Friday, 27 April 2012

on perfect granola, lucky peach & the politics of food-blogging

gula melaka granola
put simply, this post is about granola perfected. i believe that granola aficionados should have a recipe to call their own. like most cooking, recipes are seldom invented anymore. instead they are adapted and made ones own through personalisation. but before i move onto the granola i want to take a moment and tell you about ‘lucky peach’ a quarterly food journal co-edited by momofuku’s dave chang. it makes for wonderful reading about everyday issues in food. issue number three is all about chefs. it flits between profanity, colloquialism, the politics of food and a beautiful essay by anthony bourdain on food in film titled eat, drink, fuck, die. and then there are recipes whose steps are connected with arrows like office presentations.  

lucky peach, quarterly food journal
the opening chef rant between dave chang, claude bosi, sat bains and daniel patterson is all about integrity, creation and copying and giving credit. i know that this conversation seems a little oblique but you’ll understand what i am talking about as you read on. the base recipe i have used for my perfect granola is nekisia davis’olive oil and maple granola who has adapted it very slightly from early bird foods' best-selling farmhand's choice granola... having read the chef rant a couple of days, i finally had the time to sift through my thoughts on the issue integrity and creativity.

over the last couple of months i’ve been seeing a lot of frustration in the blogging world. there have been incidences where pictures from the popular pinboard site pinterest have been used without proper attribution. and then there are the disconcerted food bloggers whose pictures and recipes have been lifted and used without acknowledgement. of course none of this is new and as very small fry i’ve never personally been affected by it. before twitter these issues were generally relegated to forums like egullet and chowhound or as extended discussions between blog readers at the end of posts. the ability to moderate comments allowed some sense of decorum to prevail. twitter demands that people should have the ability to moderate themselves, a skill which few people have or exercise. what’s more is that there is little sense of communal ethic for the creative aspect of blogging. shayma is an exceptional food blogger and author of the spice spoon: cooking without borders whose recent post on ‘the sad sideof food blogging’ picks on all these issues including the more serious one of what happens when entire ideas and concepts are copied. as i read the chef’s rant it occurred to me that what all of really want is respect for our creativity, and that respect isn’t the sole province of those with established names and celebrity status.

one of the things i enjoy most about food blogging is that there are some excellent writers out there and they all have different voices. i love that smittenkitchen writes like she’s thinking out loud. it’s almost as if you were sitting across from her and listening to her. shayma’s writing is poetic and makes me nostalgic for pakistani monsoons, steaming cups of tea and hot, flaky samosas dipped in a combination of mitchell’s ketchup and chili garlic sauce. i turn to heidi’s one o one cookbooks when i want recipes with simple write-ups. to me, her photography speaks more than the words. indian simmer’s prerna is a narrative of food memories brought to life with her beautiful vibrant pictures. as the daughter of a writer and craftswoman i am often confounded by the lack of respect that we have for each other’s creativity, but as a legal and human rights practitioner i am very alive to the fact that this is why society needs frameworks of principles and laws. left to our own devices, we are incapable of ethics.

in the time that it took to make and bake the granola, i realised that there isn’t really much one can do about this except speak and write about it. but it did make me realize that one has to be confident about their writing and work and cultivate acknowledgement of other people’s work where it has been used. and when that acknowledgement isn’t forthcoming remember that those who are aware of creativity and individuality will always admire such work. in that spirit, here’s to food fifty-two, nekisia davis’ and farmhand’s choice granola. thank you for inspiring my perfect granola.

i have a couple of notes on my perfect granola as my choice of sweeteners is quite different from the one’s nekisia uses. i recently came back from singapore where i bought gula melaka (coconut palm sugar). this sugar is essentially the sap of flower bud of the coconut tree. it is commonly used in malay desserts and i bought large coins of it at geyland serai market in singapore. the boiled sap is poured into bamboo tubes that allow it to set in a coin shape. the sugar has a distinct coconut smell and has a light caramel sweetness. along with this i used a himalayan honey so dark that it is almost black. this was also bought in singapore and tastes like a light molasses. the honey is necessary as its stickiness gives the granola a bit of character by allowing the oats to develop little clusters.

