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Food: Try endless variations of fruit energy bars

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

After an extremely painful injury to my knee last September, Dr. William Hakeos at Henry Ford Hospital worked his magic with plates and screws, put me back together and got me back on my feet. But it was physical therapist Amanda Davis Berres at OMPT Specialists (Orthopedic Manual Therapy) in Southfield who got me on the move again.

A bike accident caused me to break my tibia plateau, and even though I’d never heard of that body part before, the look on all the docs’ faces when they came to see me in the hospital told me all I needed to know: What I’d done was not going to be a picnic.

Five months later I still have pain, but Berres has been working with me to get my strength and mobility back and I’m feeling better after every visit.

I am grateful to both these wonderfully kind professionals, especially Berres, with whom I love the conversation almost as much as the therapy. So when she told me that she couldn’t eat gluten, had a passion for Lärabars (the popular energy snack bar that uses only unsweetened fruits, nuts, spices and dairy and soy-free chocolate) but they were so expensive that she tried and failed to re-create them at home, I decided to show her what I could do and set to work experimenting.

The Internet is full of recipes and variations so after a bit of research, I came up with some of my own versions to surprise Berres.

I knew I had a winner when I couldn’t stop cutting off little squares of the date, nut and dried fruit delights and popping them in my mouth. Even my husband offered a big “yum” when he sampled some. But the real test was if Berres liked them.

The recipe is quite simple and doesn’t require an oven or a lot of measuring. What you do need, however is a food processor as it takes all that power to pulverized the ingredients into a sticky ball. An imagination of what flavors complement each other also helps. For instance, grated orange and chocolate are a delicious team as is mango, lime and coconut. I created five different versions.

Not only did Berres seem thrilled with her goody bag of bars, but the bars that I had taken in for the office staff to enjoy was gone by the time my appointment was over. That was all I really needed to know.

Kate Lawson is the former food writer for The Detroit News.

Apricot Almond Bars

(Homemade Lärabars)

In experimenting, I found that lightly toasting the nuts beforehand and letting them cool added to the flavor of the bars. Use raw cashews, hazelnuts, pecans and peanuts to suit your taste.

11/2 cup almonds (or other nuts, raw or roasted but definitely unsalted)

1 generous cup Medjool dates, pitted (You can get a good buy of pitted dates at any Mediterranean market)

1 cup dried apricots (or other dried fruit like cherries, cranberries or mango)

Pinch sea salt

(optional add-ins: small amounts of lemon zest, lime zest, nut butter or cocoa powder) See Note

Lightly toast the nuts and let cool.

Line an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish with parchment paper or plastic wrap. In a food processor, pulse the almonds until they are fine. Pour them into a bowl.

Process the pitted dates, dried apricots and sea salt until the dried fruits are mashed into a paste and begin to form a ball.

Break up the fruit mixture with a spatula and add the nuts to the food processor. Process until the chopped nuts are incorporated evenly into the fruit mixture and it again begins to form a ball. Transfer the mixture to the baking dish, and use your hands to press it into an even layer.

Chill the baking dish in the freezer for at least 30 minutes, then use a sharp knife to cut the fruit-and-nut blend into squares or bars (I cut mine into 12 squares).

Wrap each bar tightly for individual servings or store in air-tight container. These bars should last for a couple weeks at room temperature, but store them in the refrigerator or freezer for longer life.

Variations : For Mango Lime Cashew bars: substitute mango (and candied ginger, about 1/8 cup, optional) for the apricot and cashews for the almonds. Add about 1 teaspoon lime zest.

For Cranberry Bars : Substitute cranberries for the apricots, add1/2 cup unsweetened dried coconut

For Chocolate Orange Bars : Add 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa and a handful of dark chocolate chips (optional), with 1/8 cup chia seeds (optional and 1 teaspoon grated orange zest. Substitute mixed berries for apricots and pecans or hazelnuts for almonds.

12 servings: 175 calories; 10 fat; 1 sat; 51 percent fat; 21 carbohydrates; 16 sugar; 0 cholesterol; 16 sodium; 5 protein; 4 fiber