By Linda Gabris

Linda Gabris
Issue #102 • November/December, 2006

For many folks, holidays are the hardest time of the year to stick with sensible eating habits since seasonal entertaining revolves around so many traditional offerings of sweet treats, cookies, and other temptingly rich goodies.

But there’s no need to despair, for one surefire way to take some of the pressure off is by having an array of healthy homemade snacks on hand for worry-free indulging.

A healthy snack should contain little or no sugar, be low in salt or no-salt when called for, be made with whole wheat or other natural flours rather than bleached white flour, and last but not least should not leave your fingers dripping with butter, grease, or oil.

Here's all you need to make a batch of super delightful no-bake oat balls—sometimes known as old-fashioned oat candy.
Here’s all you need to make a batch of super delightful no-bake oat balls—sometimes known as old-fashioned oat candy.

Making your own customized munchies is a great way to cut the above undesirables from snacks as well as helping to control additives and preservatives that are often used in the manufacturing of common picks like barbecued peanuts, beer nuts, potato and other types of chips, and crackers.

If old-fashioned snack choices have been leaving you with a guilty conscience, then it’s definitely time to switch over to some newfangled treats that you and your loved ones can nibble with a happy heart.

Following is a delicious array of healthy homemade alternatives to store-bought snacks that are guaranteed to take the sneak out of snacking and make your holidays much jollier. And the good news is that these tasty treats are so easy and economical to make you can enjoy them all year round.

They also make wonderful, affordable gifts that are sure to please. Throughout the year, shop for neat containers for packaging these treats, and by the time Christmas rolls around, all you have to do is fill them with homemade treats and attach a bow and the recipe if you want to share your slim waistline secret.

Crunchy oven-roasted soy nuts:

Oven-roasted soybeans—or soynuts as they are often labeled commercially—are a delicious, crunchy snack that’s so much more worthy than old-fashioned, heavily salted or sugar-coated peanuts.

When made at home, you can control or eliminate salt to suit your own liking. Soy beans are high in protein, making them ideal for taking the edge off hunger pains so that you’ll feel satisfied even after a moderate nibble.

2 cups dried soybeans (1 cup raw soybeans makes 3 cups cooked, so this recipe produces about 6 cups)

Soak soybeans for 12 hours or overnight in cold water. The beans will absorb water, so take a peek about midway through soaking time and add more water if needed.

Drain soybeans, cover with boiling water, and gently simmer for 2 to 3 hours, adding more boiling water when necessary. To test for doneness, put one soybean in mouth and see if it crushes easily when pressed with the tongue. Drain and let drip in sieve until air dried.

Spread on baking sheets and roast in preheated 350° F oven, stirring often with a wooden spoon, for an hour or until golden and crisp. Cool and store in airtight container.

NOTE: Since it takes so long to soak and cook soybeans—and dried whole peas and chickpeas that are used in the following recipes—you can process larger batches and freeze them for future use. Save draining water to freeze them in. Measure into useable portions and freeze in their own cooking juice in air-tight containers or freezer bags.

Spicy seasoned soy nuts:

Cook and drain soybeans as before. Brush with vegetable oil, and sprinkle with seasonings such as freshly ground black pepper, garlic or onion powder, ground dill, caraway or celery seed, dried herbs, soy sauce, cayenne pepper, or anything else that tickles your fancy. They do not need salt as they have a natural satisfying salty taste.

Wasabi peas:

I was introduced to wasabi peas years ago, and no matter how often I snack on them, I never tire of that wonderful burst of flavor when you pop one into your mouth! In my circle of friends, we often joke that one never gets bored at a party when sitting next to a bowl of enlivening wasabi peas.

2 cups of dried whole peas
½ Tbsp. tahini
2 to 3 Tbsp. wasabi paste (available at larger supermarkets or specialty shops that carry Oriental foods. Use more or less to suit your tolerance to heat. You can also use wasabi powder prepared according to directions on label)
2 tsp. dry mustard powder
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar

In a few easy steps, common dried whole peas become a great healthy snack known as wasabi peas.
In a few easy steps, common dried whole peas become a great healthy snack known as wasabi peas.

Soak peas in water for 12 hours or overnight.

Drain, cover with fresh water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until peas are merely tender.

Drain and let air dry in sieve.

Spread peas on non-stick or lightly oiled baking sheets. Roast in 200° F oven for an hour or until peas begin to dry.

Empty into a bowl. Combine remaining ingredients and mix into peas, stirring until evenly coated.

Spread peas back on baking sheets and bake 250° F for 20 minutes or until coating is dry. Cool and store in tightly covered container.

Wasabi peanuts:

If holidays just aren’t holidays without peanuts, try this recipe to satisfy your nutty cravings.

2 cups whole raw peanuts
2 Tbsp. course salt (don’t fret, it will be discarded)
½ Tbsp. cornstarch
2 to 3 Tbsp. wasabi paste
1 egg white

Put peanuts in large bowl. Sprinkle with course salt and work it through with your hands, breaking peanuts in half. The salt helps split the peanuts while instilling salty flavor without overdoing.

Empty peanuts into sieve and let salt fall through and discard.

Mix wasabi with 1 egg white and beat with fork until foamy. Pour over peanuts and mix well.

