Energy bars can be a quick and easy (not to mention healthy) dessert option. This recipe is vegan and gluten-free; caramelized bananas would make it more of a treat. Cookie crumbs made from oats or other flour could be used in place of the nuts and seeds if you like. Not baking for a while? Readymade vegan energy bar options abound but some contain refined sugars, while others pack an unwanted protein punch — not ideal if you’re watching your weight or follow a nutritionally balanced plan.

I opted for raisins and carob chips to add flavor without excess sweetness, but feel free to add dried fruit such as cranberries or apricots, chopped dates, even fresh figs if they’re in season. For a chewy-to-the-bite energy bar, use just one type of nut and seed; for something less dense, substitute the same amount of oats or another flour for some of the nuts.

I hope you’ll try these bars as an occasional treat that won’t derail your healthy eating efforts. If you prefer to make them with protein powder, put them in the blender first so it’s properly mixed before adding wet ingredients, which will prevent chunks from forming.

Ingredients

2 cups rolled oats (not instant)

¾ cup chopped pecans or walnuts

½ teaspoon salt (fine sea salt preferred)

1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds or flaxseed meal

¼ cup (heaping) carob chips or vegan chocolate chips (chopped if large; see Note below)

1 ripe banana, mashed well with fork (about ¾ cup)

½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

¾ cup raisins, cranberries or chopped dried apricots (or a combination of these), plumped and drained (see instructions below), and/or 2 tablespoons date sugar or maple syrup for more natural sweetness, plus water as needed to thin to desired consistency.

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking dish with parchment paper so that some drapes over the sides. Do not butter pan. In a food processor fitted with the S blade, process rolled oats until you have a coarse meal. Add nuts and salt; pulse to roughly chop nuts. Transfer oat mixture to a medium bowl.

Add flaxseeds or flaxseed meal, carob chips or chocolate chips, mashed banana, optional cinnamon, and dried fruit (or infused date sugar). Stir to combine. If necessary, add water one tablespoon at a time until moist enough to stick together when pressed with fingers. Press two-thirds of the mixture firmly into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the top is dry to touch, lightly golden around edges, and starting to firm up in the center (do not turn the oven off). Meanwhile, cover raisins with hot water in a small bowl; let stand for 5 minutes (or as directed on package), then drain.

Remove pan from oven and spread raisins over the bottom of the crust, pressing down lightly so they adhere. Return to oven and bake 10 minutes more or until fruit is plump and dry looking. Place pan on a cooling rack and cool completely before cutting into small bars (I cut mine in half crosswise, then lengthwise). Store covered at room temperature for up to four days; refrigerate if keeping longer than that.   Makes 12 bars. Note: For chocolate chip fans, adding 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder along with the carob chips is an easy way to increase chocolate pleasure without changing recipe proportions too much or cooking time. Or, try chopped vegan white chocolate or angel food cake for a traditional blondie effect.

For the infused dried fruit: Chop or tear 1 cup of raisins, cranberries, or apricots (or a combination), and place them in a heatproof bowl. Add ¼ to ½ cup boiling water (depending on how dry your fruit is). Let stand 15 minutes; then drain well and pat dry with paper towels. Fluff pieces up with fingers; then if needed, add more hot water — just enough to cover and dampen thoroughly — and let stand 10 minutes longer (and only 5 more minutes if using dates); drain before adding to the recipe.

There are about 350 calories in the bars without infused fruit, and 400 with it. Total fat is 12 grams; saturated fat 1 gram; Cholesterol 0 milligrams; sodium 45 milligrams; carbohydrates 42 grams (fiber 5 grams, sugars 11 grams); protein 6 grams.

If you feel like something sweet but don’t want to bake just for yourself or one other person, try these squares. They’re chewy-to-the-bite because I use just one type of nut and seed instead of two or more mixed together plus oats or another flour. But they’re not dense, partly because I add a bit of maple syrup for natural sweetness plus raisins plumped in water to replace some of the dried fruit called for in most traditional blondies. And I use magic ingredients: almond butter and ground flaxseed meal, which both contribute to their fudgy-to-the-bite consistency.

Good with a cup of tea or coffee or as an after-dinner treat.  You can also cut them into bigger pieces if you wish to share!