Secret, savory side of oatmeal
ST. LOUIS - It takes a little courage the first time you sauté onions with Indian spices and mix them into your oatmeal, but the queasy feeling passes. I promise.
I'll admit that I wasn't an instant convert. It felt sacrilegious. Violating your childhood treat with veggies and soy sauce still seems a bit, well, unsavory, but I'd like to change that. At a recent dinner, I served a curried steel-cut oatmeal dish with chicken and mixed peppers, but I waited until everyone applauded the texture and flavors before I confessed that "oh, by the way - that's not quinoa."
No one complained, but there was a momentary look of dread.
Suggesting roasted meat, red peppers, and oatmeal to the uninitiated can seem as far-fetched as recommending spinach on a PB&J. However, despite its distinct breakfast connotation, oatmeal is just a grain.
Correction: It's one of the least expensive whole-grain options you can buy. And now you can buy bulk because you can use it sweet or savory. Oatmeal pancakes today, oatmeal jambalaya the next.
Once you wrap your head and your taste buds around the alternatives, you'll discover that oatmeal just might be the most versatile grain around. Brown rice is higher in calories and can't compete with the sweet side of oatmeal; besides, it lacks that cold-weather comfort appeal.
Barley, bulgur, and quinoa would be the most likely next tier of rivals, but they are typically harder to come by and much more expensive. Not to mention that these savory menu items just don't have much sweet breakfast cachet.
Oatmeal is a chameleon, especially steel-cut, which has more nutritional value. But any variety of oatmeal is vaguely sweet, a great quality for curries and an added dimension in traditional savory dishes and stir-fries.
Cook it a little longer and slower, and the texture can be an alternative to creamy mashes like potatoes and other root vegetables. Oatmeal au gratin, anyone? How about broccoli-cheddar oatmeal risotto?
I know, I know, you're not convinced.
The Whole Grains Council describes oats like this: "In the U.S., most oats are steamed and flattened to produce 'old-fashioned' or regular oats, quick oats, and instant oats. The more oats are flattened and steamed, the quicker they cook - and the softer they become. If you prefer a chewier, nuttier texture, consider steel-cut oats, also sometimes called Irish or Scottish oats. Steel-cut oats consist of the entire oat kernel (similar in look to a grain of rice), sliced once or twice into smaller pieces to help water penetrate and cook the grain. Cooked for about 20 minutes: steel-cut oats create a breakfast porridge . . . ."
Et tu, Whole Grain Council.
No matter, I am not deterred. I'm winning converts by the day who now pause at the kitchen cabinet when the oatmeal water is boiling to wonder: soy sauce or the honey? Cranberries and cinnamon, or spinach and minced garlic?
Heart-healthy, low-calorie, cholesterol-lowering (typically gluten-free) oatmeal has always been so simple and uncomplicated. It was most definitely one of the first foods I learned to cook, though my preparation has evolved.
My first meals were rolled oats stewed to a yummy, sweet mush in whole milk and sugar with a pinch of salt. I still crave it just like that sometimes. But my typical oats today are steel-cut and slow-cooked in a mix of almond milk and water flavored with pumpkin pie spice, agave syrup, and a dash of salt, then served with pecans, coconut, dried fruit, and other toppings. I've dedicated a shelf of my refrigerator as a DIY oatmeal bar.
We've got some recipe suggestions here, but I'll tell you that you can easily swap oatmeal for grits, rice, and most other grains. And we'd suggest adding a little milk (whatever milk choice you prefer) to enhance the sweet creaminess - a great quality for the shrimp and oatmeal recipe. It's oatmeal; you don't have to hide that fact when it can be such a great addition to the dish.
Spicy Oat-Crusted Chicken With Sunshine Salsa
Makes 4 servings
For the sunshine salsa:
3/4 cup prepared salsa
3/4 cup coarsely chopped orange sections
For the chicken:
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon soft margarine or butter, melted
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups quick oats, uncooked
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
4 boned and skinned chicken breast halves (about 5 to 6 ounces each)
Chopped cilantro (optional)
1. Make the salsa: In a small bowl, combine salsa and orange sections. Refrigerate, covered, until serving time.
2. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a flat, shallow dish, stir together oil, melted margarine or butter, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin, and salt. Add oats, stirring until evenly moistened.
3. In a second flat, shallow dish, beat egg and water with fork until frothy. Dip chicken into combined egg and water, then coat completely in seasoned oats. Place chicken on foil-lined baking sheet. Pat any extra oat mixture onto top of chicken.
4. Bake 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and oat coating is golden brown. Serve with Sunshine Salsa. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if desired.
Per serving: 475 calories, 38 grams protein, 31 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 22 grams fat, 140 milligrams cholesterol, 720 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber.
Southern Shrimp and Oatmeal
Makes 8 servings
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese
2 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 teaspoon hot sauce, divided
1/2 cup cubed or sliced andouille sausage
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound large Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons Wondra flour
1 cup sliced mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1/4 cup chopped tomato
1. Bring water, chicken broth, and sea salt to a boil in a medium saucepan; gradually whisk in oats. Reduce heat, and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes or until thickened. Stir in cheese, 1 tablespoon butter, and 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce. Keep warm.
2. Cook sausage in hot oil in a large skillet 5 to 7 minutes or until crisp. Drain on paper towels, reserving drippings in skillet. Set sausage aside.
3. Toss shrimp with flour. Saute shrimp in hot drippings 1 minute. Add reserved sausage, mushrooms, and garlic, and cook 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, thyme, green onion, and tomato, stirring to loosen any browned bits from bottom of skillet. Remove from heat and stir in 1 tablespoon butter.
4. Serve shrimp mixture over hot oatmeal.
Per serving: 230 calories, 16 grams protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, trace sugar, 12 grams fat, 95 milligrams cholesterol, 845 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.
Broccoli-Cheddar Oven Risotto
Makes 4 servings
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups steel-cut oats
1/4 cup dry white wine
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bring the chicken broth to a low simmer in a saucepan. Toss the broccoli with olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet.
2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large Dutch oven or ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the oats and stir to coat. Pour in the wine and cook until evaporated, about 1 minute. Add the hot broth, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; bring to a boil.
3. Cover and set on the bottom oven rack. Place the broccoli on the upper rack. Bake, stirring the oatmeal and broccoli once halfway through cooking until most of the liquid has been absorbed into the oatmeal and the broccoli is tender, 20 to 25 minutes. 4. Remove the oatmeal and broccoli from the oven. Add 3/4 cup hot water, the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the cheese to the oatmeal and stir until creamy (add a little more hot water to loosen, if necessary).
5. Stir in broccoli and serve.
Per serving: 570 calories, 26 grams protein, 62 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 28 grams fat, 50 milligrams cholesterol, 305 milligrams sodium, 11 grams dietary fiber.