Crunchy and sweet, these healthy Popped Sorghum Protein Balls make a super-easy vegan, gluten-free snack!
Whaddaya know about sorghum? You may have heard of this grain as the base for syrups or food flavorings, or maybe you have a vague association of it with endless Midwestern fields of grains–but have you ever tried it all by itself? If not, you’re in for a treat, both eating it all by its lonesome and using it in these tasty, nutty Popped Sorghum Protein Balls.
What is sorghum?
Like most Americans, I haven’t exactly thought of popped sorghum as a go-to snack throughout my 38 years of life. In fact, I had never given the stuff a second thought until I attended a nutrition conference last year and was introduced to it as not just a ho-hum grain that flavored cereals (maybe? or something?), but a snack in its own right.
Sorghum is an African ancient grain that has found a home on American soil. It’s not only gluten-free, vegan, high in fiber, and rich in antioxidants, its growing practices are pretty darn good for the environment, too. According to the presenter at my most recent nutrition conference, 90% of American sorghum farmers do not irrigate, saving valuable water. Plus, three-quarters of them use conservation tillage practices, which conserves soil by reducing erosion. A sorghum habitat even protects and increases wildlife! I don’t claim to be a soil expert (I’ll leave that to my uncle Scott in Quincy, Illinois) but it’s nice to know the majority of sorghum grown in the U.S. has a top-notch environmental profile.
Okay, but what is popped sorghum?
All well and good, I hear you say, but I’m here for the food.
I recently had the chance to try out Nature Nate’s Popped Sorghum, which takes sorghum grains and pops them to create itty-bitty bites of salty deliciousness that are, essentially, like shrink-rayed popcorn.
Look how cute! So tiny!
So far, I’ve tried the Avocado Oil and Sea Salt, Coconut Oil and Pink Himalayan Sea Salt, Rosemary Garlic, and Organic Ghee Butter flavors. In terms of taste, I’d say popped sorghum is like a slightly nuttier popcorn, with a somewhat softer texture. Bonus: There’s no giant, tooth-cracking kernel in the middle just waiting to throw you under the bus for dental work.
My 13-year-old son is our family’s biggest popped sorghum fan. After school, he sits on the couch with a large bowl. My only complaint is, being a teenage boy, he pretty much always leaves the bowl (and the crumbs) for me to clean up.
With savory flavor, scoopable size, and crunchy (but not too crunchy) texture, popped sorghum makes for great snacking. But, as a recipe developer, my mind is always churning out thoughts of how else I can use a food. (You know, ’cause eating something all by itself just isn’t exciting enough.)
I’m a fan of energy bites, which always seem tastier with a hint of crunch. So I figured the Avocado Oil and Sea Salt Popped Sorghum from Nature Nate’s could be just the thing to add to a quick batch of peanut buttery protein balls. Sure enough, the little crunchies brought a unique, salty twist (and a boost of fiber and nutrients) to these snacks.
With just six ingredients and one bowl, these bites came out sweet and salty, crunchy and chewy. They also formed up nice and easily into portable, poppable balls. (I’m now trying to convince my 13-year-old to eat them instead of just popped sorghum to save on crumbs.) If your afternoon snacks have gotten a little boring lately, give them a try!
Other ways to use popped sorghum
Got some extra popped sorghum left after you make protein balls? Here are some creative ways to eat this unique grain:
- Sprinkle some in a trail mix
- Use it as a salty topping on ice cream
- Scatter some throughout a chocolate bark
- Add crunch (and extra fiber) to oatmeal
Popped Sorghum Protein Balls
- 1/2 c. Nature Nate's Avocado Oil and Sea Salt popped sorghum
- 1/2 c. creamy peanut butter
- 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
- 1/4 c. flax seed
- 1/2 c. old-fashioned oats
- 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients until well combined.
- Using your hands, form into golf ball-sized balls.
- Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to a week.
Disclosure: This post sponsored by Nature Nate’s Popped Sorghum. All opinions my own.
The absolute easiest way to make brown rice! Baking makes for fluffy, no-mess rice.
If you had to name a food everyone can agree is healthy, you really couldn’t go wrong with brown rice. (Okay, unless you’re one of those people who think all grains are bad…which, for the record, has been disproven time and again.)
Brown rice is packed with fiber (3.5 grams per cup), protein (5 grams per cup), and important micronutrients like magnesium and selenium. It’s got a relatively low glycemic index of 50, meaning it won’t spike your blood sugar. Plus, it’s pretty dang low calorie at about 215 cals per cup. It goes with just about everything, from casseroles to Mexican food to meat dishes.
