fig and sunflower bites

One of my clients asked me to pick up nut-free bars for their kids' snacks this week—nut-free because so many schools don't allow peanuts or tree nuts through the door. I thought I would have more options than I did at the grocery store, considering, but so many bars (especially the ones that proudly tout being made of only 3 or 4 or 5 pronounceable ingredients) rely on nuts for heft. 

This recipe is what I came up with instead—basically the same formula as any dried, blended fruit-and-nut bar, nothing fancy, but they're vegan and can be gluten-free and are totally free of nuts thanks to sunflower seeds, which go creamy and tender in the food processor. They taste like Fig Newtons, and I wanted one so much when I got back from the gym today. (Instead I stood at the counter and ate cold macaroni and cheese from the fridge with my hands.) 

Next time I'll try these with a spoonful of cocoa powder, or roll the log in crushed sunflower seeds before chilling, or swap the figs for something else (dried cherries!!!! dried apricots!!!! maybe a mango-coconut version?). Also: Instead of making a log and slicing, you could pat the mixture into an even layer in a pan lined with parchment paper and then slice into squares or bar shapes, or roll tablespoon-sized balls of it.

Fig and Sunflower Seed Bites
Makes about 2 dozen

1 cup dried figs (I like black Mission figs but the brown Turkish figs would work just as well)
Boiling water
1 cup raw sunflower seeds
Pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup wheat germ or flax meal

In a smallish heat-safe bowl (or a 4-cup glass measuring cup), pour enough boiling water over the dried figs to completely cover them. Let them soak 30 minutes. Drain, discarding the liquid, and set the figs aside.

Combine the sunflower seeds and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until the seeds are broken into very tiny crumbs but aren't quite a meal. Add the figs, vanilla extract, and wheat germ (or, if you want to make a gluten-free version, flax meal), and blend until totally combined. The mixture should be sticky but on the firm side.

Scrape the mixture onto a large sheet of parchment paper and use your hands to form it into a rough log shape about 12 inches long. Fold the parchment over the log and tuck it under the log's edge. Use your hands or a bench scraper to shape the log into a cylinder. Twist the ends of the paper to seal the log in and refrigerate for an hour. 

After an hour, slice the log into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.