coins of gula melaka dissolving in olive oil & honey
m’s perfect granola

hundred grams gula melaka
hundred ml runny honey
hundred ml olive oil
one-tablespoon maldon sea salt
one and a half teaspoons ground cinnamon
seven hundred and fifty grams old fashioned rolled oats
one hundred grams sunflower seeds
two hundred grams pumpkin seeds
two hundred and fifty grams mixed nuts – i used almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecan nuts, cashews and brazil nuts
two large roasting tins or baking sheets with rims

to start pre-heat the oven to a hundred and fifty degrees celsius.

combine the gula melaka, honey, olive oil, salt and cinnamon in a saucepan over low heat. this allows the gula melaka to dissolve easily.

place the oats, nuts and seeds in a large mixing bowl. once the mixture of oil, sweeteners, spice and salt is smooth pour it onto the oats and nuts. mix it well until combined ensuring that none of the oats are left uncoated.

divide evenly between the roasting tins/baking sheets and bake, stirring every ten to fifteen minutes for forty-five minutes. the granola will crisp further as it cools.

wait for it to cool fully before you store it in an airtight jar. according to nekisia this granola should keep for a month. a batch like this does not usually last beyond a fortnight at my place so i’ll have to trust her. my only reservation is that walnuts tend to go rancid rather quickly so i’d personally recommend that if you intend to keep your granola for a month, don’t use them. i used to add chewy things like chopped dates, apricots or raisins to granola but lately i’ve tended towards savoury-sweet granolas. if you prefer something sweeter then you can always up the amount of sweeteners and add some dried fruits.
the combination of gula melaka, honey and salt gives this granola a savoury sweetness. roasting the nuts and seeds together brings out their nuttiness. the colour of this batch is a brown-amber. my favourite way of eating this (aside from dry snacking) is to sprinkle it on greek yoghurt with some sliced fresh fruit. banana always works well, as do peaches and grated apples.    


  1. wow this sounds good. i don't even make granola enough to have a perfect recipe. but i absolutely love gula melaka. its my preferred sweetener for making most things calling for a caramel/toffee like flavour because it essentially has that depth already even without the extra steps. very interesting to see olive oil in this recipe, i don't know I've always just thought that would be very strong, but I can see where you're going with the sweet/savoury route, and thanks for linking up the base recipe too. i agree, though I do think some recipes tend to have a long history and all the many recipes out there, even ones by famous chefs, are just slight variations anyway, so who's to say where it started? what I love also about food bloggers, is how everyone inspires one another to try something new or creative(:

  2. congrats on the new web design- i really like it. very neat, clean lines- amazing. thank you so much for bringing up the issue of food blogging / writing ethics and for the kind words you wrote about me. You and Shu Han are completely spot on in that none of us really created / invented recipes (well, unless you were a chef of the de Medici family, and created the bechamel), so crediting others is always paramount. it is very easy (and cowardly) to say, well, i thought that up, too. that idea, concept and recipe is mine, too. the important thing is that have food bloggers like you, Prerna and Smitten Kitchen as well as a myriad of others; who have integrity and principles- the others who lack ethics have their own conscience to deal with.

    your granola looks very delicious; i have never tried gula melaka- it sounds like it is just the ticket bec i love a deep, earthy, sugar flavour. and the addition of olive oil binds it all together beautifully.

    x s

  3. @shu han, olive oil granola has been all the rage in the us of a for a while now. i've been making sea salted olive oil granola for two years now and can't recommend it enough. the gula melaka however is something else. if i could, i'd substitute it for most recipes however i anticipate that the texture would require a bit of experimenting with.

    @shayma thanks for the comment. i wonder if you have any malay stores in toronto near you as they are most likely to sell gula melaka. i know that in london organic brands like bionia stock coconut plam sugar in granulated form so perhaps even an organic store would be a good bet. it's very popular with the so called health nut community as it is said that it has a low gi. i am pretty certain you'd really like it. i could always post some granola to you.