Only trouble is, well, making it.
Seems like every time I try making brown rice on the stovetop, I end up with a sticky mess that hangs on to the bottom of my saucepan like grim death. I dread cleaning any pot that has touched brown rice.
What I never realized–until recently–is that there’s actually a much better way to get fluffy, chewy brown rice that doesn’t involve scraping burnt grains off the pot for an hour after dinner. How, you ask? By baking it!
I’ll ‘fess up and say I didn’t come up with this bright idea on my own. In fact, my moment of brown rice enlightenment actually came from my kids’ favorite cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs. My 11-year-old son decided he wanted to try making baked brown rice, and it turned out to be totally easy enough for a preteen to manage without burning the house down. Essentially, all it takes is boiling some water in a kettle, then pouring it over grains in a baking dish (with a bit of butter, of course!). Cover and bake for an hour and you’re all set.
The beauty of this recipe is not only its simplicity, but the fact that it cooks the rice perfectly evenly–unlike the stovetop method, which can yield wet rice on top and crispy grains on the bottom. And, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, it doesn’t stick to the baking pan.
Since learning about this easy method, I’ve been making brown rice like a fiend, and I’m not sorry about it. It’s a versatile, healthy side dish I can always find a use for. I’ll never make brown rice on the stovetop again.
So tell me…am I just late to the game? Have you tried baking brown rice in the oven? Are you as enthused about it as I am?
The Easiest Baked Brown Rice
- 1 1/2 c. brown rice
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 2 1/3 water
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spread brown rice in an 8 x 8-inch glass baking dish. Cut butter into small pieces and dot over rice.
- In a kettle, bring water to a boil. Carefully pour over rice. Cover tightly with two sheets of aluminum foil.
- Bake for 1 hour, uncover, fluff, and serve.
Before I dive into telling you of the wonders of this Sweet Potato and Kale Curry, allow me to remind everyone that I am not a vegan—not even close. Though I do like to limit my meat consumption, especially red meat, it’s rare for me to eat a meal that’s totally vegan. Which is what always makes it surprising when a vegan dinner becomes one of my favorites…like this amazing recipe.
These days, in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic, I’m always looking for meals that are healthy and easy to pull together. With my kids home very day doing online school, I swear all they’re doing is sitting on laptops eating Sour Cream and Cheddar Ruffles (except for the times when I force them to go outside or run around the house a few times). And then there’s me. I’ll confess, my pandemic eating habits haven’t been stellar. With reduced activity and a dip in diet quality, I’m especially motivated lately to feed us all a healthy dinner.
This Sweet Potato and Kale Curry has been a particular lifesaver. It’s full of nutrients like vitamin A from sweet potatoes, vitamin K from kale, and fiber off the charts from the veggies and chickpeas. Not to mention, with minimal prep and about 18 minutes total cooking time, it’s a genuine 30 minute meal.
Now, this may sound well and good for health nuts who don’t mind flavorless food, but hold your peace until you’ve tried the coconut milk broth in this curry. Mild but rich, it’s the kind that makes you wish you’d made an entire separate batch just for sipping.
If you’re like me, I think you’ll find a little sweet potatoes and kale over rice will do your average pandemic dinnertime a world of good, whether you’re a vegan, a meat eater, or somewhere in between.
Sweet Potato and Kale Curry
- 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. curry powder
- 3 small or 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, drained
- 1 15-oz. full-fat coconut milk
- 1/2 c. water
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 5 c. torn kale leaves
- 4 c. cooked jasmine rice
- Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add ginger and garlic and saute for about 2 minutes, until fragrant. Add curry powder and cook an additional minute.
- Add diced sweet potatoes, chickpeas, coconut milk, water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer 15 minutes or until sweet potatoes are soft.
- Add kale to the skillet and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Serve over cooked jasmine rice.
Mix up your applesauce game with this sweet alternative! Peach applesauce is the perfect summery snack or dessert.
Quick: What’s your favorite summer fruit? While my thoughts immediately turn to blueberries and strawberries, peaches come in as a close second (or third, I guess?). These stone fruits are among the most versatile bases for sweets. I mean, is there any dessert you can’t make with peaches? Peach pie, peach cobbler, peach crisp, peach popsicles…I could go on, like:
Sorry, I’ve had a hankering to watch Forrest Gump lately.
Anyway, peaches aren’t just great on their own in snacks, smoothies, desserts, and breakfasts–they also make a great complement to other fruits, like…drumroll please…apples! I wouldn’t normally say homemade applesauce needs any tinkering (it’s pretty great on its own), but when sweet, juicy peaches are in season, might as well use the fruits of summer however you can. (Especially when you’ve brought home a giant pallet of them from Trader Joe’s, like I did recently.)
