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The secret savory side of oatmeal

By Debra D. Bass
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

It takes a little courage the first time you saute 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 like sacrilege. Violating your childhood treat with veggies and soy sauce still feels 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 in which you could see them pondering the question of whether to feel sick.

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, one of the least expensive whole grain options you can buy.

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 they 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-frys.

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. 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 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 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 that’s 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 you can easily swap oatmeal for grits, rice and most other grains. And we’d suggest adding a little milk to enhance the sweet creaminess. It’s oatmeal; you don’t have to hide that fact when it can be such a great addition.



For the sunshine salsa:

¾ cup prepared salsa

¾ cup coarsely chopped orange sections

For the chicken:

2 tbsp. canola oil

1 tbsp. soft margarine or butter, melted

2 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. ground cumin

¾ tsp. salt

1½ cups quick oats, uncooked

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tbsp. water

4 boned and skinned chicken breast halves (about 5 to 6 oz. each)

Chopped cilantro (optional)

Make the salsa: In a small bowl, combine salsa and orange sections. Refrigerate, covered, until serving time.

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.

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.

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.

Makes 4 servings.



1½ cups water

1½ cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

¾ tsp. sea salt

1 cup steel-cut oats

1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese

2 tbsp. butter, divided

¾ tsp. hot sauce, divided

½ cup cubed or sliced andouille sausage

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 lb. large Gulf shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tbsp. Wondra flour

1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

2 tbsp. chopped green onion

¼ cup chopped tomato

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 ¼ teaspoon hot sauce. Keep warm.

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.

Toss shrimp with flour. Saute shrimp in hot drippings 1 minute. Add reserved sausage, mushrooms, garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in lemon juice, ½ 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. Serve over hot oatmeal.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe from Bob’s Red Mill 2011 Spar for the Spurtle competition.


½ cup chopped red bell pepper

½ cup chopped yellow bell pepper

½ cup chopped mushrooms

½ cup sliced green onions

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp. olive oil

1¾ cups old-fashioned rolled oats, uncooked

2 egg whites or 1 egg, lightly beaten

¾ cup chicken broth

2 tbsp. minced fresh basil leaves or 2 tsp. dried basil

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. black pepper

In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, cook peppers, mushrooms, green onions and garlic in oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.

In large bowl, mix oats and egg whites until oats are evenly coated. Add oats to vegetable mixture in skillet.

Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until oats are dry and separated, about 5 to 6 minutes. Add broth, basil, salt and pepper. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from the Quaker Oats Co.



4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 bunch broccoli, cut into small florets

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 tbsp. unsalted butter

½ small onion, finely chopped

1¾ cups steel-cut oats

¼ cup dry white wine

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 oz.)

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.

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, ¾ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste; bring to a boil.

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.

Remove the oatmeal and broccoli from the oven. Add ¾ 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).

Stir in broccoli and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted from Broccoli-Cheddar Oven Risotto dish with arborio rice from Food Network Magazine (November 2013)




8 slices bacon

½ cup whole milk

¼ cup water

1½ cups chicken stock

½ cup steel-cut oats

½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

¼ cup chopped fresh chives, plus 1 to 2 tbsp. for garnish

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 heaping cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

Cayenne pepper sauce (optional)

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon in batches, turning frequently, until browned and crisp, about 5 to 8 minutes. Set aside on a paper towel.

While bacon is cooking, bring milk, water and stock just to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Stir in oats and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring regularly, for 25 to 30 minutes, until liquid is absorbed and oats are tender and cooked through. Stir in cheddar, chives, salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Just before serving, crumble bacon and stir into oatmeal. Top with cherry tomatoes and extra chives and serve cayenne pepper sauce on the side.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe from Shape Magazine.



1 cup water or chicken broth

½ cup quick-cooking rolled oats

Coarse salt and ground pepper

Nonstick cooking spray

1 large egg

2 tbsp. shredded sharp cheddar

1 tbsp. thinly sliced scallions

2 slices cooked bacon (optional)

In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water (or chicken broth) to a boil. Add oats and pinch of salt; stir, reduce heat, and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small nonstick pan over medium. Coat lightly with cooking spray. Add egg and cook until white is set and yolk is still runny, about 3 minutes. Season egg to taste with salt and pepper. Serve oatmeal in a bowl topped with cheese, egg, scallions and bacon (if using).

Makes 1 serving.

Recipe from Martha Stewart Living.


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