Having made great strides in beating down long-held food prejudices, I take in no shame to confess that there are still some areas in need of work. Coming from the girl who once abhorred vegetables indiscriminately and considered instant ramen to be the staff of life, the acceptance of beets as edible substance, and even a quite delicious one at that, strikes me as great progress all by itself. However, put cilantro in my food or even sprinkle it on top as a garnish, and I’ll run for the hills. Pizza with pineapple on top? No, thank you, and don’t invite me out to dinner again! Possibly worst of all though, is the crime of mixing dried fruit into savory dishes. I know, it’s traditional in many cultures and when applied correctly, doesn’t even lend an overt sweetness, but I still gag quietly at the thought of plopping bulbous orange apricots into an otherwise lusciously rich and flavorful stew. Just leave the raisins and prunes for making granola, please!
After so many years of holding this bias dear, the time has come to challenge that whole concept. Browsing idly through Trader Joe’s one recent afternoon, I spied a new box of intriguing crackers on the shelf. Looking more like miniature slices of toasted multigrain bread than any flat cracker I had ever seen, the promise of all those textures and flavors got my attention. Here’s the kicker though: They included, of all things, raisins. Considering the herbaceous addition of rosemary, I couldn’t help but cringe momentarily. Practically flinging the offending box back on the shelf since the questionable snacks weren’t vegan in the first place, I high-tailed it out of there before anyone could ask about my overt expression of horror.
But the concept stuck with me, like a wet leaf, and followed me back home, straight into the kitchen. The nuts, seeds, rosemary, and raisins… Something about the motley crew had a slight ring to it, a latent harmony waiting to be heard. Why not give it a DIY try? Plus, this way, I could do damage control and throw in my favorite ingredients, to make it as appealing as possible. Out with the raisins and in with some dates, my favorite of all dried fruits, gave me added hope for these unusual crisps. Plus, the additions of green olives for some tangy, salty flavor got my imagination churning with excitement.
The verdict? Addictive beyond my wildest dreams. Crunchy but pleasantly chewy thanks to those moist medjool dates, every bite is a symphony of salty, sweet, and savory. Complex and full-flavored, they can easily stand alone with confidence, but are even better paired with a creamy spread, such as Melomeal’s goaty cashew cheese. Loosened to a soft consistency with a splash of water, this pungent spread rounded out a simple snack with ease and grace. Want to impress friends and family? These crackers, with or without spread, are just begging to be served at a party, and paired with a nice glass of wine.
A highly successful experiment, I’m downright baffled by how delicious the end results were, considering the controversial content. A convert to the way of savory dried fruits, however? Well, I wouldn’t immediately reject such a sweet and savory combination, but I might still carefully pick around the dried fruits included in a full main dish. Baby steps, right?
Sweet and Savory Rosemary Crisps
Adapted from Dinner with Julie
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Packed
2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
1 Cup White Whole Wheat Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Cup Chopped Dates
1/4 Cup Toasted, Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
1/4 Cup Toasted, Unsalted Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)
1/4 Cup Green Olives with Pimento, Roughly Chopped
2 Tablespoons Whole Flaxseed, Ground
1 1/2 Teaspoons Dried Rosemary Leaves, Ground
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
Pinch Ground Black Pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan.
First things first, mix together your non-dairy milk of choice, vinegar, sugar, and maple syrup. Let sit for at least 5 minutes for the “milk” to curdle. Meanwhile, combine everything else that follows in a large bowl, making sure that all of the ingredients are well distributed throughout the mixture, and that the dates and olives are thoroughly coated in flour. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry, and stir with a wide spatula, just until the batter is fully moistened and free of dry, floury pockets. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan, and bake for 35 minutes, until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then turn the loaf out onto a wire rack.
The cooler the loaf, the thinner and cleaner your slices will come out, so try to let it rest until completely cool. You may choose to let it sit overnight and resume baking in the morning, or you can speed up the process by tossing the loaf into the freezer briefly.
When you’re ready to bake the crisps, preheat or reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and slice the baked and cooled loaf into very thin slices with a serrated knife; Approximately 1/4 – 1/2 cm thickness. Lay them out on an ungreased sheet pan lined with aluminum foil (for easier clean up) and bake for 15 minutes. Flip the crackers over, and bake for a final 15 – 20 minutes, until golden all over. Don’t worry if they aren’t perfectly crunchy straight out of the oven, because they will continue to crisp up as they cool. Once cooled to room temperature, they can be stored in an air-tight container in a cool place for up to a week. If they last that long, that is.
Makes About 3 Dozen Crackers