If you are a person with texture issues — meaning, you do not generally enjoy mushy foods — then getting through a bowl of oatmeal presents a challenge. Being generous with crunchy and chewy toppings helps; using steel-cut rather than rolled is another way to add bite. But if you’re also a person who generally skews savory over sweet, then the typical bowl of morning oatmeal, doused in maple syrup, just isn’t going to cut it.
Enter savory oats.
Perhaps you’re already enlightened and have been spreading the news of savory oats for years. But according to a very unscientific poll of friends and co-workers, savory oats are little-known and a bit of a tough sell. (The words “gruel” and “Please, sir, I want some more” were uttered more than once.) Savory oatmeal is the grain bowl’s creamy, comforting cousin, the perfect home for a fried egg or last night’s roasted vegetables. If you remain skeptical, it may help to think of oats as just another starchy base upon which to build layers of flavor and top with various proteins or sauces — much like pasta, rice, grits, toast and more.
Let’s start with Oats Upma — if you’re hesitant about savory oats, this may be your gateway. The South Indian porridge is typically made with sooji (semolina) and eaten for breakfast or as a snack, says Washington chef-restaurateur K.N. Vinod. But the mix of chopped green beans, carrots and shallots, flavored with mustard seed, turmeric, ginger and curry leaves, also works well with oats. The whole thing takes about 30 minutes (or less, if you’ve chopped your vegetables in advance). You can make it with steel-cut or rolled oats — if you plan on reheating leftovers, we preferred the steel-cut version. Either way, the finished texture straddles the line between oatmeal and pilaf, with plenty of texture from the vegetables.
But if it’s porridge that you want, then porridge you shall have! We turn to the ever-popular multicooker to make a big batch of steel-cut oats in broth, for extra flavor. You can use any ol’ broth here: vegetable, chicken, turkey, pork. While the oats are bubbling away, you’ll cook a pound of sliced mushrooms in a bit of butter and a splash of dry vermouth or white wine (flavor booster!). After the oats are done and the pressure is releasing, fry a few eggs, then top each bowl with a mound of those mushrooms, an egg and a big scoop of kimchi. For extra crunch, scatter a few store-bought crispy fried onions or shallots on top. (A poached or jammy egg is nice, too, as are sauteed greens.) The steel-cut oats also reheat well; if needed, thin them out to your desired consistency with a bit more broth or water.
Both of those are good options for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner, but because they do require a little chopping and slicing, they might not be ideal when time is short. For that, make your oatmeal in the microwave, following the tips laid out here. With water, bouillon and a few flavorful toppings (read: bacon and cheese), this version reminded me of a warm bowl of grits. One day, I had leftover roasted tomato halves and sauteed spinach in the refrigerator, so those went on top, too. In about five minutes, I had a warming, comforting lunch.
And guess what? When I made these recipes for family and co-workers, they really did ask for more.
1⁄3cupdried rolled oats (do not use instant or quick-cooking oats)
2⁄3cupwater, or more as needed
1⁄4teaspoonvegetable bouillon concentrate, such as Better Than Bouillon brand
2tablespoonsshredded cheese, such as sharp cheddar, colby jack or a blend
2slices cooked, crisped bacon
A few pickled jalapeño slices
Cooked greens, such as spinach, kale or collards, for serving (optional)
Roasted cherry tomato halves, for serving (optional)
1large egg, fried, poached or soft-cooked, for serving (optional)
Stir together the oats, water and bouillon concentrate in a large, microwave-safe bowl (at least 2-cup capacity). The bouillon won’t dissolve yet; this is okay. Microwave, uncovered, on HIGH for 2 minutes, watching closely to make sure the mixture doesn’t boil over. Stop and restart the microwave as needed to prevent overflow.
Stir to distribute the bouillon; be careful, the bowl will be hot. Microwave on HIGH for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the oats are cooked to your desired degree of doneness: Less time will yield slightly chewy oats, while the full 2 minutes will yield more tender results. For a soupier consistency, stir in more water, a tablespoon or two at a time.
Top with the shredded cheese, bacon and pickled jalapeño slices, plus the sauteed greens, roasted tomato halves and egg, if using.
From Food editorial assistant Kara Elder.
Tested by Kara Elder; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Calories: 260; Total Fat: 14 g; Saturated Fat: 6 g; Cholesterol: 35 mg; Sodium: 850 mg; Carbohydrates: 20 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugars: 0 g; Protein: 14 g.