Sweet and Savory Oatmeal Dishes for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Oatmeal doesn't take much processing to be edible
What exactly is oatmeal?
Oatmeal at breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even as a healthy snack in the evening is a nice, filling meal. Besides that, it's very inexpensive, and very nutritious.
My old oatmeal standby had milk, honey, vanilla and banana in it. While I still have that sometimes, I've now moved on to more adventuresome flavor combinations.
I love oatmeal. Even though I have Celiac disease, I can eat oatmeal, if I'm sure that the mill that has processed the oats hasn't also ground wheat. So it's a special treat for me.
And oatmeal is a food that you can love without guilt, because it's good for you. It adds fiber to your diet and helps to lower cholesterol. It also has no salt, unless you add some. It's low in fat. In addition to providing fiber, it also provides phosphorus, selenium and manganese.
While there is a variety of oatmeal on the market, you've probably already settled on the oatmeal that you like the best - whole oats, steel-cut, porridge, rolled oats, or instant. However, it's fun to try the other types of oats. I like the rolled oats, but I was surprised how much I liked the steel-cut oats as a change in texture.
If you've wondered exactly what the difference between them is, it's between cutting, grinding or flattening between rollers. All oats are hulled, which leaves the kernel, or groat, left. Then the oat groats are heated to about 215 degrees to kill the enzymes. This allows the oats to be stored for long periods of time without going rancid. Then the different processes occur.
You can get whole oat groats at the local health food store. Sometimes, you can even get whole groats that haven't been heated, which means the enzymes are still active.
Irish oats are also called steel-cut oats. The oats are literally cut to pieces with steel blades. For people who like chewy oatmeal, this is the choice. It takes about 30 minutes to cook.
Scottish oatmeal is made by grinding the groats so a creamy porridge can be cooked. It also takes about 30 minutes.
Rolled oats or old-fashioned oats, are made by first softening the groats by steaming them, then running them between two metal rollers to flatten them. If the rolled oats are quick cooking, it means that they were flattened thinner than the regular rolled oats. If they are instant rolled oats, they've been cooked and dried again, so adding hot water reconstitutes them. (Instant rolled oats is the least nutritious kind.)
If you plan to cook whole or steel-cut groats, you can save cooking time in the morning by leaving them on the stove to soak in the cooking water overnight. Then, when you cook them in the morning, instead of taking a half hour, they take little more time than the old-fashioned, rolled oats, which take a few minutes. Caution with whole or steel-cut oats - they take a higher water-to-oat ratio than rolled oats. The ratio is about 4 to 1 for whole or steel-cut oats, where it's about 2 to 1 for rolled oats.
As you're reading the suggestions below for adding wonderful flavors to whatever type of oats you prefer, think of combining the flavors in different ways.
Cook Steel Cut Oats
Oatmeal is good for you - and yummy with fruit
Try oatmeal combined with fruit and other naturally sweet flavors to make a great breakfast or snack oatmeal treat
A great way to enhance the flavor of oatmeal is to add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla for each serving to the water before you cook it. After it's cooked, I also add cinnamon, nutmeg, a tiny bit of cloves or sweet garam masala. Pumpkin pie spice is also a good spice blend for adding to oatmeal.
Applesauce or yogurt are also yummy in oatmeal. If you're adding yogurt, you can choose to add flavored yogurt of any kind. Or, for a tangy flavor that you can adjust with other ingredients, add unflavored yogurt.
After you've cooked the oatmeal, instead of adding plain milk, add half-n-half, chocolate milk or chai tea to the mix.
Apple butter, pear butter, orange or lemon zest, or a touch of tangy marmalade are also great additions.
Fruit is always good with oatmeal! If you add a banana, you've just added 1/2 of the potassium you're supposed to need in a day. Peaches, pears, apricots, pitted cherries, kiwis, strawberries, or any other berries are also delicious.
Seedless grapes sliced in half, cantaloupe and other melons are also good. However, while I like to add other fruits while the oatmeal is warm to draw out the flavors, I tend to add grapes, cantaloupe and other melons after the milk has cooled the oatmeal.