Spread on non-stick or lightly oiled baking sheet and bake at 350° F for 30 to 40 minutes or until peanuts are roasted and dry. Cool and store in airtight container.

Roasted chicknuts:

2 cups dried whole chickpeas
2 tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

To cook chickpeas, soak 12 hours or overnight in water to cover.

Drain and cover with fresh water. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer until just tender, then drain again.

Spread chickpeas on non-stick or lightly oiled baking sheets. Sprinkle with garlic powder and cayenne and shake to coat evenly.

Roast in 350° F oven for 1 to 2 hours, shaking pan several times, until browned and crunchy. Cool and store in airtight container.

NOTE: You can substitute store-bought canned chickpeas in this recipe to save time.

Curried chicknuts:

I coaxed this delicious recipe from my East Indian friend, Jas. It calls for fragrant homemade curry powder, but you can use commercially prepared powder if you wish.

2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 Tbsp. curry powder (see recipe below)

Follow recipe above, using curry powder in place of garlic powder and cayenne. Recipe can be doubled or tripled.

Crunchy oven-roasted soy nuts make a super satisfying snack.
Crunchy oven-roasted soy nuts make a super satisfying snack.

Homemade curry powder:

2 tsp. fenugreek
4 tsp. coriander
2 tsp. cumin seed
½ tsp. whole black peppercorns
½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes or dried chilies
6 cardamom seeds, pods removed and discarded
½ inch of cinnamon stick
¼ tsp. whole cloves
2 tsp. mustard powder
2 tsp. ground ginger

Measure all ingredients into blender, cover, and grind for 1 to 2 minutes or until fine powder.

Store in airtight container. You can increase, decrease, add, or omit any item you wish to make this your own unique blend. Since it keeps indefinitely, you can make larger batches to have on hand for customized seasoning.

Seasonal hint for gift giving:

Double or triple the recipe above. Fill fancy little bottles or tins with this fragrant spice mix, label, and attach a bow. Makes a great gift, and if you’re feeling really generous, you can even include the recipe. Curry lovers will be tickled with this delightful mix that can be used in any recipe calling for curry powder.

Sweet roasted chicknuts:

Cook chickpeas as in above recipe.

Brush lightly with liquid honey or maple syrup, shaking pan to coat all sides.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds, shaking to coat evenly.

Bake in 250° F until glazed. Sprinkle with ground cinnamon, if you wish.

Allow to dry at room temperature before storing in airtight container.

Bran crackers can stand alone or be topped with paté spread.
Bran crackers can stand alone or be topped with paté spread.

Savory veggie stars:

Here’s a crispy vegetable cracker that’ll be the star of any party. They are wonderful with cheese, paté, or for nibbling on all by themselves.

¼ cup vegetable flakes
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat germ
¼ tsp. of sea salt
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. mixed herbs of choice (chives, basil, parsley, oregano, savory, thyme, tarragon, dill)
1 egg
1 cup water

Put vegetable flakes in blender and whiz until powdered. Empty into a large bowl and add remaining ingredients, except water. Stir until well blended. Add enough water to make a stiff dough and knead until smooth.
Turn out on floured board, roll out to 1/8 inch thickness.
Cut into 1 inch rounds or use any seasonal cutter you desire.
Place on non-stick or lightly greased baking sheets and bake at 350° F until crispy and light golden, about 10 minutes.
Cool and store in airtight container. These keep very well and actually get better with age as flavors meld.

Sesame-flecked bran crackers:

These healthy crackers are delicious with cheese, jam, paté or any other spread. They are also very good crumbled in soups or broken and used in place of croutons on salads.

1 cup oatmeal (coarsely ground in blender)
½ cup bran
1 cup whole wheat flour
6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. honey
½ cup water
1 cup toasted sesame seeds

Mix dry ingredients, except seeds, into large bowl. Combine wet ingredients and blend into flours.

Form into ball and roll out on floured surface as thinly as possible. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and roll down into dough.

Cut dough into desired sizes and shapes and transfer to non-stick or lightly greased baking sheets.

Using fork, prick holes uniformly. Bake 350° F for 15 minutes. Cool and store in airtight container.

Old world no-bake oat balls:

These tasty balls are sometimes called “oat candy.” They are good for the waistline, easy to make, and pretty on the plate. They are fun to roll into balls, so if you’ve got some little hands in your baking party, let them do the forming.

2 cardamom seeds, pods removed and discarded
1 whole nutmeg
2 cups oatmeal
½ cup almonds
1 large apple, peel left on (if using red apple, you will have red flecks in your candy. If using green apple, there will be dabs of green. Using some of each gives special holiday color)
¼ cup honey

Put cardamom seeds and nutmeg into blender and whiz until fine. Empty into bowl.

Put oatmeal into blender and grind into fine flour. Empty into bowl and add spices.

Grind nuts until fine and add to the oatmeal mixture.

Grate apple and blend with honey. Mix into the oatmeal mixture.

Wet hands with water and form mixture into tiny balls. Roll in icing sugar, if you wish. Put into little paper candy cups.

Refrigerate uncovered until dry.

Store in airtight containers in fridge.

Makes 1 to 2 dozen, depending on size.


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