Everybody talks about oatmeal because it's like that good friend that always has your back, even though you sometimes forget about her and she ends up in the back of your cupboard, mingling with the cocoa powder and bottle of Gordon's gin (this is a no judgement zone people).
But what is it about oats that is so special? To name a few:
-One bowl of oatmeal a day will help lower cholesterol by 8-23%. 1% drop in serum cholesterol is a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease!
-A specific type of fiber known as beta-glucan is found in oats. This fiber helps the human immune system respond quicker to infection.
-Oats are a good source of magnesium, resulting in stronger bones, teeth, and improvement of insomnia, depression, and anxiety.
-Good alternative for those with celiac disease (intolerance to gluten).
I grew up eating oatmeal. I even developed a strange superstition as a kid, where if I didn't eat oatmeal on test day, I wouldn't do well. I think it was because my teachers always stressed eating a good breakfast before exams and to me, a good breakfast is hearty and filling but not too filling that it makes one feel heavy.
My basic outline for a good oatmeal is Oats + Liquid + Sweeteners + Mix-ins + Toppings. There's a fine line between mix ins and toppings because you could essentially use both interchangeably but I find some things taste better cooked. Here's the low down for each:
The three basics are Steel-Cut, Rolled/Old Fashioned, and Quick. Steel-cut oats are groats that have been split into several finer pieces which produces a much creamier porridge but also takes 20-30 minutes to cook. Rolled or Old Fashioned oats (the standard variety sold in Germany) are steamed, pressed, and dried, making them more absorbent and reducing the cooking time to about 5-10 minutes. Quick cooking oats have an even shorter cooking time but are less textured and more mushy.
Tip: Always cook the oats in water first. Milk makes it easier for the oats to burn and stick to the pan. You can add milk after the oats are 75% cooked.
Any type of milk is fine. A more decadent option for vegans would be to use coconut or homemade cashew milk. If you like butter, you can also melt butter in your oats in addition to milk. Another option is to cook oatmeal in tea! Boil water, add the tea bag, and fish the tea bag out before adding the oats. Chai makes a good porridge but experiment with other flavors for a fun breakfast.
I prefer liquid sweeteners in oatmeal but use what you like. My favorites are molasses, maple syrup, and stevia. If your stevia contains alcohol (such like vanilla extract), add it in during the cooking process so the heat cooks it out. Another idea is to add chopped up dates, loaded with natural sugar, eliminating the need for an added sweetener.
Ground flax seeds and chia seeds are great mixed in while the oats are cooking because they help to absorb water and for some people, are more easily digested when cooked. With fruit it's all about preference. I like cooked apples because it reminds me more of apple pie so I mix it in while the pot is still on heat. Same goes for pears, plums, and sometimes bananas. Berries are more delicate so I prefer them fresh and on top. Spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg and powders like carob, cocoa, or even protein powders can be added at the end of cooking to enhance flavor.
This is pretty much the part of the creating where you can add anything and everything. Nut butters are great on top for added protein and healthy fats as well as chopped nuts and seeds for the contrasting texture. Dried fruits are also great for when you don't have fresh fruit on hand. Finally, fruit purees or jam, even cheese (though I haven't tried it, some people swear by it) can be added depending on what you like.
Here is a simple recipe for cinnamon apple oatmeal using rolled oats.
Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal (vegan, gluten free)
1/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup of non-dairy milk (I used rice milk)
1 medium apple, diced (I like gala, honey crisp, fuji, or any of the sweeter red apple varieties)
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp ground flax seeds
6 drops stevia extract
handful of raisins
chopped walnuts for topping
In a small pot over medium heat, bring water to a boil. Measure out your oatmeal and place in the pot, immediately stirring with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir for a 2-3 minutes until the water has mostly evaporated and the mixture looks thick. Lower the heat to medium and add the chia seeds, flax seeds, and milk. Stir and add the stevia, apples, and raisins. Continue stirring for another 5 minutes. If the mixture looks too thick and the oatmeal is sticking too much to the bottom of the pan, add water. Turn off the heat and put into a bowl. Top with walnuts. Guten Appetit!