What did you have for breakfast this morning? The answer for many of us is a bowl full of piping hot oatmeal.
Now the response becomes little more varied, with answers ranging from brown sugar and raisins, peaches and cream to mixed berries with a dollop of Greek yogurt.
These toppings, however, may be just a little too old school and ordinary.
In the last couple of years, oatmeal has taken a savoury turn. It isn’t always paired with sweet accompaniments, but instead is being sprinkled with seasonings like pepper, salt, oregano and chili, and joining in a happy merriment with the likes of caramelized onions, mushrooms, sliced avocados, bacon, shrimp, chicken, pork and beef.
With this makeover, the hot cereal is no longer just a stick-to-the-ribs breakfast item. Instead, it has muscled its way in as a soul-satisfying, palate-pleasing entrée at the dinner table.
Initially, seeing shrimp or chicken on top of a bowl full of oatmeal seemed like a kitchen mishap — almost as if someone started with a breakfast recipe and finished off mistakenly with dinner recipe. The concept is a bit unusual and maybe a little weird, but to accept savoury oatmeal you really have to look at oatmeal in a whole new way.
Take a single uncooked oat flake — it looks like a grain, it has no real smell or flavour and a bit of chewy earth texture — almost like a blank canvas. It’s almost like rice, couscous or quinoa that is waiting for a flavour palette.
So why not use oatmeal as you would other grains?
Before giving suggestions on how to mingle the flakes with other flavours, it should be noted that savoury oatmeal-like dishes are nothing new in other parts of the world. Plenty of regional cuisines have some form of savoury oatmeal. Congee, an Asian porridge, has similar consistency and appearance to oatmeal and is topped with soft egg, fish or soya sauce, pork, greens, or other veggies. India has its own variation by cooking it with curry powder, chili and mixed vegetables and serving it has upma. In Ethopia, oatmeal is cooked in spicy chili butter and water.
Since oatmeal is cooked with a liquid, you can start by giving it savoury undertones by using vegetable or chicken broths, tomato sauce or coconut milk.
After the oatmeal is cooked, it is time to top or dress up the oatmeal so that it is worthy of the dinner table. Start with flavours and ingredients that you are comfortable with. Top with crisp bacon, sauté onions and mushrooms, or sauté spinach and oregano, garlic shrimp, snow peas, onions, red pepper stir-fried, or chicken cooked in sweet and sour sauce.
Take inspiration from other countries: try red chilies, coconut milk, cashews and soy sauce from Thai, caramelized onions with cilantro, ginger and curry powder from India. Adding marinara sauce topped with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese will transport you to the Greek islands.
If you are introducing savoury oatmeal to kids, present oatmeal pizza. There are not many kids who don’t like pizza. On cooked oatmeal, add tomato sauce, their favourite topping and a generous amount of mozzarella cheese. Give it a quick broil before serving and they will forget that they are eating oatmeal.
Hopefully I have pushed your hesitation aside and you are able to rethink the breakfast favourite. Give savoury oatmeal a try. There are many recipes on the Internet, but here some of my favourites.
Indian Upma Oatmeal
1 small finely chopped onion
½ cup quick cooking oats
¼ cup mixed frozen carrots and peas
A generous pinch turmeric powder
½ tsp chili powder
¾ tsp garam masala powder
2 tsp chopped cilantro, divided
¼ tsp pepper
1½ cup water
Salt as required
In a non-stick pan, add onions and dry roast it until it shrinks, then add oats and roast until nice aroma rises. Add water, cooked vegetables, red chili, turmeric, garam masala powder and required salt to the oats. Let it cook in medium flame for three minutes, until oats becomes soft. Add more water if required. Allow it to boil for a while until it reaches the oatmeal consistency. Then add 1 teaspoon chopped cilantro leaves, pepper powder and take off heat. Serve hot garnished with remaining cilantro.
½ cup oatmeal
1½ cups vegetable stock
1 egg, poached
¼ cup mushrooms, sautéed
¼ cup bean sprouts
2 scallions, sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Combine oatmeal and stock in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into a serving bowl and top with egg, mushrooms, and remaining ingredients.
½ cup oatmeal
1 cup vegetable stock
1 dash dried oregano
Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup black olives, sliced
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil or reconstituted), chopped
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
Combine oatmeal, stock, oregano, and pepper in a saucepan and cook over medium heat for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Heat ½ tablespoon oil in a pan over low heat. Add garlic, olives, and sun-dried tomatoes and sauté about three minutes, until tender. Top oatmeal with vegetable mixture, add feta, and drizzle with remaining oil.
1 cup water
½ cup rolled oats
1/3 cup pizza sauce
your favorite pizza toppings
pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 400C. Bring water to a boil, add oats; reduce heat to medium. Once the liquid has absorbed, add pizza sauce and salt. Stir in your preferred pizza toppings. When you’re pleased with the consistency of the oatmeal, transfer to small individual bowl. Top with mozzarella cheese and bake until cheese is bubbly and brown.
Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @madhubadoni. Watch for Madhu’s Masala-Mix blog on bprda.wpengine.com.