photo credit: Daniella Segura
Oatmeal is life.
I am partial to grandiose statements like these, particularly when it comes to food. Damn, I love oatmeal. I love it even more now that I’m coming off a long-lived fat loss cycle and now have more carbs to play with… but even when I was carb poor, I made room for at least small portions of oatmeal. It makes for a great pre-workout boost as well.
We’re coming to the end of winter so perhaps the feeling will pass, but lately all I want to eat is jacked up, fancifed bowls of oats. I’ll get to a few recipes soon, so hang tight. Let’s take just another moment to reflect on how badass oatmeal really is. First let’s talk nutrition.
Oats are whole grains. I can tell you that oatmeal fills you up, helps you poop better (yay!) and is filled with soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. One serving of just oats is around 117 kcal with very low fat, a healthy source of carbs, and contains protein too. It also can decrease your cholesterol and colorectal cancer risk. Good stuff all around, yes?
But let’s be honest, that’s not why I’m craving oatmeal. I’m not eating it plain. Oh ho ho, that would be silly and sad. Oatmeal is the most perfect canvas for whatever your heart desires. It works with both sweet and savory flavors, so get creative and punch up your oats with some fun ingredients.
Get Started By Using the Best Base
First of all, you need to make some oatmeal, right? There are all sorts of varieties available to you, from quick oats that cook fast to old-fashioned rolled oats, and steel cut. Let’s toss out the obvious tiny little packages of flavored oatmeal, because while those are okay in a pinch, they’re not that tasty. If I want a bunch of added sugar, it’s going to be luxurious maple syrup tapped from the trees of Vermont by a rustic syrup farmer or some shit, not a craptastic fake peach flavor.
The biggest difference among oat varieties is simply how much the oat groat has been processed. They’re all pretty similar with nutrient profile. But the processing nuances give them all their own special texture. My go-to lately has been steel cut oats. They don’t even look much like oats. They more resemble short grain rice or even quinoa. Except they taste great, unlike quinoa, which can go to hell for being overplayed and underwhelming in flavor. Quinoa is merely the current it girl. Oatmeal is O.G.
My favorite is steel cut. You might say it’s the manly man of oatmeal, with a firm body but warm and… well, that got weird. Ok, moving on.
Steel cut oats have more chew than the oatmeal most of us grew up eating. When you cook it, it becomes creamy yet has a fantastic, chewy texture that will make you a convert if you’re not already.
The only downside is the cooking time – it’ll take you around 25 to 30 minutes to prep a batch. On the upside, you can prepare a big batch and reheat it all week. It’ll still taste wonderful. And c’mon, we all have time. How many minutes do we dump every morning checking social media? Scroll through your Instagram while you give your oats a loving stir here and there. You’ll #multitask and have #instafood in no time.
How To Make (Better) Steel Cut Oats
First of all, forget all those overnight slow cooker steel cut oat recipes. They mostly blow. Usually, the outside edges burn and the middle gets mushy and strange. Gross. It’s not that hard to prep these the morning before using, or like I said, if you’re all about #mealprepmonday, make a big batch and reheat.
I should have included pictures of the step by step instructions, but I’m one of those people who scrolls directly to recipe details, so I’ll spare you that. Plus it’s so easy. Also I forgot to take pictures while I boiled oats. Please forgive me, as I have three kids who distract me with last minute math homework, can’t find socks, and fight over the Xbox. That’s life.
The Big Secret for Awesome Oats
First of all, you can chill out about the basics – the directions are on the bag. Seriously, that part is easy, and depending on different recipes, you may have slightly varying instructions. But usually directions have you boil about 3 parts of water to 1 part oats. You boil up your water and then add your oats. You can use milk for part or all of your liquid too, though as you’ll see, I sometimes just add more milk at the end of cooking.
But back it up a bit. Here’s how you can make your oats even better – just toast them first. You can use a nonstick skillet with a spritz of oil spray or be a bon vivant and use a few teaspoons of butter. But toast them, with or without spices, and THEN add them to your boiling water. Turn down your water to moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until they absorb most of the the liquid. Watch them closely as most of it evaporates and turn the heat down even lower to finish them off.
