Behind my culinary endeavors people expect to see an Italian grandmother on whose knees I learned to cook. My Italian nonna, however, died when I was not yet 2 years old, and my Croatian grandmother never invited me to cook with her, so all the heartwarming stories of cozy cooking sessions across generations that I am supposed to be able to tell are foreign to me.
My mother was a great cook. She had high standards and was possessive of her kitchen — a mix that got in the way of her effectiveness as a teacher. As a result, what I learned from her were mostly gestures, memories of which come back to me at useful times. After I got seriously into cooking, I asked my mother some things and she always shared her knowledge with me.
To learn, though, I needed to experiment actively, to make and make again, something I could only do in my own kitchen — and I did it until I mastered the skills I wanted. Not having spent time together in the kitchen with my mother, however, is something I regret, never more so than when the holiday season approaches.
Once I became proficient, I discovered that I enjoyed being a teacher and in recent months I have found an eager student in my husband. His scientific and inquisitive mind puts me on the spot: He asks many questions and prompts me to be extremely clear in the directions I give him.
Seed crackers are the first baked goods I taught him to prepare. Having a very low-carbohydrate dietary requirement made me scan seed-rich recipes. Using only seeds to make crackers sounded fascinating; it works beautifully. After trying a number of variations, this is the recipe I have settled on.
The close of the year is also a season of gatherings during which we need to accommodate a variety of dietary requirements. These crackers are nutritious, easy to prepare — hence good for beginner bakers, including youngsters — and, most importantly, excellent in terms of flavor. They are also gluten-free and vegan, which makes them a perfect choice for your appetizer or finger-food plates. Just be sure to check with your guests about any possible seed allergies.
The crackers come with a warning, though: They are so good and have such a delightfully crunchy texture that it's difficult to stop eating them, either by themselves or with a favorite spread or cheese.
Gluten-free Seed Crackers
If you don't have a kitchen scale, gift one to yourself — it is small, inexpensive and a precious help. Make sure it can handle grams along with pounds and ounces. All seeds for this recipe should be raw and preferably organic.
40 grams chia seeds
½ cup water
40 grams pumpkin seeds
40 grams sunflower seeds
20 grams hemp hearts (shelled hemp seeds)
20 grams sesame seeds
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon harissa spice mix, or berberé (Ethiopian spice mix)
Pour the chia seeds and the water in a bowl and stir well. Stir again after a couple of minutes. Let the mixture rest 10 minutes, until the seeds have absorbed all the water.
Heat the oven to 300 F. Cut a piece of parchment paper as large as a baking sheet.
Add all the other ingredients to the bowl with the soaked chia seeds and stir well.
Place the parchment paper on your working surface. Empty the bowl on it and use a spatula to spread the seed mix into an even layer, forming a rough rectangle that fits the baking sheet.
If you are less adept with the spatula, cut another piece of parchment paper (or of wax paper) the same size as the first, place it over the seed mix and use a rolling pin to gently spread it into the rectangle. If you have excess seeds in one place, use a spatula to move them to where you have more space to fill.
Spread the seed mix until the rectangle is no more than ¹/ inch thick. Peel away the top layer of paper and scrape any seeds stuck to it. Transfer the bottom layer with the seeds to your baking sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes. Take out the baking sheet and gently turn the cracker over on the parchment.
Continue baking for another 20-30 minutes until the cracker sheet is completely dry and crisp.
Let the cracker cool on the baking sheet and then break it into pieces. Enjoy!
Store any leftovers in an airtight container.
Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com.