Glue. That’s what a bowl of oats meant to me growing up in boarding school. At breakfast, I could turn the bowl of porridge over my head and nothing. The gloop would hold its ground, strong and tenacious. I almost always never touched it. Oat porridge re-entered my life later on when I overcame my memories to try new oats recipes – both sweet and savoury. I’m partial to a bowl of savoury oats because I think it is incredibly versatile. It would so gladden my culinary cockles if this post encourages cooks to look beyond pre-flavoured instant oats (loaded with sodium and preservatives) to create their own imaginative oats recipes.
Truth be told, I did not plan this dish. It sort of happened as I went along. I was bored of eating the same things and wanted something healthy yet exciting. Inspired by the Savory Ris-Oat-to with Poached Egg by Ali Conklin on Food 52, I built this healthy rolled oats recipe on whatever I had at hand. In fact I was planning to use the prawns in a curry but changed my mind as the the idea of whipping a new oats recipe for dinner started taking root in my mind. And soon, one thing led to another; more ingredients joined the party and I was able to treat my family to a beautiful (even if I say so myself), and deliciously different dinner. Bowled over by a bowl of oats? I would have never wagered on it.
In almost all of my oats recipes I use quick-cooking rolled oats (instant oats are fine too but rolled oats have more bite and are nutritionally more dense). Instant oats are more processed for quick-cooking. As a result, they give up some of the nutritional benefits, and on cooking, have a texture resembling baby food. Oats have a low GI (glycemic index), which makes them stable and slower at releasing energy unlike simple carbohydrates. Rolled oats are not so common here in India but some online stores and large food stores are stocking them now. Try www.sattvicfoods.in for your supply. This helps maintain steady blood sugar levels. Which is why oats are perfect for diabetics. Prolonged processing raises the GI somewhat taking away their usefulness to sugar-watchers. If you don’t suffer from sugar problems, both rolled and instant varieties will work just fine.
With an almost neutral personality, oats absorb any flavour you choose to give them. I dipped into my stock of dried shiitake mushrooms to introduce their bold, almost meat-like Umami taste into the porridge. Dried shiitakes must be soaked in hot water for a while to rehydrate and restore their succulence. This soaking water is precious (I always use it to add depth to soups and even curries); so I cooked my oats in a mix of shiitake water, coconut milk and a little plain water (only a few tablespoons to get the right consistency). This way, the porridge is creamy and deeply deliciousness. The amount of liquid required to cook the oats may vary a little depending on you personal preference of its consistency. Also if you use rolled oats like me, they will need a more liquid than instant ones.
Savoury oat porridge is a blank canvas. Let your creativity soar and experiment with a smorgasbord of accompanying meats, vegetables, sauces etc to make the recipe your own. I had fresh prawns, which I marinated in a little grated ginger, dark soy and gochujang, a Korean red chilli paste,( available online in India) for an Asian touch. Cooking them meant a quickly saute for 7-10 minutes to render the prawns opaque yet soft and the marinade to thicken up into a bright and glossy sauce. The plump prawns fragrant with ginger in the red gochujang sauce contrasted wonderfully against the pale palette of the oats. And as the sauce seeped into the porridge, it left small hints of chilli and ginger in its wake.
Now to the mushrooms. Any mushroom would suit this dish since mushrooms are basically sponges that suck in flavour. No shiitakes on hand? Don’t worry, everyday white or brown mushroom will do nicely. Sauteed for mere minutes with a few slivers of garlic, a few drops of rice wine vinegar and a couple of spoons of dark soy, they were transformed into juicy slices of velvet. To heighten the Asianness of this oats recipe, I added finely diced radish and cucumber. Pickled for an hour with sugar, salt and a splash of vinegar, they introduced crunch, freshness and clean astringent flavours. Green, almost iridescent loops of spring onions sprinkled on top rounded off the oat bowl.
I know all this sounds like a there’s a lot to do. There’s very little cooking, it’s the chopping and assembling that takes a tad more time but I enjoyed doing it and you could always delegate the chopping to friends or family you plan to share the meal with. It’s fun and quite relaxing to share both the preparation, cooking and eating of a meal.
Every time you decide to try one-bowl oats recipes for dinner, think of a new combination with one, two or more accompaniments. Cook your porridge in almond milk or coconut milk or soy milk or chicken stock; the choices are endless. Try it with a simply poached egg and a dot of hot sauce for breakfast; or fried shallots, poached chicken, grilled vegetables… whatever you’re in the mood for. Be creative, even adventurous. Serve it on a cold winter evening to a huddle of close friends at an impromptu a dinner party, or with a chilled cucumber salad and chilli flakes on a summer afternoon, and I imagine that that bowl will be beautiful…both to look at and to eat.
- 180 g quick cooking rolled oats
- 200 ml coconut milk
- 150 ml soaking water from the mushrooms
- 100 ml plain water more or less as needed
- 200 g fresh prawns, cleaned and de-veined
- 1 tbsp gochujang paste
- 1/2 tsp grated garlic
- 2 tsp grated ginger
- 2 tbsps oil
- 4-5 dried, medium sized shiitake mushrooms
- 1 garlic clove sliced
- 1 tbsp dark soy
- 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
- 2 tsp oil
- 2-3 small red radishes finely diced
- 1 medium cucumber finely diced
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp any white vinegar
- 2 spring onions finely chopped
- Mix the prawns with garlic, ginger and gochujang paste and marinate for 20 minutes.
- Soak the mushrooms, covered in 100 ml boiling water for 30 minutes.
- Toss the cucumber and radish in vinegar, sugar and salt and leave to cure, covered in the fridge.
- After 30 minutes, slice the mushrooms removing their stalks.
- Heat oil in a pan on medium heat and put in the garlic with the mushrooms. Cook for a minute, then add the soy and the rice wine vinegar. Cook for another 2-3 minutes till the mushrooms have soaked up all the liquid and appear browned. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.
- In the same pan heat 2 tablespoons of oil and saute the marinated prawns along with the marinade on medium heat.
- Cook for 7-10 minutes or until the prawns are cooked and opaque but still juicy. Set aside.
- In a large pot pour in the coconut milk, the soaking water from the mushrooms and half the plain water. Season with salt.
- Add the rolled oats stirring to dissolve any lumps. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook till creamy in consistency. Add more water if required during the cooking.
- Pour equal amounts of porridge in to the serving bowls and top with the prawns, mushrooms and pickled vegetables arranged in individual heaps. Pour over any sauce from the prawns.
- Sprinkle with spring onions and serve.