At this point, add your fixings- whatever your little heart desires. Worried about calories? Try cooking some diced apples separately with a bit of cinnamon to intensify their sweetness, then add them in at the end of cooking. Small amounts of banana pack quite a bit of a sweet hit. Go easy on the added nuts – they add calories rapidly, yet very small amounts still add crunch and can be a healthy, delicious addition to your bowl.
If you want to beef up your oatmeal with more protein, whisk in some egg whites to improve the protein profile. You won’t taste them, and in fact the addition will make them creamier. I’ll share a few variations that rocked my socks. You ready for the fun part? Here are my favorite recipes. Let’s do dis.
Sweet and Spicy Buttermilk Oatmeal with Peaches and Blueberries
I adapted this recipe from Saveur Magazine, decreasing the fat and sugar a bit by going easy on the butter and choosing a mix of unsweetened dried fruit and fresh berries. Instead of adding nuts to the mix, I choose to sprinkle them on as I eat a bowl so they remain toasty and crunchy. I never know what to do with leftover buttermilk from recipes – here’s a delicious solution.
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. ground green cardamom
1⁄4 tsp. ground star anise
1 (1”) piece ginger, peeled and mashed into a paste (I used 2 tsp of refrigerated ginger paste, which I found next to the fresh herbs in the grocery store).
1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
3⁄4 cup buttermilk
1⁄4 cup whole milk
1 tbsp. honey
1⁄2 cup unsweetened dried peaches, chopped (I had some of these on hand as a treat. Sweetened dried fruit is basically candy in terms of sugar content. This is a bit better. Better still would be fresh peaches, but I was fresh out. Boooo.)
1⁄2 cup fresh blueberries
Orange marmalade or raspberry jam, for serving (optional – if I do this, I use low sugar jam. The oatmeal is already fairly sweet.)
1 tsp of chopped toasted pecans per bowl, for serving.
Melt your butter in a 4 to 6 quart saucepan. Pour in your spices, oats, and ginger. Toast for a few minutes until everything smells fantastic and the oats are a bit toasted. This will seriously only take a wee bit of time, so don’t wander away.
I know I said to add your oats to boiling water, but in this recipe, just stir your salt and water right into the pot you are using for the oats. Bring it all to a boil and stir until the oatmeal is thick and tender.
Next, add your milks and simmer another 5-10 minutes until the oatmeal is thick again. Toss in your fruit, give it some stirs for another minute or two, and serve with optional toppings.
Serves: 4-6 depending on how big you like your bowls.
Lemon Ricotta Oatmeal
I wasn’t sure if I’d like this. I adapted this recipe from an idea I found in Cooking Light magazine awhile ago. Mint in oatmeal seems weird – yet it’s in dessert all the time. It meshes beautifully with the lemon. I prepare the ricotta mixture separately and then just dollop a few tablespoons into my oats each time I eat them.
1 bowl Prepared, plain steel-cut oatmeal
2 Tbsp Ricotta blend:for the blend, mix 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, the zest and juice of a lemon, plus a tablespoon or two of honey, depending on how sweet you like it. Taste it and adjust. Store extra mix in the fridge for another day’s bowl. Or later that day – I’d never judge you for that.
Scoop 2 tablespoons of your ricotta mix on top of your oats, and garnish with mint, you fancy pants. I think this would be lovely with fresh berries added too. Go crazy.
Shakshuka on Oats
I’m enamored with shakshuka lately, the North African dish that is super popular all over the middle east, and more recently in the states too. It’s a spicy, tomatoey egg dish that will blow your socks off. My favorite recipe for shakshuka is from David Lebovitz, so check that out here to get the recipe for the sauce and his instructions. I prepare batches of the sauce ahead of time and make single serving portions. Traditionally, the runny eggs and sauce should be mopped up with wonderful bread. But if you have plain oatmeal to use, why not spice it up with a serving of shakshuka? Just slide a prepared serving right onto your bowl of oats.
Other savory options include topping with a poached egg and sliced green onions, a fried egg and sriracha or really whatever leftovers you feel like reheating. If you think of plain oats like rice you’ll get more ideas. It sounds a little odd but it makes for a tasty and healthy breakfast.
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