Place the dates in a medium bowl, cover with 2 cups hot water and soak for 30 minutes, until softened.
Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan with foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on at least two sides. Lightly spray the foil with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, combine the oats, puffed rice cereal, almonds, 1 cup of the carob chips, dried cherries, sunflower seeds and flaked coconut. Mix until evenly combined.
Add the softened dates and their soaking water to a blender along with the cinnamon, vanilla and salt. Blend on high speed until completely smooth, 1 minute.
In a separate bowl, mix together the almond butter and 1 1/2 cups of the date syrup. (Refrigerate the extra date syrup for another use; see Cook's Note.) Add the almond butter mixture to the bowl with the oats and mix together with a rubber spatula or clean hands until evenly combined. When you squeeze the granola in your hands, it should hold together like a wet dough.
Firmly pack the granola into the prepared pan. Flatten the top by lightly spraying the bottom of a 1-cup metal measuring cup and pressing down on the granola to compact it as much as possible. There should be about 3/4 inch between the granola and the rim of the pan. Cover with foil and freeze for 2 hours.
When the granola has set, remove the foil. Melt the remaining 1/2 cup carob chips with the coconut oil in the microwave. Immediately drizzle the melted carob over the granola. Let set at room temperature or, for faster results, freeze for 5 minutes.
Once the carob has set, use the foil overhang to lift the granola from the pan. Cut the granola into 24 bars by cutting it into 3 strips on the 9-inch side (every 3 inches) and 8 strips on the 13-inch side (about every 1 1/2 inches).
Serve immediately or wrap the bars individually in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for a quick on-the-go snack.
Carob is an alternative to chocolate with a very similar taste. If carob chips are not available, you can substitute dark chocolate. Extra date syrup can be used in place of honey, maple syrup, agave or other sweeteners. The syrup will thicken in the refrigerator. When ready to use, loosen it with a little hot water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it becomes the desired consistency. Carob is an alternative to chocolate but tastes very similar. You can substitute dark chocolate instead if carob chips are not available.
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