I love oatmeal. I started as most people of my generation did, with Quaker instant oatmeal. My favorite flavors were peaches and cream and maple brown sugar. Even as a 20s-something I consumed a fair bit hiking and camping with my super-outdoorsy boyfriend. Fortunately my huge interest in getting back to the basics of food drew me away from instant oatmeal. For about seven years I ate old-fashioned rolled oats, topped with brown sugar, walnuts, and milk, everyday for breakfast. Then I went to graduate school in Vermont and started using maple syrup in place of brown sugar (enter Travis). After reading more on processing and nutrients and blah blah blah, I transitioned to steel-cut oats, also called Scotch oats or Irish oatmeal. It was the last stage of my oatmeal “growing up”. Both quick and old-fashioned rolled oats are made from oat groats that have been steamed and flattened with huge rollers. Steel-cut oats are the groats simply cut into two to three pieces (presumably with something steel) and are therefore much chewier and “bouncier” in the mouth. More lively, if you will. Probably not for those transitioning directly from instant oatmeal, but they are oh so delicious! And they benefit hugely from an overnight soak before the breakfast cooking (read Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions for a great discussion on why to soak most grains and legumes before consuming).
Oatmeal and I had to break up for a while, though. Travis does not like it, and tends towards the farmer-style breakfast of bacon and eggs. So for a couple of years there we did a lot of fried eggs and bacon, and I’d mix it up with various toasts from the bakery I worked at, or with pancakes or waffles, or homefries (which merit their own blog entry some day).
But now I’m bringing oatmeal back big time for several reasons. First, James likes it, and it’s exactly the kind of thing I want him growing up and eating for breakfast – the Food Lover’s Companion notes that it’s by far the most nutritious of the cereal grasses. Second, it’s cheaper than bacon and eggs and I love to balance my food budget. Third, if we don’t have eggs at breakfast it opens up eggs as lunch and dinner items, which lends itself to all manner of deliciousness and convenience. Fourth, I cook up a huge batch Monday mornings and then I have breakfast quickly ready to go for the rest of the week. Last, I’ve developed some great variations on and alternatives to the bowl of oatmeal that makes it more Travis-friendly. And I’m presenting them here in the hopes that those of you who don’t yet do oatmeal for breakfast will be excited enough to try at least one of these items.
Soak the oatmeal overnight – adding yogurt or whey to the soaking water helps break down the phytic acid in the bran. Strain and rinse the oatmeal in the morning, and then add enough water to cover by about half an inch. Less if you’re in a hurry or you like really bouncy oatmeal, more if you like it cooked more. I like to skim the rather mucilaginous stuff that rises to the top, but that’s not necessary. When down, dish up and dress it up! Here are some wonderful savory or sweet options:
Oatmeal with sauteed zucchini, shredded coconut, and sunflower seeds
Oatmeal with creamed collards and walnuts
Oatmeal with raw butter and raw honey (Jamie-style)
Oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, and maple syrup – the crowd pleaser!
Any of the above, with other grains added for extra fun – here I’ve stirred in leftover red bhutanese rice into the just finished oats
You all know how passionate I am about pan-fried cakes and their usefulness/deliciousness. Oatmeal cakes are no different! Shape a small handful of cooked oats into a patty and fry it up in ghee, bacon fat, or coconut oil, then top with maple syrup and sea salt. Yum! Both Jamie-friendly and Travis-friendly. (Sidenote, these work best with drier oatmeal, so if you’re planning to make up oatmeal for this express purpose be sure to cook it just past the moist, gooey stage).
Also a fried pan-cake, but a great way to use up a small amount of cooked oats that won’t make a bowl or enough cakes. Alternatively, it’s a great way to stretch pancake batter. I usually make pancake batter* once a week and use it over the course of two to three days, and throwing leftover cooked oatmeal in at the end is a great way to get the last cakes out of the batter. And it’s ridiculously good. I’ve been resisting oatmeal pancakes for years because I tried once with uncooked quick oats and it was awful. But cooked steel-cut oats will show off oatmeal pancakes they way they were intended to be. And yes, I am cooking pancakes outside on the grill in this photo. For those not in the know, we just survived a wicked heat wave here on the east coast.
So that’s that. Who knew oatmeal could be so versatile? Now none of us (Travis included!) have an excuse to not enjoy one of the healthiest and most frugal breakfast options out there. Happy breakfasting!
*Riva’s sourdough pancake & waffle “recipe”
- Take 1/2 – 3/4 c of sourdough starter (less starter, less sour) and add 1 1/2 c flour (I use whole wheat, but use whatever you have or make up a fun blend) and 1 1/4 c non-chlorinated water and let it sit overnight.
- Reserve 1/2 – 3/4 c of starter for next time. To the remaining sourdough, add:
- 1 egg (if you’re making waffles, separate the egg, add just the yolk, beat the white until stiff and fold in at the very end of mixing)
- Some maple syrup, I think I add between 1/8 and 1/4 c.
- Some kind of fat, such as melted butter, melted bacon fat, or melted coconut oil. 1/4 c?
- A bit o’ salt. Sea salt.
- Some baking soda. Less than a teaspoon. I think. There should be a bit of activity in the dough after you’ve added the soda – if not, your dough is not sour enough, or you didn’t add enough soda. Use your judgement and figure it out. If the dough is a bit dead, try adding some plain live yogurt.
- Thicken with flour or thin with milk so that the batter is to your liking. You can also mix it up by adding some cornmeal, buckwheat flour, or cooked oats. Yum!