irish oatmeal with cranberries and pecans

Morning oatmeal: A bowl full of health

28 October 2010

Eating oatmeal for breakfast gives me a warm belly and virtuous conscience. What’s not to love? A wholesome bowl of pure grain, a handful dried fruit or nuts, a bit of sweetness and a splash of milk. It’s a nutritional powerhouse – fiber, protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. It reduces bad cholesterol. It’s digested slowly, so it keeps your tummy content for longer. And it’s all homey, creamy goodness.

I’m known for being a produce evangelist – I’m always bringing fruits and salads to gatherings – but what I’d love to do is get my intestinally challenged friends and relatives to start their day with a bowl of oatmeal. I understand that for someone not used to eating much produce, even the equivalent of an apple a day can be hard to manage. But a bowl of oatmeal is also nutritionally rich and can be accessorized into something for anyone – sweet or savory, plain or elaborate. I say put what you like on it – even oatmeal with loads of toppings is fundamentally better than processed cereals out of a box.

Some people don’t like sweet in the morning. Speaking about his book, Food Matters, on National Public Radio, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman suggested a variety of savory toppings for porridge, including salsa and cheese, or soy sauce and scallions. Saveur photographer Penny de los Santos posted recently about oatmeal with olive oil, cracked pepper, sea salt and sharp aged cheese – including a gorgeous version topped with a sunny side up egg.

Then there’s texture. I love the crunchy-chewiness of steel cut oats, which in uncooked form look more like miniature brown rice grains than rolled oats. For those used to instant oatmeal (which, aside from the weird artificial flavors, I find inedibly salty), rolled oat oatmeal may be preferred for its more uniform mushiness. Harder to find are Scottish oats, which have been coarsely ground from oat groats and make a creamier porridge than steel cut. Here’s the difference:

  • Steel cut (Irish) oats – Oat groats that have been cut into two or three smaller pieces. Cook in 30-35 minutes, largely unattended. Quick cook varieties are ready in 5-7 minutes.
  • Scottish oats – Oat groats that have been stone ground. Cook in 30-35 minutes.
  • Rolled oats – Oat groats that have been steamed and rolled flat. Cook in 5-7 minutes. Quick cook varieties are ready in 3-5 minutes.

Steel cut Irish oatmeal takes time, but it takes hardly any effort. It’s easy to start a pot, reduce to low simmer and then take a shower while it cooks. Cooking overnight in a slow cooker or programmable rice cooker is also an easy option.

For steel cut oats, 1/4 cup makes one serving (about a cup of cooked oatmeal). For rolled oats, 1/2 cup uncooked oats makes one serving. For my family, I always make one cup of steel cut oats – four servings – and save any leftover for the next day.

Water in a saucepan on the stove (water-to-oat ratio is 4:1 for steel cut, 2:1 for rolled). Add oats.

Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Stir occasionally.

It’s done when thick and creamy.

Serve with your choice of toppings. My kids like raisins, brown sugar and whole milk, heavy on the raisins. My husband likes his with bananas, walnuts, brown sugar and skim milk (shown here before the milk).

For the sake of research, I had to try a non-sweet option. Though I am a fan of savory Chinese rice porridge, I couldn’t really stomach the idea of soy sauce and oatmeal. But I can pretty much eat anything with olive oil, pepper and cheese, and Penny’s pictures made it look amazing. So I tried a small bowl, using shaved Parmiggiano-Reggiano that my good friend Lisa actually brought me back from Parma.

Surprisingly yummy – the soft oatmeal provided a creamy backdrop for the coarse salt, spicy pepper and flaky Parmiggiano-Reggiano. But I still had to follow it with a bowl of sweet – cranberries, pecans, maple syrup and whole milk (after the photo).

I’ve tasted virtue, and it tastes sweet.

This hardly needs directions, but I have a printable version here: Steel cut oatmeal.

Buyer’s note: Steel cut oats are widely available these days. McCann’s in the white cylindrical tin are the quintessential Irish oats, but there are less expensive versions available (Trader Joe’s has Country Choice organic oats). For those wishing to stock up, Amazon has good prices on a four pack of McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal or a six pack of Country Choice Organic Irish Steel Cut Oats.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Joy 28 October 2010 at 11:18 pm

Yummy! I’ll make my mom eat oatmeal with cheese and olive oil with me tomorrow :).


Lingling 14 April 2012 at 5:26 pm

Chinese Grandma,
I love your blog. My husband is forever grateful your chocolate cake recipe prompted his baking neophyte wife to timidly approach an oven (growing up Chinese, we used our oven to holiday dishes :). My next venture is yo try oatmeal for breakfast. Keep the posts coming, they are much appreciated!


Judy 17 July 2014 at 3:00 pm

Thanks for your recipe for steel cut oats. Tried to make it once and it was awful. I will try it your way and I hope that it will come out as appetizing as your pictures. My mom adds cranberries to her rolled oats but she also adds ground black sesame powder. It makes it less on the sweet side and she also adds goji berries as well while the oats cook. Pretty interesting and she doesn’t add any sweetener. This is my first time visiting your site and I hope to check out your other recipes in the future. thanks, Judy


cg 20 July 2014 at 8:27 am

hi judy – were your oats too gluey? oatmeal just takes the right balance of water and oats. just add more water if it gets too thick. i love the sesame powder idea! that is super cool. my mom grows goji berries, so i will have to share your mom’s idea with her. =) thank you so much for visiting, and i hope you will find useful ideas here!


Judy 20 July 2014 at 8:46 am

Thanks CG for your reply. It wasn’t gluey, it was undercooked. It tasted like crunchy pebbles. Definitely need to cook longer but I will give steel cut oatmeal another try. Hopefully it will turn out like yours. Thanks for your encouragement and your many ideas for great healthy recipes. I stumbled onto your blog/website while looking for instructions for tea leaf eggs. I just got some tea leaf spice pack from Toronto and it didn’t come with directions. They came out great. That is so cool that your mom grows goji berries. I’ve just started gardening (I’m just beginning). My mom grows pretty weird things but all good. I’m not even sure of half of the stuff she grows. Don’t know if goji berries would grow in NYC. Have to look into it. Thanks again for your insights.


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