Quinoa is not a grain. Technically, it’s a chenopod, related to beets, spinach, and the ever-delicious tumbleweed.
As seeds go, it’s not incredibly high in protein but runs right around average for common nuts and seeds, but if you consider it a grain – and many do, since it behaves a wee bit like one – it’s a powerhouse of protein in comparison to starchy carbs like oats and wheat.
I just knew I could improve upon the quinoa oat protein bar recipe I posted earlier today, and once I figured out that these grain-free, gluten-free quinoa bars would hold together with nuts instead of oats, I left the oat version behind and made about ten batches of the grain-free recipe! If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter you may have been tracking my progress, and I’m pumped to finally share the recipes with you all.
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Our family has benefited so much when we go grain-free, that although I wanted to share the oat-based recipe as a more frugal option and one step easier (no grinding of nuts), this one meets the high protein goal much, much better.
I even made one more batch just today, because I wanted to see what adding cocoa powder would do. (Perhaps I saved the best for last?)
These grain-free quinoa bars have been devoured by children and adults alike, those used to real food and, well…normal people, too. I’ve served the bars to everyone who visits my house and taken them to brunches with other moms and family gatherings. (Remember how many batches I made? You didn’t think I ate them all by myself, did you? Of course, if I did, that would explain the need for the Real Food Weight Loss and Exercise series…)
It seems that everyone has had a different favorite, so I’m going to post what may be the most flexible snack bar recipe in history. It will end up being about 15 different bar possibilities depending on your goals and your budget. Even if you’ve always been a quinoa hater, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy these bars. Let’s have fun with it!
Workout Friendly High Protein
Since my main goal here, other than culinary delight, was to achieve a high protein bar with zero soy, I did a few things to the recipe to increase the protein content:
- Nuts instead of grains. I replaced all the oats with ground nuts.
- What kind of nut? I wanted the highest protein, so although my first test used walnuts, I learned that walnuts are one of the lowest protein nuts. Phooey. My husband’s Livestrong app told us that sunflower seeds were the highest, so off I went developing a sort of tropical flair bar, with sunflower seeds, almonds, apricots, and coconut. When I searched a few calorie counter sites to figure the total protein in the bars, however, I found ranges from 24-27 g protein/cup for sunflower seeds, 20-31 g in almonds, 14-20 g in walnuts and a whopping 37.7 g (or maybe 24, depending on source) of protein in peanuts. (Good thing my favorite versions always have the peanut butter in them!)
- I added Vital Whey protein powder from Radiant Life to really boost the protein content (more on that product in tomorrow’s protein post). This adds over a dollar a scoop to the total cost of the recipe, so it’s most certainly optional, but definitely adds protein, about 1 g per slice, per scoop.
- I doubled and tripled the Real Salt, since real sea salt adds electrolytes that are important to replace (think Gatorade) after a strenuous workout (or just hard work, genuinely).
Here is the print version of “Tropical” Grain-free Quinoa Bars. Scroll down for the pictorial and other versions, including my favorite.
- 1 c. cooked quinoa*
- ½ c. sunflower seeds, ground finely in food processor
- ½ c. almonds, ground finely in food processor
- ¼ c. dried apricots, chopped into small pieces
- ¼ c. honey or maple syrup
- ¼ c. shredded unsweetened coconut
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- ½-¾ tsp. unrefined sea salt
- 1 egg
- 1 scoop Vital Whey protein powder (optional)
- *Soak 1 cup dry quinoa overnight in water and either rinse and cook right away or set to sprout for 2-4 days. To cook: Mix with 2 cups milk or 1 can coconut milk. Bring to a boil, stir, and lower to simmer, covered, for 30 minutes (no stirring). This will make enough for two 9×13 pans of bars or you can eat the cooked quinoa on top of yogurt with blueberries, cinnamon, and maple syrup. You can also freeze extras for future batches. If you only want enough for one recipe, use ¼ c. quinoa and ½ c. milk.
- Once quinoa is cooked and ready, simply mix all the ingredients together with a spoon or a mixer, then spread in a greased 8x8-inch glass baking pan.
- The batter/dough will be rather moist; don’t worry.
- Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes until firm to the touch in the center and browning on the edges.
- Cool completely in the pan, then cut into 16 2×2-inch squares.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
As you can see in the photo above the recipe, the bars come out thin, moist, and delicious. It’s a bit difficult to eat just one, which is okay since they’re healthy, right?
Here’s the nutritional info for one bar:
Even with the scoop of whey protein powder, the protein isn’t whopping (but the serving size isn’t either, really). This is still a snack I can feel good about, and you can even cut the honey in half if you can handle a not-so-sweet bar. The calorie counter keeps telling me all these bars are high in sugar and I feel badly about that!