Anyway, this is one of those toss-everything-in-the-crock-pot-and-let-your-house-fill-with-aromas type recipes. You really can’t screw it up, and you could probably play with it to make it extra peachy, extra apple-y, extra sweet, or whatever you like. I also imagine you could use canned peaches in a pinch (like when they’re not in season).
Plus, since kids are STILL home for the longest summer ever that began in March, this makes a snack you can actually feel good about feeding them. (Anyone else going through snacks at record speed? Not gonna lie, we’ve been through a whole lot of chips and candy around here…)
Once the chunky goodness of this peach applesauce emerges from the slow cooker, it’s delicious hot or cold, on its own or atop vanilla ice cream. It’s a little smoother than traditional applesauce, which I think gives it an extra something special.
- 4 large peaches, peeled and chopped
- 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped
- 1/4 c. white sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/4 c. water
- Place all ingredients in a slow cooker. Cook on high 2 1/2 hours, then reduce heat to low and cook another hour or until the fruit has softened. Blend to your liking using a potato masher or immersion blender. Cool and refrigerate.
Who doesn’t love nachos? This Beef and Bean Nacho Casserole layers ground beef, black beans, melty cheddar, sour cream, and more on crispy tortilla chips for a delicious, easy Mexican dinner.
Remember recipe keepers? As in, the OG Pinterest? When I got married, a friend gave me this once-stylish (and once covered) Trapper Keeper-esque recipe binder–complete with pockets for recipes torn from magazines and plenty of space to write down favorite breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and more.
Just like new…😂
Little did I know that the internet would soon virtually eliminate my need for such a thing. With every recipe under the sun online, there’s less and less call for physical recipe keepers.
And yet…I do still actually use this book. (I’m in the generation that straddles the line between liking old school pen and paper and digital everything.) As you can probably tell from its appearance, this binder has seen 16 years of flipping, sorting, and stuffing. And while there are plenty of recipes I made in 2004 that I’d never consider now–lookin’ at you, chili with a spaghetti sauce base (yikes)–there are some I come back to time and again.
This Beef and Bean Nacho Casserole is one of them. Can you see why? Look at that gooey melted cheese, those dollops of sour cream, those lovable pops of cherry tomatoes! Come on, this meal is a nacho lover’s DREAM.
I honestly don’t know where this recipe originally came from, but it’s been in my recipe keeper almost since I acquired it. Some generous soul must have shared it with me, knowing what an inexperienced cook I was back then. Over the years I’ve tweaked it to make it my own. I’ve added fire-roasted corn, extra taco seasoning, and changed it from a single layer to a double layer. It’s not rocket science, certainly, but I can tell you it does make a crave-able Mexican meal that feeds a crowd. ‘Cause who doesn’t love nachos?
Typically, of course, nachos are not without their issues. The problem with making them in the microwave or under the broiler is getting the cheese to melt just right. Go too long and you’ll get a plate of scorched, blackened cheese crust–but too short a duration leaves you with a weird mish-mash that can’t decide if it’s melted or unmelted.
This recipe solves the problem by baking at 350 for about 30 minutes–perfect cheese-melting conditions, if you ask me. And though it may seem strange to bake dollops of sour cream, I promise it turns out as creamy as ever. Meanwhile, black beans add texture and fiber, and slivers of green onion finish things off with a piquant bite.
Hungry yet? Grab your nacho ingredients and get cooking! And tell me…do you have a recipe keeper? What’s yours like, and is it as messy (and well-loved) as mine?
Beef and Bean Nacho Casserole
- 1 lb. ground beef
- 1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
- 2 c. salsa
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. taco seasoning
- 1/2 c. frozen corn kernels, preferably fire-roasted
- 5 c. tortilla chips, roughly crushed
- 1 c. sour cream
- 2 c. shredded cheddar
- 1/2 c. cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
- 1/4 c. green onions, sliced
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
- In a large skillet, brown ground beef. Drain, then add black beans, salsa, taco seasoning, and frozen corn. Cook until heated through.
- Spread half the crushed tortilla chips in a layer in the prepared pan. Top with half the beef-bean mixture. Dollop with half the sour cream and sprinkle with half the cheddar. Repeat these layers: chips, beef-bean mixture, sour cream, shredded cheddar. Distribute halved cherry tomatoes, cut side down, over the top of the casserole and sprinkle with slicedgreen onions.
- Bake 25-30 minutes or until heated through and cheese has melted.