Carob: Can We Please Show Some Respect?

Samantha, who helps us prep in Palo Alto for the Monday vegetarian dinners, with a plate of peanut-carob crunch bars (recipe after the jump).

I seem to be a champion of the underdog, a battler for lost causes.  As such, consider the case of carob.  A beautiful tree, and a worthy food which just can’t seem to get respect. A poor substitute for chocolate, many say.  True enough. Chocolate lovers who bite into a carob something, expecting chocolate, get instead, disappointment. Can we agree to stop with the carob brownies and the chocolate look-alike cakes? Carob, also known as St. John’s bread, has its own subtle and pleasant flavor, and it pairs well with dried fruits and nuts of all kinds. Carob is naturally sweet and unlike chocolate, is low in fat and calories.  Its ability to grow in poor soil and drought-resistance have served mankind well since ancient times. It is mentioned in both the Talmud and the Christian scriptures. Most every natural food store carries carob powder, made from the dried and roasted pod of the carob tree. Which brings us to my recipe where carob is teamed with dates in the base of this bar and with peanuts on the top. Yes, this is a two-part recipe, but don’t let than daunt you.  Both parts go really fast.  And the result is something different, not chocolate-like, but delicious in it’s own way.

PEANUT-CAROB CRUNCH BARS

For the base layer:

Dry ingredients:

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/4 cup carob powder

1/2 cup roasted, coarsely ground peanuts

1 teaspoon baking powder

tiny pinch of salt

Wet ingredients:

1/2 cup barley malt syrup

1/4 cup canola oil

3/4 cup (packed) dried dates, pitted and chopped

3/4 cup hot water

1. Measure and mix together all the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl.

2. Measure the wet ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend everything (including the dates) until well emulsified.

3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir well to combine.

4. Pour into an oiled 9″ square baking pan, smooth with a rubber spatula and bake in a 350º F oven for 15 minutes or until it tests done.

While the base is baking, prepare the ingredients for the crunch layer:

1/4 cup brown rice syrup

1/4 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons carob powder

1 tablespoon water

1 1/2 cups brown rice crispies cereal

1 cup coarsely chopped roasted peanuts

1. In a medium sauce pan, heat the rice syrup, maple syrup, carob powder and water until very hot, but not boiling.

2. Mix in the brown rice crispies and peanuts, stir well to thoroughly combine.

3.  With a rubber spatula and damp hands, spread this mixture gently and evenly over the base layer.  Pat down lightly.

4. Return to the oven and bake for 3-4 minutes, or just enough to melt the topping into place.  Cool completely before cutting with a sharp, moist knife. Makes 12 bars.

Carob pods, green above, dried below.

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