We all love to share recipes that have inspired us in some way. I feel the ones that stay with us are tied to childhood experiences. The vivid memories embedded long ago as a result of that first bite bringing all five senses into focus. It’s that level of wonder we want family and friends to experience.
I still remember how awful I thought the taste of umeboshi was when I was a child. The combination of extreme tart and salt made my entire body wince and spit it out immediately every single time. You may ask why I would do that more than once. It was because of watching my mom enjoy one like a hard candy and leaving nothing but a pristine seed. I had an unwavering curiosity of how the person who nurtured my early culinary adventures would enjoy something that extreme in flavor. I wanted to understand why it was so great to her and not so much for me.
The light turned on when I experienced my first umeboshi onigiri. The nori wrapped rice packet surrounding the preserved plum struck a perfect balance that made me fall in love long ago. Today, I find myself making my own versions of umeboshi to cook and bake with. The salt, acidity, and depth makes it versatile enough to add to just about anything. Of course, I do also now appreciate how lovely the bracing flavor is on its own.
Granola is one of my favorite things to make because the recipe is versatile and forgiving. As long as you generally keep to the ratio of key elements: rolled oats, crunchy bits, sugar syrup, oil, and salt, you can practically make any delicious combination you like. The beauty is having the flexibility of using whatever you’ve already got on hand. Once you get a handle of it, you’ll never make it the same twice.
Bold flavors always have a place. Explore adding depth to the sweetness as it will carry into the final crunchy coating. Instead of reaching for cinnamon or vanilla, consider savory elements of your childhood that will make your mix craveable. Umeboshi is perfect for that. As are olives, tomato paste, and preserved lemons. It’s the hint of depth and acidity that ultimately enhances the flavor of the dried fruit you mix in at the end.
Another key to making granola great is background complexity. You may have noticed it when you vary the type of sweetener—like honey versus a dark maple syrup. What if you could create similar notes with something that’s normally headed for compost? We often don’t think much of spent coffee grinds, but there’s still plenty of flavor. Yes, it’s not ideal for brewing another cup, but making a syrup with it is some kind of wonderful. Crunchy bits don’t have to be the typical nuts and seeds. Interestingly enough, roasted buckwheat needn't just be for tea, providing great pops of flavor as you chew. —OurCookQuest
Test Kitchen Notes
This granola is part of Recipes to Give & Share, a collection of perfectly packable holiday treats that we're sending to our loved ones this year. —The Editors
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 37 minutes
- makes 3 cups granola
roasted and salted sunflower seeds
soba-cha (roasted buckwheat groats)
canola or other neutral oil
1 1/2 teaspoons
spent coffee grinds
umeboshi, minced (approximately 22 grams)
dried cranberries or tart cherries
- Preheat oven to 300°F. Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- In a large bowl, combine oats, sunflower seeds, and buckwheat tea.
- In a microwave-safe measuring cup or small bowl, mix honey and spent coffee. Microwave on high for one minute in a small/medium microwave (45 seconds in a large one). Allow the mixture to sit for five minutes to allow infusion.
- Over a small bowl, pour the coffee-infused honey through a fine-mesh strainer to strain out most of the grinds. To this mixture, add umeboshi, sugar, and oil. Whisk until homogeneous.
- Pour liquid mixture over the dry in the large bowl. Mix with a rubber spatula until the dry ingredients are evenly coated.
- Spread onto two half sheet pans lined with parchment paper or silicone mats. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown, stirring and tossing the granola every 10 minutes.
- While the granola is baking, finely chop the dried fruit. Once baked, allow the granola to cool, then mix in the dried fruit and serve.