onion powder and pepper. Mix together with your hands or a large spoon, making sure to break up any clumps of cheese. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white, Worcestershire sauce and olive oil until thoroughly combined and creamy. Pour the egg white mixture over the oats mixture and stir until the oats are evenly coated.
Spread mixture on a lined, rimmed baking sheet and place on a middle rack in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes for the first 20 minutes, then every 5 minutes until it is done. Place baking sheet on a cooling rack. (The granola will become more crisp as it cools.) Store the granola in an airtight container once it has cooled.
• This recipe is very adaptable. Feel free to experiment with different combinations of cheeses, herbs, nuts or seeds.
• If you are used to making sweet granola, keep in mind that this granola will not take on the caramel-brown color of sweetened granola. Look for a golden-brown color, crisp texture and toasty flavor.
Have you ever tried savory granola?
Related: Beyond Croutons: 5 Fabulous Soup Toppers
(Images: Anjali Prasertong)