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5, 10, 15 – Three Ways to Turn Oats into Something Awesome

Forget bad memories of gummy, over-sweetened sludge and watery mush. Oats are one of the most versatile and flavorful grains and more importantly for the college foodie, store well and prep quickly. Even if you’re stuck in a dorm with nothing more than a microwave, you can enjoy a thick and creamy bowl of porridge in less than five minutes, but with a little extra work you can have a truly sustaining meal or treat for pennies on the dollar.

Carrot Cake Baked Oatmeal

If you aren’t a porridge person, baked oatmeal might still be up your alley – it has a texture more like bread pudding and can be made in bulk and reheated much more readily than wet oats. If you don’t have the equipment for baked oatmeal, though, you’re still in luck: you can just add a little more liquid to make a great bowl of porridge. Similarly you can convert most porridge recipes by just cutting down on the amount of liquid used; the more liquid, the less readily it will reach a good baked oatmeal texture. This recipe plays on the bread-like texture of baked oats to produce a facsimile of everyone’s favorite dessert. Make it when you’re feeling a little more abstemious or have a late-night craving you can’t suppress.

Mix 1 cup of regular old-fashioned oats (not instant!) and 1 cup of grated or diced carrot with a cup of water or milk and allow it to sit for a few minutes until the liquidsoaks into the oats. This will help the final product mix more evenly. Add an additional half-cup of liquid (milk would be good but water also works, especially if you used milk before), a tablespoon of oil (coconut or olive oil would be fantastic) or melted butter, and a pinch of salt. If you have baking powder, add a ½ tsp and stir in well; this will help produce a more cake-like texture. Beyond these essential ingredients, you have your choice of mix-ins: for sweetness you have your choice of sweeteners or fruit like raisins, dates, or apples. If your idea of carrot cake includes nuts or coconut you could add them as well. If you have spices on hand, ground ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon are the traditional carrot cake spices.

Source: Chocolate Covered Katie
The inspiration for this baked oatmeal, from Chocolate Covered Katie

Spoon the mixture into a greased or nonstick baking dish or muffin tin. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees until the insides are dry enough that a fork inserted into them comes out cleanly – the time will vary but should be between 30 minutes and an hour. This recipe can be made in bulk – just scale the ratios up accordingly. It’s a fantastic way to make a week of breakfast at ones.

If you’re jonesing for a creamy topping, you can go the traditional cream cheese + sugar route or in a pinch, use Greek Yogurt for a similar tang and extra protein. A cup of oats will probably require ½ cup of yogurt or 2 oz of cream cheese.

Porridge with Miso (and Tamago Oat-han)

Source: Food52

Source: Food52

Miso’s slightly sweet and malty flavor is a natural complement to the flavor of simple grains like rice, buckwheat, or oats. This recipe can be a delicious weekend breakfast or a simple dinner – adding the optional egg makes it a true meal.

The special flavor of this porridge is even better if you are prepared in advance – toast the oats, add water, and bring up to a boil. Cover and turn off the heat (take it off the burner if on an electric stove). When cool enough to stick your finger in, stir in one or two tablespoons of miso paste and let sit for at least two hours and up to overnight. During this time, the miso will begin to lightly ferment the released starches in the oats. When you’re done waiting, put the oatmeal back on the stove. If you’re looking for the probiotic benefits of miso, don’t let it come to a boil – just get it hot. At this time you could add a little sweetener or milk, which will create a miso caramel, or go savory by adding green onion and black pepper (it’s already quite salty, but you could add a little soy sauce). To make it a meal, crack an egg into the hot oats and stir to combine in the style of Japanese egg rice – don’t worry, the heat of the oats will cook the egg! If you’re not sure about the egg you can also use silken tofu. If you’ve got it on hand, a little drizzle of toasted sesame oil or some sesame seeds would complete the dish; olive oil would also be delicious. This recipe can be scaled up beautifully: the normal ratio is ½ cup of normal oats per person.

Pumpkin Oat Chili

If you’re noticing through these recipes how versatile oats can be, you’re on to something. Just like rice, oats are a great savory side or source of ‘bulk’ in hearty recipes like chili. This seasonal pumpkin chili can be vegan or meaty depending on your tastes. For the best texture, use steel-cut or whole oat groats but old-fashioned rolled oats will suffice in a pinch.

Heat two tablespoons of oil or butter in a saucepan or stock pot and add 1 cup of finely chopped onion, ½ cup of chopped pepper (bell peppers work but the best flavor comes from sweet-spicy peppers like poblano or Anaheim, or a mixture of spicy and bell peppers), 2-4 cloves of garlic (about a tbsp.) and ½ cup of finely chopped carrot. Sweat them down until the onions turn translucent and your kitchen smells incredible. When the vegetables have cooked down, add other spices. Chile powder works in a pinch, but the best flavor comes from whole dried peppers and spices: ideally pasilla or ancho peppers and whole or ground cumin seeds and ground cloves and nutmeg. If you like your chili spicier, try canned chiles in chipotle – one or two with the sauce they come in will lend a fantastically  smoky note that melds well with the rich flavor of pumpkin. When the spices are fragrant, add a cup of steel-cut oats (1.5 cups rolled) and let them toast and take on the flavor of the spices and vegetables.

This recipe works with any type of squash and also sweet potatoes. For potatoes and smaller squash like acorn or delicate, you can microwave them whole – pierce the flesh in several places to allow steam to escape, wrap in a paper towel, and microwave from 4-8 minutes depending on the size (1 lb will take about 6 minutes) until the squash’s flesh deforms when pressed. For larger squash, you can either roast them whole (which is said to give them the best flavor) or cut them into pieces and steam/boil them (if you can cut them in half, you can even microwave them with the cut side down).

You can also use canned unsweetened pumpkin, though the texture will be creamier and not as chunky.
Source: Snack Girl

Source: Snack Girl

Whatever you do, add the equivalent of 1 lb of pumpkin (a whole can of puree) when the oats smell toasty and mix it in well to avoid burning any ingredients. Add a tbsp. of tomato paste or ½ cup of tomato. Add vegetable stock until the mixture thins out nicely – the amount of time depends on how moist the pumpkins are. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let it reduce slightly.

For a vegetarian version, look for things that add a nice contrasting texture – chickpeas, beans, corn, vegetarian proteins like seitan or firm/baked tofu. Grated cheese would also be fantastic.

For a meaty version, you can use beef, chicken, or turkey; use dark or ground meat for the best flavor. Cut or divide into small pieces and brown the meat in another pan if possible and mix it in during the reduction period so that it cooks fully.

Taste and season when the meat has fully cooked. Serve with avocado or a dollop of Greek yogurt/sour cream.

– Edmund Brennan

Cover photo source.

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