Outstanding Oatmeal

Little orphan boys like Oliver aren’t the only ones craving extra bowls of porridge this time of year, especially when the porridge is a warming bowl of oatmeal.

The humble bowl of oats earned a health halo in the 1980s when researchers noted that the soluble fiber in oat bran helped lower “bad” LDL cholesterol in people who consumed it. Yeah, at first we indulged in a mania for dust-dry, sickly sweet oat bran muffins to satisfy our oat needs, but eventually, we grew up and developed a taste for the actual whole oat grain itself.

These days oatmeal is a staple on healthy breakfast tables. That’s because unlike some other health claims that have been reversed over the years, the healthfulness of oats has stood the test of time. Aside from lowering LDL cholesterol, oats may help lower blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity, and help keep you full longer, which might keep you from eating more at lunch and aid in weight maintenance. Oats are a gluten-free food, but if you have celiac disease and absolutely cannot have any gluten, make sure to read labels to make sure the oats have been handled properly to guarantee they have not come in contact with other gluten-containing grains.

Steel-cut, rolled, or whole?

The first thing to consider when you’re choosing oatmeal is the “cut.” Whole oat groats aren’t generally found in the cereal aisle of your local supermarket—unless it’s a natural food store. They take up to an hour to cook and have a hearty, nutty flavor.

Steel-cut oats—that is oat groats that have been cut into halves or thirds with a blade—are gaining in popularity as people discover that the extra time it takes to cook them (20 minutes) is worth it. Quick-cooking steel-cut oats, which are also cut with a blade, but into smaller pieces, cook in about seven or eight minutes.

Rolled oats (also called “old-fashioned oats”) have been steamed and rolled flat, which helps them cook faster. Quick oats have been steamed longer and rolled flatter, leading to an even quicker cooking time. Instant oats have been cooked and dried before being rolled, which alters the texture, making it more “gluey.”

While quick or instant oats are popular because of their fast cooking time, it comes at a price—they can raise your blood sugar in a way that rolled and steel-cut oats don’t. According to the American Diabetes Association, instant oats are higher on the glycemic index than rolled oats. The glycemic index is a measure of how carbohydrate-containing foods affect blood sugar levels. A food with a high GI index number raises blood sugar more than one with a low GI number. That’s because, with instant oats, the extra processing does the work your body usually does to digest oats. It’s worth noting, however, that unless you actually have diabetes or other blood sugar control issues, the glycemic index may not be relevant for you.

Instant oats also generally come in a packet accompanied by loads of sugar. And while keeping a box of a lower-sugar variety of instant oats in your desk can be a cheap and easy way to ward off mid-afternoon visits to the candy machine, there are tastier (and healthier) ways to get some oats into your diet.

Recipes (by the author except where noted):

Steel Cut Oats with Golden Raisins and Chai Spices

(Adapted from Mollie Katzen)


  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • ¾ cup milk (regular, soy, or almond)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger (or 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground clove
  • ¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper (optional, but provides a spicy bite)
  • 1–2 tablespoons honey
  • ¼ cup golden raisins


  1. Place the water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil.
  2. When it boils, add the steel cut oats, stir, and turn the heat to medium.
  3. Cook at a slow boil for 12–15 minutes until at the desired level of doneness.
  4. Meanwhile, gently heat the milk and mix in the spices and honey until warm.
  5. When the oats are done, combine with milk. Stir in the golden raisins and serve hot.

Serves 6. Prep time, 5 minutes; cook time, 15 minutes.

Overnight Oats with Blueberries and Toasted Almonds


  • ⅓ cup rolled oats
  • ⅓ cup plain yogurt
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • ½ cup blueberries (frozen is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon rind (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted


  1. Combine oats, yogurt, milk, and blueberries. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. In the morning, remove from the refrigerator and stir in lemon rind. Sprinkle with toasted almonds.

Serves 1. Prep time, 5 minutes; wait time, 4–8 hours.

Hazelnut Cherry Granola

(Adapted from Tosca Reno)


  • 4 cups rolled oats (or use a mixture of rolled cereals)
  • 1 cup raw hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup pumpkin seeds
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup neutral oil (canola, peanut, or coconut oils work well here)
  • ⅓ cup honey
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup dried cherries


  1. Preheat oven to 300℉.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts, and seeds. Stir well.
  3. In a small saucepan, gently warm sugar, oil, honey, salt, and vanilla.
  4. When sugar is melted, pour over oat mixture and mix well until all dry ingredients are coated with sugar/oil mixture.
  5. Spread granola onto two rimmed baking pans and place into the oven.
  6. Bake for 30–40 minutes, stirring often until granola is golden-brown.
  7. Remove from oven and distribute dried fruit evenly over both pans. Let cool and stir to combine. Granola will crisp up as it cools. Store in an airtight container in a cabinet or the freezer.

Serves 10. Prep time, 10 minutes; cook time, 40 minutes.

Oatmeal with Spicy Spinach

Oatmeal doesn’t have to be sweet. This dish lends a savory Indian-spiced note to oats.


  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ¼ teaspoon dried ground ginger
  • 2 cups spinach leaves
  • 2 small whole dried chili peppers (such as Thai or bird’s eye)
  • Greek yogurt (optional)


  1. Combine water, rolled oats, turmeric, and salt in a saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower heat and stir. Cover and cook five minutes until thick.
  3. Meanwhile, heat frying pan and drizzle with oil.
  4. Add garlic, ginger, and chili peppers to oil. Cook until the garlic is fragrant.
  5. Add spinach leaves and stir until spinach is wilted.
  6. Add spinach mixture to oatmeal. Stir until combined. Enjoy with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Serves 2. Prep time, 5 minutes; cook time, 10 minutes.

Oat Groat Risotto

Oatmeal: Not just for breakfast anymore.


  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • ⅔ cup dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 ½ cups whole oat groats
  • ⅓ cup white wine
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced (can use white button mushrooms)
  • ¼ cup grated hard Italian cheese (pecorino, Romano, or Parmesan)


  1. Bring vegetable stock to a simmer. Grind dried porcini finely in a spice grinder and add to stock (or place in stock whole).
  2. Heat a frying pan and melt butter in it. Add mushrooms and cook on medium, stirring, until they give up their liquid. Turn off heat and let them rest in the pan.
  3. Heat a five-quart saucepan on the stove on medium. Drizzle oil in, then add garlic and oat groats. Saute garlic and groats, stirring often.
  4. When groats are toasted and fragrant, add white wine. Stir until the wine is absorbed.
  5. Add stock, a half-cup at a time, to pan, stirring until each addition is absorbed before adding the next one.
  6. When stock is almost all added, test groats for doneness—they will be chewier than regular risotto; they should be cooked through with no chalky taste. You may need to add additional stock or hot water.
  7. When groats are done, add mushrooms and cheese. Mix and serve immediately with additional cheese at the table.

Serves 4. Prep time, 15 minutes; cook time, 40 minutes.

Miriam Wolf is the editor of The FruitGuys Magazine newsletter.

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