Sunday, 25 May 2014

Oat cuisine - plus three comforting recipes

Have a bowl of oat porridge in the morning ... or even for dinner.

Have a bowl of oat porridge in the morning ... or even for dinner.

Start the day right with a bowl of comforting oat goodness.

GOOPY. That is somehow the right word to describe oatmeal porridge. Goo, goop, guck, gunk, muck, slime, sludge are alternative words. All of them not too pretty, one must admit.

But goopy is kinda cute. And adorable. Which is your oatmeal porridge. It’s kinda sticky and lumpy, but also fills and warms you up, and satisfies in the most basic of ways.

Sure, we love our nasi lemak and roti canai breakfast, but deep down, we know which one is better for us. Two very good reasons to opt for oats is its cholesterol-lowering effect and aid to weight loss. Whether we love it or hate it, it’s a good idea to work some oats into breakfast – there is a good reason why it is often considered one of the best food you can have for breakfast by health professionals.

If you don’t already know it, probably the most useful thing about oats that I can tell you is that you should soak the oats before eating it. This is because all grains contain phytic acid in the outer layer which can interfere with nutrient absorption. So if you have been eating a lot of oats without first soaking them, I am afraid you may not have been reaping its benefits.

Soaking wakes up the enzymes, lactobacilli and other helpful organisms in the oats and they do the work of breaking down and neutralising phytic acid. The simple practice of soaking cracked or rolled cereal grains overnight will vastly improve their nutritional benefits according to the book Nourishing Traditions.

“This is why a diet high in unfermented whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss and irritable bowel syndrome and, in the long term, many other adverse effects.”

That said, the only oats you really have to soak first are whole oat groats and steel-cut oats as the more processed oats would have some of their outer layer removed. Still, a lot of oats and other grains benefit from soaking; soaking increases the content of some vitamins and help break down complex carbohydrates and improve their digestibility, reducing intestinal gas.

So having a bowl of Bircher muesli in the morning makes a lot of sense as it’s a recipe that requires you to soak the oat mixture overnight – it’s the original muesli created by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner around the 1900 for his patients as part of therapy.

Someone asked what’s the difference between muesli and granola, both being a mixture of oats, nuts and dried fruits. Looks and taste wise, granola and muesli are like night and day; the difference is just this: muesli is made of raw oats while the oats in granola have been roasted.

The recipes here are really just examples of the kind of tasty muesli, granola and oats porridge that you can do – and you can easily vary the recipes by varying the flavouring ingredients. For instance, try a rose, lychee and Chinese almond Bircher muesli, or a tropical pineapple, mango, ciku and cashew nut medley. All are good, I promise you.

Additional recipe

For something fancy, try an oatmeal brulée, oatmeal topped with a thin layer of caramelised sugar and berries.


These are whole, unpolished oat grains that look somewhat like barley in shape and size. Organic oat groats are suitable for sprouting. To cook, soak them overnight and boil for 35 to 40 minutes.


Steel-cut/Irish/ Scottish oats

Whole grains are steamed to soften them and each is cut into three or four rather irregular shapes resembling bulgur. To cook, boil for 25 to 30 minutes. Steel-cut oats provide a firmer bite when cooked.

Old-fashioned/regular/ rolled oats

Grains are steamed to soften them for rolling – flattened oats are faster to cook and digest. To cook, boil for 10 minutes.

Quick-cook oats

The oats are steamed and rolled more thinly, and roughly cut to make them smaller and even faster to cook. To cook, boil for 2 to 3 minutes.

Instant oats

The oats are steamed and rolled finely, and milled into tiny flakes. This is the most processed type of oats, and other ingredients may be added to the mix, but it is also the most convenient, and does not require cooking. To prepare, merely add hot water and stir.

Where to buy

* Chia seeds are available at most organic and health food stores and sections in the better supermarkets and some pastry supplies shop.


