In recent years, I've learned that a big bowl of oatmeal in the morning regulates my (normal for me, abnormal for society at large) food cravings throughout the day, letting me make better food choices at lunch and dinner.
Then I had to stop eating dairy products and refined sugar, for reasons. Boring old oatmeal is even MORE boring without milk and sugar. Nut milks make it better again, but at a cost in fat calories that I need to avoid. So I started tinkering, trying to perfect a low-effort, fast, and easy process for making oatmeal that I'm actually willing to eat, day in, day out.
What follows is my process for making "perfect" (I like it, you may not) oatmeal that doesn't need oily amendments or extra refined sugar.
1) Look to your oats. This is important: they should be 100% rolled oats, probably with the words "old fashioned" on the label. You don't want to see the word "quick" -- that means they've been partially cooked before you get them (pointless) and are more expensive (boo).
2) Select some fruits and fruit juices. I use at least two fruits to flavor my oatmeal. Fresh or dried, no matter. My defaults are a sliced banana and a small handful of raisins. Diced peaches or pears are really good too. Berries are even better if you've got them. Dried apricots, diced, are luxurious. And I use apple juice for a portion of the liquid in which the oats are cooked. Any other fruit juice will work here, or you can use all water for cooking liquid if you find the result sweet enough (I don't unless I have especially-sweet fruit to work with, like date chunks or "dried" (actually candied and dried) pineapple bits.
3) Assemble in a microwave-safe bowl your fruits and one measure of rolled oats. The size of the measure is up to you. I use the one-portion rice cup that came with my rice cooker; it holds about three quarters of a cup. It makes a big bowl of oatmeal; I'm a big eater. A half-cup measure is likely to be enough for people with more modest appetites.
4) Add a small quantity of salt. A couple of shakes are enough for some people; a "dash" is traditional. Salt in oatmeal is not optional unless you have a serious objection to it in your diet; oatmeal's natural blandness is much worse without a tiny bit of salt. Salt and I get along; I use two dashes, maybe a quarter of a teaspoon. Really it's what your taste and dietary preferences will allow; just don't use none unless you are without freedom in the matter. A tiny bit makes a huge flavor difference, all for the better.
5) Add one measure of fruit juice, plus one measure of water. (You can skimp on one of these measures; the perfect ratio for me is one measure of oats to about 1.8 measures of liquid.)
6) Optional step for the well-prepared: leave bowl with all ingredients in fridge overnight. This softens the oats, re-hydrates the dried fruit, and changes the final texture of the oatmeal for the better. It's a rather substantial improvement; I recommend it. But it's not necessary.
7) Microwave the oatmeal for 3 to 6 minutes on high. No stirring required. The variability in timing is more about cooking (or not) the fruit. Rolled oats, especially if pre-soaked, are tender and delicious with surprisingly little cooking. (Many people eat soaked rolled oats without cooking them at all.) I like them made fully hot, but more to the point, I like my banana slices to go soft and gooey, because it releases more of their flavor into the oats that way. So I usually go for five or six minutes of zapping if the oats are not pre-soaked, and about three or four if they are. With pre-soaked oats and fruits you are happy to eat in their essentially raw state, you aren't really cooking at all; you're just heating your breakfast cereal until it's hot all the way through. You could of course do this on a cooktop, too; but I microwave because I want speed in the morning so I can get on with my day.
At the end of my process, I've got a bowl of oatmeal that's plenty sweet, not salty but not bland, with soft-cooked rolled oats that still retain some of their shape and texture (not totally homogenous and gooey-slimy like library paste). I can, and do, eat it every day without getting tired of it.
Have you written off oatmeal in the past for being too bland or too boring or too gluey or too paste-like or too slow to make? Or because it's too caloric to eat once you add all the milk, cream, butter, peanut butter, cheese, sugar, brown sugar, syrup, honey, molasses or whatever your family traditionally used to make the stuff interesting? I recommend giving it another try, my way. A measure of oats, a dash of salt, two fruits, a measure of fruit juice, a measure of water. Soak if you can, zap lightly, enjoy!
Dan, this is a delightful post, thanks for sharing!
For variety I will sometimes mix in other rolled grains kinda like a muesli. Wheat flakes and oat flakes are a favorite combination. I prefer to soak my rolled grains over night before cooking. I find them easier to digest when prepared that way. My favorite garnish for oatmeal is dried mulberries or diced dates. They are best added just before serving to retain some of their chewiness and texture. I like oatmeal and haven't made it in a while. Now I'm hungry for oatmeal.
Becky Proske wrote:My favorite garnish for oatmeal is dried mulberries...
I was hoping for a mulberry surplus this year (freeze got them all last year) but we had so much rain, one of my trees was on the wrong side of the flood and the fruit of the other one was watery and falling too soon from the branches. Dried mulberries is something I'm looking forward to some years hence after I've propagated more trees.
However, one of my goals for this fall is to save and dry enough persimmon pulp into a fruit leather that I can use it in my oatmeal next winter. That's gonna be almost as tasty as dates, I think.
Hmmm, gonna have to try that soaked and cold on these hot summer mornings.
Persimmon leather sounds interesting. How do you get the seeds out?
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