We’re always told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It provides the foundation for the long hours of work ahead, or in the case of my days off, lazing around the house pretending to “clean.” But I’ve never been a big breakfast person. I’m not hungry when I first wake up, and I’m not in much of a position to wake up any earlier than I already do to eat before work. In addition, most cookbook sections on breakfast include sugary carb fests or fried foods or Sunday brunch-type fanciness that don’t really make me motivated to get going in the morning. Come to think of it, not many of my cookbooks include their own breakfast sections.
I’m tend toward the lighter side of breakfast. I tend to go toward the slightly sweeter kind of breakfasts or a big smoothie rather than savory, mainly because they’re quicker to prepare. But in my efforts to curb my sugar intake, I’m looking toward ways to sweeten things up without using refined sugar, opting for fruit-sweetened ways to force some early morning nutrients into my body. (I’m not really force-feeding myself, I’m just trying to change some bad non-breakfast-eating habits.)
Enter the oatmeal! Steel cut oats, being less processed, retain more nutrients and are better for you than their more-processed cousins like rolled or quick-cooking oats. They also, like brown rice vs. white rice, take longer to cook (about 20-40 minutes vs. 5-10 minutes). But if you make a large batch, you can always reheat other portions throughout the week. Or, if you are fancy and don’t have to work earlier than I do, time doesn’t matter much.
On its own, steel cut oatmeal has a nuttier flavor and more toothsome texture. Sometimes I like it plain, and spiced up after it’s cooked. You can toast the oats in margarine before adding liquids but since I am also trying to limit my intake of Earth Balance and up my intake of healthy fats like coconut oil I would probably opt for the latter if I was going to go that route. Generally I just heat up the liquids I am going to cook the oats in, then stir in some spices and the oats and a handful of dates, turn the heat down, and cook until most of the liquid has absorbed. I have a lot of flavor combinations I play with – traditional flavors like cinnamon and apples, or festive like coconut, ginger, cinnamon, and pecans.
I’m including a recipe for a more unusual combination, but you can switch out the spices and liquids to suit your own taste. Remember those instant packets of oatmeal? When I was little, I loved the peaches and cream or strawberries and cream. I don’t know how much I’d like that combination now, but this recipe pays homage to that rich, creamy, and fruity sachet of breakfast, only without the artificial flavors, preservatives, and refined sugars. The flavors are subtle: a combination of apricot nectar and hemp milk provide the creamy, slightly fruity base, sweetened with softened dates and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. A small handful of chopped nuts adds extra protein and a nice crunch to this steamy bowl of filling yumminess. If you’re feeling extra decadent and want to add some calcium to your morning routine, stir in a few tablespoons of tahini before serving. Also, this makes a big pot for leftovers. Feel free to halve it if it’s just you, or if you just don’t dig eating the same breakfast for a few days.
Creamy Apricot Steel Cut Oatmeal with Dates and Nuts (makes 4 hearty portions or more):
2 c apricot nectar
2 c hemp milk or other non-dairy milk
2 c steel cut oats
pinch of salt
1/2 c pitted, chopped dates
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
chopped pistachios, walnuts, and/or other nuts (optional)
Bring the nectar, hemp milk, and salt to a low boil over medium heat. Stir in the oats, dates, cinnamon and nutmeg and reduce the heat to very low. Cook, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Spoon into serving bowls and top with nuts and a dusting of cinnamon, if desired.