Don't forget nuts. A great treat on a Sunday morning is started by cooking the oatmeal, and blanching some almonds in hot water for a few minutes to slip the skins off. After the skins are removed, pat the almonds dry, and dry roast them in a pan with a little butter and honey. Then drizzle the almonds with their new sauce over oatmeal that already has fruit and milk mixed into it. You could also top it off with a few slices of really great toasted bread.
Walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachio or macadamia nuts are all very good. Peanuts are also good.
Mixing oatmeal with yogurt and granola is the perfect start if you plan a day of hiking.
If you like sunflower or chia seeds, or any other seeds, they are also delicious in oatmeal.
Sunflower, almond or peanut butter is also very good mixed in while the oatmeal is hot, before you add milk. A great combo is peanut butter and your favorite jelly or jam in the oatmeal.
Dried cranberries, raisins, cherries, or any other dried fruit is also delicious.
I tend to use honey with my oatmeal, because it mixes well when the oatmeal is hot. I also sometimes splurge and add a pat (ahem, or two) of butter. After all is mixed well, I add coconut milk.
You can experiment by adding jellies, jams or marmalades as sweetener. Of course, agave syrup, rice syrup or Stevia are also good. (While table sugar is a standard fare, I like to use other types of sweeteners.)
If you eat wheat grass, it works fine chopped into oatmeal. It doesn't interfere with the taste of the sweeter variations, and it also works well with the savory flavors below.
If you'd like to make oatmeal a nice little dessert for a special group breakfast, especially for special occasions, add food coloring and/or sprinkles. (For example, St. Patrick's Day green oatmeal, or with green sprinkles.) Oatmeal works fine with a little chopped fruit on top, with caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, chocolate or colored sprinkles, whipped cream, or any other sundae topping added. For holidays like Easter, add small candy eggs, and for Christmas add crushed peppermint and cinnamon.
Oats in a field before they become oatmeal
Savory Oatmeal is very tasty and satisfying
Savory oatmeal dishes are wonderful, too.
But you don't need to stop there. If you'd like a warm, quick breakfast or lunch, also think about savory combinations for your oatmeal. It also makes a great side dish at dinner with something like chicken or fish. (When it's used as a side dish, the steel cut oats work best, but I've used the rolled oats, too.)
Add a fried, poached or chopped, soft-boiled egg on top. Keep the yolk runny so it mixes with the oatmeal. Add ground or flaked hard cheese.
I made too much hollandaise sauce once, and added it to oatmeal just to see how it would taste. It was great. I plan to make an oatmeal dish with soft-cooked egg and hollandaise sauce one of these mornings.
A good, spicy gravy is also great on oatmeal. If you like a sausage, chorizo or hamburger gravy, they work just fine on oatmeal.
Or add soy sauce. Maybe mix in a little(!) wasabi paste for heat. I've also sliced brined baby cucumbers on top of this mixture. It's exotic and a nice touch along with some salad and fish.
I've even used a little crème fraîche to put tang into oatmeal. (You could also use sour cream, but I haven't tried that yet.) Of course, unflavored yogurt is perfect, as are some soft cheeses that will melt very well in the oatmeal.
Other suggestions are adding good sea salt and cracked pepper, chili flakes, fresh or dried herbs - oregano, sage, thyme, parsley, basil, fennel, dill, garlic, onion or garlic chives, coriander.etc. Not all at once, of course. These are suggestions for experimentation.
Try salsa as a topping or French fried onion rings.
Try a sharp slivered or grated cheese with seasonings and olive oil. (Slivers of a nice sharp cheese with salt, cracked pepper and a good olive oil makes a great meal.) The best salt is the flaky sea salt.
Once you get the idea of using oatmeal as a savory dish or side dish, you'll develop a lot of ideas of your own. Add sauteed veggies on top.
Think of oatmeal as a substitute for mashed potatoes, then add flavors as you would to the potatoes.
As you can see, oatmeal is a very versatile food, much more so than we tend to treat it. If you're tired of simple starches, this is a good high-fiber and inexpensive food that is complemented by many different flavors, both sweet and savory.