Thursday, April 5, 2012

Oatmeal: Breakfast & Degrees of Processing

oatmeal at 3 levels of processing
From L to R: Steel Cut Oats, Rolled Oats, Quick-Cooking Oats
photo credit: Hanna's Vegan Kitchen
I'm not the best when it comes to breakfast. Most mornings, I sleep until the last possible minute and then end up running around like a crazy person trying to get out the door before rush hour gets bad. But I'm working on it and routines help. In the summer, I make a lot of smoothies in my vitamix to sip for breakfast. I put in fresh or frozen fruit and veggies like kale and carrots. Sometimes, I add non-dairy milk or yogurt. Other times, water and ice. I change it up and slurp up my daily servings of fruits and veggies through a straw on my way to the office.


whole oat grouts are the least processed form of oatmeal
Whole oat groats are the least processed
photo credit:  Culinate 
 
On cold New England mornings, I like filling my tummy with something warm. I used to enjoy farina, but ever since I read Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, I've been trying to cut down on gluten-containing grains. I also read KERF a lot, and my favorite food blogger eats a lot of beautiful bowls of oatmeal that provide oatmeal inspiration! There are so many kinds of oatmeal and lots of ways to prepare it, so it can be overwhelming to figure out your (it really depends on individual tastes) perfect bowl. You can opt for whole oat groats, which are the least processed, most nutritious, and also most time-consuming to prepare. Or you can go instant and zap your oats in 90 seconds (I don't recommend this!). I usually use rolled oats or steel-cut oats, which are minimally processed and easy to digest.

steel cut oats are oat groats chopped into smaller pieces so they cook faster
Steel Cut: oat groats chopped into smaller pieces
photo credit: Riverspitter
Here's what I do to make 2 pint-sized jars of hot oats that James and I both take with us to start our busy work + class days out on the right foot (I aspire to get up earlier and eat breakfast at the kitchen table every morning, but we're not there yet).

Before bed, I rinse and soak 1 cup of oats (either rolled or steel-cut). I use enough water to cover the oats by about an inch and put them in the medium pot I use to cook them, placing a lid on top. In the morning, I strain and rinse the oats. This process of soaking, straining, and rinsing, helps rinse away the phytic acid that is present in a lot of nuts, seeds, and grains and that blocks your body from absorbing the valuable minerals in such foods. Soaking also makes the oats cook faster, so if you can get in the routine of soaking your oats at night, you'll
save time and absorb more nutrients.
rolled oats are steamed and flattened with giant rollers
Rolled: steamed & flattened oat groats
photo credit: Purcell Mountain Farms

I add about 2 cups of fresh filtered tap water (I prefer water to milk and non-dairy milk since I like to 'save' on the calories) and a small handful of dried fruit (currants, raisins, and/or craisins), and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the oats have achieved my desired consistency (about 5 minutes for rolled oats and 10 for steel cut). The cooking time depends on the type of oats you use and is really subjective. I tend to like my oats a little soupy, especially because I take them to-go most mornings and don't eat them until I get to my desk, but how long you cook the oats for is truly up to you. When they look appetizing, turn off the heat.

quick cooking oats are oats that have been steamed and rolled flat and chopped or flaked
Quick: Steamed, Flattened, and Chopped or Flaked
photo credit: finecooking.com
Then I stir in my fixings. Typically, this involves at least 4 of the  following:
  • 2 tb chia seeds (A great source of Omega-3s, chia seeds also help you stay fuller longer!)
  • 1 tb ground flax seeds (I grind them myself and store the meal in the freezer in a pint-sized ball jar)
  • 1 tb maple syrup or raw local honey
  • up to a 1/2 cup of pureed pumpkin 
  • up to a 1/2 cup of fresh/frozen/freeze dried berries
  • 1 chopped banana
  • shredded coconut
  • 1 - 2 tb of nut or seed butter (almond and sunflower seed are my favorite)
Now that the weather is getting nicer, you can even make an oatmeal smoothie! Just skip the heat part altogether and throw the soaked oats in a blender with
Instant Oatmeal In A Spoon
Instant: Thinly flaked & pre-cooked
photo credit: answerfitness.com
some ice, sunsational or other alterna-milk, and frozen berries, and you'll have a delicious, doughy smoothie full of whole grains and fruit! 

A Note on Gluten: Oats do not contain gluten, but are often grown near or processed in facilities that also process gluten-containing grains. If you are sensitive to or intolerant of gluten, just look for oats labeled gluten-free to make sure there aren't any traces of gluten in your oatmeal!

What are your favorite oatmeal toppings?