Shards of popped farro peanut butter date bars strewn around a surface with small bowls of peanuts and chocolate shards

Popped Farro Peanut Butter Date Bars

The last few months have been challenging for everyone. Like many of us, I have the tendency to spend my first waking moments scanning the internet; most days there is some fresh insanity waiting there to be found. The events of the last few days have been especially heavy. At the same time, there is pressure to make something of our time - especially for those of us lucky enough to be healthy and at home. Our culture worships productivity, and I’ve found it difficult to shake the pressure to achieve, even as our chaotic circumstances make the pursuit of productivity overwhelming and anxiety-inducing in ultimately counter-productive ways. Some days I realize at two or three in the afternoon that I haven’t eaten anything yet.

So, we are keeping the kitchen stocked with bananas, frozen berries, yogurt and peanut butter for smoothies and I’ve been committed to simplifying my everyday cooking habits - an ongoing project for me. Diana Henry’s new cookbook From the Oven to the Table has been a life saver of late for delicious but simple and relatively hands-off dinners. And, I’ve started stocking my freezer with batches of energy-bars like these.

I posted photos of similar bars to my Instagram earlier this month and had some people mention they wanted to make them, so I wanted to get the recipe up as soon as possible, but I’m keeping the writing here brief and mostly practical because my mind is occupied with the revolutionary action and violence that has been happening over the past few days in the United States in response to the public murders of Black people at the hands of white citizens and police officers who are not being held accountable for their actions.

I am reminded of this interview with activist and scholar Angela Davis. When the interviewer asks whether violence is necessary to make change, she rejects the premise of the question, pointing out that Black people are already subject to violence. Violence does not originate with revolutionary action, but rather such action is itself a last-resort reaction to violence that is already there, in the form of state-sanctioned white supremacy, and to even ask such a question suggests that you are speaking of something you do not understand.

White people, including myself, need to do the work of educating ourselves, so that we do understand, so that we know how to not just avoid being racist, but to be anti-racist with our words and actions and beliefs (some resources here and here). We need to listen to and amplify the voices of Black activists and scholars (like Ibram X. Kendi and Ijeoma Oluo) and support Black organizations (like the Minnesota Freedom Fund) financially, when we can.

Popping Grains

Lots of whole grains will pop when exposed to high heat, sort of like popcorn. These bars are made with popped farro, which makes the raw grains chewable, but also deepens their flavour into something toasty, and nutty. I used farro because I had it in my cupboard, but quinoa is a good substitute. Heat a pan over medium-high heat till very hot, then add the grains in batches, leaving some space in the pan. Shuffle the pan over the heat a few times and, in less than 2 minutes per batch, the grains should puff slightly. In addition to these peanut-butter date bars, popped grains can be used in a batch of homemade granola or sprinkled over yogurt and served with fruit for breakfast or as a crunchy topping for leafy green salads.

  • Make sure to get the pan very hot and remove the grains from the pan shortly after they pop, to avoid scorching.
  • There is no need to cover the pan for grains like farro or quinoa (anything other than sorghum, which will fly away), they won’t jump out of the pan like popcorn would.
  • Watch the grains carefully, the popping action you are looking for is subtle; you won’t want to miss it or the grains might burn.

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These bars make a healthy on-the-go breakfast or quick snack, and the recipe is extremely flexible, easily customized with whatever nuts, seeds, or milks you have in your pantry. Crunchy nuts and toasted puffed grains suspended in a peanut-buttery, chewy date base. There is a surprising amount of sweetness for a sugar-free recipe, that I like to contrast by finishing them with a generous sprinkle of sea salt - though any coarse salt will do.

My recipe was inspired by these puffed quinoa bars by Alexandra at Occasionally Eggs and these puffed quinoa bars by Jess at Choosing Chia.

Popped Farro Peanut Butter Date Bars

These bars make a healthy on-the-go breakfast or quick snack, and the recipe is extremely flexible, easily customized with whatever nuts, seeds, or milks you have in your pantry. Crunchy nuts and toasted puffed grains suspended in a peanut-buttery, chewy date base. There is a surprising amount of sweetness for a sugar-free recipe, that I like to contrast by finishing them with a generous sprinkle of sea salt - though any coarse salt will do.

Makes: 8 bars or 9 squares

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup farro (if you don’t have farro, quinoa works as well)
  • 1 cup peanuts, chopped (or equivalent amount of whatever nuts or seeds you have), plus 2-3 tablespoons extra for topping
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 tea kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) medjool dates, pitted & soaked in hot water for 10-15 minutes (you can substitute the more affordable baking dates that come in a block, though they will be more difficult to blend into a paste)
  • 1/2 cup natural peanut butter (can substitute another nut butter), melted in microwave or small saucepan.
  • 1/2 cup milk (can substitute any plant-based milk)
  • 1 tea vanilla
  • 3.5 oz (100 grams) semi-sweet (or dark) chocolate, roughly chopped

Instructions:

  1. Puff the farro: Heat a pan over medium-high heat. When pan is hot enough that a splash of water sizzles and evaporates almost immediately, begin cooking the farro in batches, ensuring that the pan is never crowded, until they puff and pop, about 90 seconds per batch, swirling the pan a few times per batch to avoid scorching the grains. Don’t expect the farro to pop and fly around like popcorn, the puffing action will be much more subtle.
  2. Line an 8x8 baking pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl, mix together the puffed farro, 1 cup of the peanuts, cinnamon and salt.
  3. In a food processor or blender, process the dates, peanut butter, milk and vanilla until a paste forms. It does not need to be completely smooth, but if it is not coming together, add more milk (or even some of the water from soaking the dates), 1tb at a time, until it does.
  4. Transfer the date and peanut butter paste into the bowl with the peanuts and farro. Mix together until evenly incorporated. Spread the mixture into the prepared baking dish and press down firmly into an even layer with the back of a spoon. Transfer to the freezer.
  5. In a small saucepan or over a double boiler, melt the chocolate. Remove bars from the freezer and pour the melted chocolate over top. Spread chocolate into a thin, even layer and sprinkle with remaining chopped peanuts and a generous pinch of sea salt, if desired. Refrigerate until firm, 1-2 hours (or speed up the process in the freezer). Cut into bars or squares and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week or the freezer for up to 1 month.
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