I’m not going to lie – when I first laid eyes on you, it was hardly love at first sight, quite the opposite in fact. I stood in the breakfast line at the work canteen and watched the man in front of me slop what can only be described as a grey and gummy mess into a bowl, and wondered how anyone could ever enjoy a breakfast that so closely resembled papier mache. He proceeded to drown his hideously overcooked oatmeal in some milk and a generous serving of golden syrup before moving past the hot cereal station. Unappealing as it looked I was intrigued. A painful spoonful later made sure my curiosity never got the best of me where oatmeal was concerned – I deemed it flavourless prison food and reverted to my canteen favourite of fried mushrooms, hash browns and jam on toast (I wish I was kidding).
But it seems I was too quick to judge you.
Last summer, when I found myself standing in the cereal aisle at a small supermarket in Cairo with hardly any viable vegan breakfast options – I picked up a box of “organic” rolled oats and decided to take the plunge once again.
I whipped up a batch using generic box instructions and a few embellishments as per the internet’s instruction – a little soy milk, flaxseed, mashed banana, raisins, and cinnamon later it was time for the moment of truth.
In a word (which I seem to use all to often on this blog), it was delicious. Nothing like the slimy grey mess of shredded cardboard I remembered – instead it was creamy, mild, heartily filling and ever so subtly sweetened by the banana and cinnamon. I chalked it up as a success and made it for breakfast several more times that week with several variations – and when I discovered the wonder that is melted peanut butter on oatmeal, let’s just say if I wasn’t sold before I most certainly was then.
Fast forward a year later, and I don’t remember a life without oats. From cooked oatmeal, to breakfast cookies, to parfaits, and muffins – there are just so many wonderful ways to prepare you.
I don’t frequently admit to being wrong, but in this case I will happily proclaim the error of my ways, if it means I get to keep having you in my life from here on out.
Slightly melodramatic ode aside, There’s really no two ways about it – oatmeal is one of my all time favourite and most versatile breakfast foods. It’s also constantly touted as a”health food” as it’s rich in fibre, protein and unique plant lignans and micronutrients which can help lower cholesterol and fight heart disease. I mean really, what’s not to love?
Owing to the fact that it’s pretty mainstream as far as health food goes, unsurprisingly, oatmeal is one of the things I get asked about most by friends and family – who often assume a health foodie like me is an expert when it comes to all things oats. I wouldn’t call myself an expert just yet, but as an oatmeal convert I’m always happy to dole out the appropriate advice, so why not perpetuate it in a blog post, I thought.
But first, a “recipe” if you can even call it that.
- 1/2 cup of rolled oats (quick cooking oats will work, but not instant or “white” oats)
- 1/2 a cup + a splash of soy milk (or other non-dairy milk of choice. If using soy make sure you go for non GMO and organic where possible)
- 1 tsp of chia seeds OR 1 tbsp of ground flaxseeds
- 1 small tsp of ground cinnamon
- Small pinch of salt (optional)
- 1 sliced banana
- 1 tbsp raisins or chopped dates
- 1 tbsp crushed walnuts, almonds or mixed seeds
Combine oats, cinnamon, flax or chia, salt if using in a small bowl. Mix and cover with 1/2 a cup of soy milk. Soak uncovered in fridge overnight. The next morning top with a little more soy milk, and dress with a sliced banana and your toppings of choice, plus a dusting of more cinnamon if desired.
I usually prefer unsweetened oatmeal, but for days when I’m craving something a little sweeter, this is perfect.
Mix 1/2 a ripe, mashed banana in with the oats and milk before you soak overnight and add a pinch of all spice, and/or nutmeg. The banana will magically intensify and sweeten overnight and the spices add a great subtle fragrant kick.
It sounds weird, but is wonderful. Mix in 1/2 a tsp of cardamom powder, 1/2 a tsp of cinnamon and a teaspoon of orange zest before soaking overnight. Top with a banana the next morning and devour.
I usually love my green smoothies in the warmer months, but even loaded with protein powder and nut butter – they never seem to tide me over for more than a few hours at a time. Overnight oats make for a perfect cool yet hearty and filling morning meal. Plus, the convenience of having breakfast pretty much ready to eat in the morning (save for some fruit chopping) simply cannot be matched when you have to wake up early for school or work.
So now, on to the oatmeal FAQ du jour:
What kind of oatmeal should I buy / Where can I buy it from?
I go for wholegrain rolled oats, organic where possible. Quick cooking oats are just oats that have been cut up so that they, cook quicker (crazy, right?) so those are fine as well. Try to avoid anything labeled as “white” or instant oats as these are more highly processed and are generally less nutritious.
As for specific brands I buy, they tend to vary. When I’m in the UK I love Tesco’s organic range or just plain jumbo oats from Holland and Barrett or independent health food stores. In Bahrain, I buy them in the health food aisles at either Carrefour or Al Jazira supermarket – (I don’t recall the name of the brand as it’s German, but it is organic and comes in a transparent package that usually has an Arabic label stuck on top). You can also find a wide variety at the Organic Foods and Cafe in Seef Mall including Bob Red Mill’s Gluten Free oats. Also, while I mocked it earlier, the Isis brand in Egypt is pretty good, organic or not. You can find it at most Alfa and Metro supermarkets.
How big of a serving should I have?
I personally always have a 1/2 cup serving, but depending on your apetite 1/3 cup can also be a reasonable serving size. I don’t weigh my servings but I think that would be around 50 grams per serving.
How do I cook it?
If you’re not ready to brave cold overnight oats just yet, Try cooking 1/2 a cup with 1 cup of liquid (I do 1/2 cup water, 1/2 soy milk), and cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and then let simmer for 5-6 mins stirring frequently. I also like to add half mashed banana in the middle of cooking to sweeten. After cooking I add a tbsp of ground flax seed, a splash more of soy milk and then toppings of choice. Sliced bananas with fresh berries and a spoonful of almond butter is my personal favourite, but when making oatmeal for newbies I tend to do bananas, raisins and a peanut butter with a little maple syrup or agave drizzled on top.
Can I cook it in a microwave?
You can, and in fact most people do – but I don’t. I’m not totally against using a microwave from time to time but try not to rely on it at all (and in fact don’t own one at home).
And that, ladies and gentlemen, will be the last time I write that much about Oatmeal, I promise 😉