Recipe: Choose Your Own Adventure Quinoa Protein Bars
Here’s where you get to start having fun building your own bar. I’ve tried so many different ways, and seriously, every single time they’ve worked out, so I feel pretty confident in telling you that as long as you’ve got a cup of cooked quinoa and a cup of something else like nuts or oats, you can do just about anything with the other ingredients and you’ll have edible, if not delicious, results. For example, the next time I make the tropical version, I think I’ll add 1/2 tsp. orange zest and 1/2-1 tsp. almond extract and see what happens.
Start with the basic recipe below and then adjust the additions to your heart’s content!
1 c. cooked quinoa (see cooking notes above)
1 c. nuts, ground finely in food processor
¼ c. dried fruit
¼ c. honey or maple syrup
½-3/4 tsp. salt
- 1 egg (or not, but helps bars to stay together and be less crumbly)
- 1-2 scoops Vital Whey protein powder
- ¼ c. peanut butter or butter or coconut oil
- 2-3 Tbs. ground flax
- ¼ c. shredded unsweetened coconut
- 1-2 tsp. cinnamon
- up to 2 Tbs. chia seeds
- cut the sweetener in half
- add 1/2 tsp. baking soda for lift
- 1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
- 2-4 Tbs. cocoa powder (although I don’t know if I’d add both whey protein and cocoa…)
- add some nutritional yeast or high quality gelatin? Both are high protein sources I’ve been meaning to experiment with…
One example of fiddling: on the left, you see a batch with an egg and no baking soda, on the right, no egg but with baking soda. The texture couldn’t be more different, but they both hold together and taste great.
Just mix well and spread into a greased 8×8 or 7×11-inch pan. Bake at about 350F for 25-30 minutes and see what happens! (Or if your oven is like mine and prefers to stay at 300F no matter what, your toaster oven will knock them out at 325F in 25-30 minutes as well, or 300F in the oven for an hour.) You’ll know the bars are done when the edges are truly browning and the center is stiff. Be sure to cool completely in the pan and refrigerate before deciding if the bars stick together or not. Store in the refrigerator.
You can also dehydrate bars that don’t include eggs (see more below).
Too crumbly? Two fixes:
- You can “re-toast” any bars that seem a little crumbly by separating them individually on a cookie sheet or baking stone and toasting them at about 350F for 10 minutes. Let them cool completely on the pan before removing to store again. This gives them more stability.
- Also, I’ve found that a little “powder” ingredient goes a long way toward bar stability, especially if you use baking soda for lift. Adding even a Tablespoon or two of the whey protein, cocoa powder, or even a bit of wheat flour or brown rice flour adds some needed substance to keep the crumbs in.
Recipe: Katie’s Favorite Grain-Free Quinoa Protein Bars So Far
Here’s the actual recipe for the bars that got all dressed up for the photo shoot, in case you’re not feeling adventurous and just want to make something yummy without thinking about it! They’re my favorite because I love the peanut butter and don’t miss the sweetener, but a lot of people like the tropical better.
1 c. cooked quinoa (see cooking instruction in Tropical version)
1 c. ground almonds (measure before or after grinding, it makes little difference)
2 scoops protein powder
1/4 c. peanut butter
2 Tbs. honey
1/4 c. raisins
1/4 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tbs. chia seeds (optional)
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. homemade vanilla extract
5.8 g protein in one 2×2″ bar
Mix together in a stand mixer and spread into a buttered 8×8 glass pan. The photo above shows the “dough” just before pressing into the pan.
Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 25-30 minutes until brown on edges and firm on top. Cool completely and store in the refrigerator. I thought these bars were too crumbly after cooling, but once refrigerated, they firmed right up. After refrigeration, they do fine at room temperature when they’re already cut apart.
Make plum-sized balls and flatten onto parchment paper on dehydrator trays. Dehydrate at about 135F for 6 hours or so, until the bars hold together and aren’t too moist. Store in the refrigerator if you want to keep them around more than a day or two, since they’re still pretty moist. They’ll look like this:
Here’s the exact same recipe, baked or dehydrated:
The difference in flavors is incredible. I highly recommend, if you have a dehydrator, experimenting with both ways to see which you prefer.
I’m excited to come back tomorrow with a post on as many high protein sources as I could dream up for your post-workout snacking delight.
What version are you trying first?
***Also, don’t forget about my snacks lesson coming TODAY in the GNOWFGLINS eCourse for lots of other ideas on healthy snacking and some fun video tutorials.
Disclosure: I am an Amazon affiliate and will make commission there and get free coupons from Tropical Traditions when new customers make an order. The whey powder was a free sample from Radiant Life, and I’m happy to mention their products in this post since quality, real food whey protein is hard to find! See my full disclosure statement here.