Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Taking back Oatmeal: Steel-cut oats with pumpkin

I don't know about you, but when I was growing up the only oatmeal I had ever experienced was the kind that came in a little paper packet and cooked up in a few minutes flat. Convenient as hell yes, but about as gloppy and spiritless as wallpaper paste in execution. Only generous additions of brown sugar and cream could induce me to eat this gluey mess, and when I grew up and learned to cook 'proper breakfasts', I happily removed oatmeal from my table. I felt justified in this decision, superior even, for I perceived oatmeal as a standard-american-diet peasant food; an easy but tasteless mound of sticky carbs, with little redeeming value beyond its ability to quickly fill up a hungry stomach.

But oh how benighted I was! I had no idea that instant oatmeal, and its slightly more respectable cousin, flaked or rolled oats, were but the tip of the breakfast iceberg. I had yet to learn about that which every self respecting British isles dweller has known intimately since birth: steel-cut oats.

In case you have never succumbed to curiosity and picked up one of those lovely tins of John McCann oats at Trader Joes, or poked into the bulk bins at a coop; steel cut oats (also known as Pinhead Oats, Irish Oats, or Coarse-cut Oats) are whole-grain goats (the inner portion of the oat kernel ) which have been cut into pieces by steel rather than rolled. In other words, they are minimally processed. They take a bit longer to cook because of this (about 15-20min longer), but the result is a chewy, nutty delectable porridge that bears little resemblance to what I ate as a child. Steel cut oats also have a lower glycemic index than instant oatmeal, which can be a boon for those of us that have difficulty controlling our blood sugar levels.

The extra cooking time is worth it, but if you want to save yourself some labor you can soak the oats overnight in warm water. This will greatly decrease the cooking time and will also neutralize most of the phytic acid that the whole grains contain. Phytic acid is an organic acid found in the outer layer or bran of grains which many nutritionists caution can combine with minerals in the intestinal tract and inhibit their absorption. Thus, eating large amounts of untreated whole grains can lead to mineral deficiencies and bone loss. However, some sources suggest that phytic acid also binds to heavy metals and thus could have an antioxidant or detoxifying effect on the body.

It sounds to me like yet another case of moderation being the best tactic. Untreated grains are fine now and then, but if you have a diet that is very high in whole grains, you might want to think about putting the extra effort into preparing them properly for at least the majority of the time. For more information on the practice and benefits of soaking grains, check out this link http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/497-be-kind-to-your-grains.html or this http://www.phyticacid.org/

Anyway I digress as usual, you probably want to hear about the recipe portion of this posting, not continue to listen to my musings.

For a tasty breakfast for two you will need 1 cup of steel-cut oats*, 2 1/2 cups of water, and a 1/2 cup of pumpkin puree (I used the fresh puree that I had leftover from when I made my pumpkin pie- yay recycling!).

Bring the water to a boil and add the oats. Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Cook until the oats are al dente but not overly chewy-about 20min. Add the pumpkin (and whatever spices you might like) a few minutes before the oats are done.

Season with brown or musovado sugar and cream, and voila- peasant food fit for a king!

* If you wish to soak your oats the night before, add one cup oats to 1 1/2 cups of warm filtered water and 2 tbs of lemon juice or whey. Cover, place in a warm place, and let sit for at least 7hrs. The next morning, bring 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil and add the water/oat slurry. This will only take about 10-15min to cook.

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