Erik is going off to the Heirloom Festival tomorrow, leaving me to helm the Root Simple empire while he brushes up on his clogging and squash ogling. Today he asked me if I would make him some energy bars as road food. I was happy to, as this is the easiest thing to do in the world. These date-based, no-bake bars are all the thing in the raw vegan precincts of the Internet (or maybe rather they were all the thing c.2009) but it just occurred to me that maybe not everyone has encountered them yet.
As fast snacks go, these are better than 99% of commercial energy bars, and far better than truck stop donuts. They’re all fruit and protein and good fats. They one downside is that they’re pretty sugary, but all the sugar is from dried fruit. The trick is not to eat these in quantity–they’re as packed with calories as they are with nutrition. One little square should hold you over ’til your next meal.
I first started making these when I wanted a DIY version of a Larabar. If you’ve ever had a Larabar and looked at the ingredients list, you’ve seen that the ingredients are dried fruit and nuts, period. Which is great–I don’t like soy and added sugar and wheat filler material in my snacks–but Larabars are pricey for something so simple and replicable at home. Admittedly, dried fruit and nuts are pricey too, but you’re still going to come out ahead if you make your own.
Now, the problem with this post is that I don’t have a recipe for these. It’s too simple a process to warrant a recipe.
Anyway, it strikes me that about half of any group of recipe readers has no intention whatsoever of following the directions, so this should make you gonzo types happy. As for you folks who yen for structure, trust me. You don’t need a recipe for mud pies, do you? (By the way, have you seen this piece on The Toast on recipe comments?)
All you have to is mix roughly 50% dried fruit with 50% seeds and nuts of your choice in a food processor until it forms a dough which will hold shape. If necessary, add more fruit or nuts until you reach this consistency. This stuff is very forgiving–you have a lot of leeway. How much should I usee, you ask? 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of each is enough to start with.
(Yes, you do need a food processor, though I suppose you could cowboy this whole thing using a mortar and pestle and a strong arm.)
Press this blob into a pan, in a flat layer–you don’t even have to grease the pan–and chill for a couple of hours, then cut into bars. Or you can roll it into bite sized balls and chill those. It’s best to keep your bars or balls in the fridge, though you can wrap them up in wax paper and take them to go.
See? It’s easy.
The bars Erik is taking with him tomorrow contain dates, raisins walnuts, pistachios, chia seeds, ground flax seed, wild sedge seed (gathered while foraging) and Erik’s favorite part–cacao nibs. I used these ingredient because they were in my cupboard. It turned out good. The thing is, these always turn out good.
Some fussy details:
1) It’s all about the dates!
The dates should be Medjool dates, the soft, sticky kind, for both their sweetness and their binding properties. If you want to use another dried fruit in the mix, I’d recommend you still use dates for at least half the fruit component, just because they are so much the foundation of this recipe.
If you can’t find soft sticky Medjool dates, and have to use the lesser, drier kind, try soaking them in water first until they soften up. I’ve heard this works, but haven’t done it myself.
Other fruits to consider would include anything sticky, like raisins, dried cherries, dried figs and dried plums. Dried apples, for instance, are not sticky, so can’t help bind the mix. You could use chopped dried apples, but count them more like a dry ingredient.
2) For extra flavor, you can add all sorts of things, like a pinch of sea salt, spices, vanilla extract, coconut flakes, even honey if you have a very sweet tooth. Most importantly, you can add chocolate: cacao nibs, a few spoonfuls of good quality cocoa powder or raw cacao powder, or heck, a handful of chocolate chips. I’d add the cocoa sparingly, tasting as you go, to make sure it doesn’t get too chalky. The sweetness of the dates and other fruits usually does a fine job of balancing bitter cocoa flavors, but of course you can add sweetners if necessary.
3) These bars are a good chance to use seeds, which are nutritional powerhouses, but sometimes hard to figure out how to use. Substitute some of the nut volume with seeds–and it’s okay to go over a little, to be more like 60% nuts and seeds. Consider using chia, hemp, flax, poppy, sunflower and sesame seeds. There are also lots of wild seeds that you’ll know about if you forage, and foraged seeds are often dull, so this is a good use for them.
4) Walnuts are a great choice for a base ingredient in any energy bar. They just have a nice consistency, and I’d recommend they have a place in almost any batch. A simple bar that’s half dates and half walnuts is classic and delicious.But almonds, pistachios, pecans–well, heck, I really can’t imagine any nut that would not work well. You can use nut butters too, but they are wet, so you’ll have to play with the ingredients a bit– or maybe add something starchy like oats to balance it out.
5) I’d recommend adding a spoonful of coconut oil toward the end of processing, if you have it on hand. It just makes everything a little smoother and better looking.
Some mixing advice
Mix up the nuts and seeds and any flavorings, like salt, first, before adding the dried fruit, just to make sure they’re evenly distributed before things get sticky.
It’s a good idea to hold back some of the nuts for two reasons. First, so you can add some bigger pieces back into the finished product, so you have some visual interest and crunch. Second, so you have spare ingredients if you need to adjust the mix.
For the same reason, hold back some dried fruit so you can make the mix stickier if need be.
The dough–or paste?–or whatever you call it–will look loose and sandy when you first process it, but go ahead and reach in there and squeeze a little ball together. It should hold shape. If it doesn’t, and it seems too dry, you need more dried fruit. If it’s crazy sticky or goopy, you need more nuts and seeds.
Keep your hands wet when working with the mix to avoid sticky fingers.