Bircher muesli
2 servings

50g rolled oats
1 tbsp chia seeds
30g raisins, dried cranberries or any dried fruit of your choice
180ml milk, almond milk, soy milk or fruit juice
1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced
20g pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds (both, if you wish), toasted
20g almond flakes, toasted
120g plain yoghurt
4 tsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract or 2 tsp grated lemon zest
2 tsp lemon juice 

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the oats, chia seeds, raisins, and milk or juice. Mix, cover, and soak overnight in the refrigerator.

To serve: The next morning, divide the soaked oats among two bowls, top with apple, seeds, nut, yoghurt, honey, vanilla or lemon zest, and lemon juice. If the oatmeal is too thick, add a splash of milk to get it to your preferred consistency. Serve cold, or warm it up, if you wish.

Note: For the soaking, the liquid to oats/chia seeds ratio is 3:1.

Passion fruit granola
Makes about 1kg

Seeds and nuts mix
100g pumpkin seeds
100g sunflower seeds
100g sesame seeds
100g almond, walnut or pistachio slices
500g rolled oats
50g wheat germ
1¼ tsp salt
50ml canola or olive oil
160ml honey or maple syrup
100g (2) passion fruit pulp
100g raisins or dried cranberries

To toast seeds: Preheat the oven at 140°C. Place the seeds on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10 minutes.

To toast nuts: Preheat the oven at 160°C. Place the nut slivers on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10-15 minutes.

To prepare granola: Combine the oats, wheat germ and salt in a bowl. In a small bowl, mix the oil, honey, and passion fruit pulp, and drizzle it over the oat mixture; mix well. Spread mixture evenly in a thin layer onto a large, or two small, baking sheets.

To bake: Preheat the oven at 130°C (with fan). Roast the oats mixture for about 60 minutes, or until dry and crisp, stirring the mixture three times during baking and rotating the tray for even browning. (Do not stir if you prefer the granola in chunky clusters – rotate the tray at intervals for even browning and after 1 hour, flip over to brown the other side for the remaining baking time.) Remove from the oven and cool.

Break up the clusters to the desired size and mix with the toasted seeds and nuts, and the dried fruit. Store the granola in an air-tight container.

To serve: Place one or two scoops of granola in a bowl and enjoy it with yoghurt or milk, and fresh fruit or fruit compote, for breakfast.

Variations: You can create granola mixes of various flavours. For a banana granola, substitute the passion fruit pulp with 160g banana puree; for something spicy, substitute with ¼ tsp ground cinnamon, or ½ tsp ground cardamom, or 1 tsp vanilla extract, etc.

Storage: Homemade granola keeps well for up to a month at room temperature; to maintain its crispness, store the dried fruit separately. For a longer shelf life, store in the refrigerator.

Savoury oat porridge
2 servings

150g chicken breast, sliced


¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp sesame oil
½ tsp cornflour
1 tbsp water

Mushroom topping

2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
150g fresh shitake mushroom, sliced
500ml chicken stock (use fresh stock or made with 1 tbsp chicken stock concentrate or 1 stock cube dissolved in 500ml water)
50g quick-cooking oats
80g (1 small) carrot, diced
1 celery stick, peeled and diced
4 tbsp goji berries (kei chi), rinsed and drained
Light soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper to taste


2 stalks spring onion, chopped
2 sprigs coriander, chopped

To marinade chicken: In a bowl, combine the marinade ingredients and stir to mix well. Add chicken, cling film the bowl, and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or overnight.

To cook mushroom topping: Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and fry until onion is soft. Add mushrooms and sauté over medium high heat until mushrooms turn brown and caramelise. Transfer to a dish, and set aside.

To cook oats: Bring the stock to boil in a medium saucepan and add the oatmeal, carrot, and celery. When the mixture comes to boil, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Stir the chicken through the porridge and simmer for 2 minutes more. Add the goji berries and season to taste with soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper. Turn off the heat.

To serve: Scoop porridge into two bowls, add mushroom topping, and garnish with spring onion and coriander. Serve warm.

Note: For better texture, use rolled or steel-cut oats, instead of mushy quick-cooking oats. Refer to the cooking times for the specific oats.

Catherine Lau Cooking School, Tel: 016-221 5718

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , oats , breakfast


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