In the USA there is a long-running argument over hot cereals. Southerners claim that corn grits is the only way to go, while Northerners traditionally prefer cream of wheat or oatmeal. Cream of wheat was invented in 1893 by wheat millers in Grand Forks, North Dakota, where it no doubt kept people warm through those frigid winter days. It is made out of coarsely ground wheat grains. Grits, on the other hand, are made out of coarsely ground corn. White corn is considered "traditional", but yellow corn is also used. Polenta, an Italian take on grits, is usually made with yellow cornmeal and lots of Old World cheese.
Oatmeal, the topic of today's recipe, technically refers to ground oat groats (hence the use of the term "meal"), but is also used to describe cooked rolled oats and steel cut oats. Rolled oats are groats that have been steam treated and had the bran removed. Each grain is then rolled flat by heavy rollers. Large flakes are sold as rolled oats while small ones are often packaged as instant oatmeal. Steel cut oats are oat grains that have been steam treated and chopped into small bits, retaining some of the bran layer, so they contain more fiber than other oat products. However steel cut oats take about 45 minutes to cook, so if you haven't bothered to mix up a batch on the weekend to last you through the week, rolled oats are the way to go. The large flakes have more substance than instant oatmeal, which is bland and mushy, and the oat flavour is more prominent. Get some organic rolled oats next time you are at the store and try out this recipe. You will see what I mean.
There is no picture of today's featured recipe, mainly because I was up late last night working on a paper about Italian fertility policies and when I stumbled out of bed this morning I didn't think to nicely arrange my breakfast for a photo-op. By the time the idea crossed my mind there was a half eaten bowl of cooked oats in front of me-far from photogenic. So I decided to entertain you with an appropriately spring-like photo of some lovely easter egg radishes. Delicious in a salad, just don't get the wrong idea and toss them in your oatmeal. That is one flavour combination that no one needs to try.
Anyways, you guys already know what oatmeal looks like. A picture is superfluous. What you need to know is how this recipe tastes. There are a lot of ways to window dress oats. Cinnamon and apples, maple syrup, blueberries and cream, raisins, the list goes on. I think this combination is particularly scrumptious because of the winning combination of sweet dates, bananas, and the lovely aroma of coconut. You don't need much coconut to get a good flavour, so this dish won't compromise your healthy eating, and it just might remind you of your last Caribbean vacation (or set you to planning one).
You may wonder, where's the sugar? You wont need any. The two dates furnish ample sweetness in this dish, in fact I found it slightly too sweet, so you might even prefer using only one date. This is a really filling meal, but if you just got back from a long run, you might want to serve it with one of the citrus salads that I posted about the other day. The bright orange flavours are a perfect palate cleanser after chowing down on this creamy dish.
Rolled Oats with Banana, Dates and Coconut
This recipe makes one hearty serving, just multiply it by the number of people you have over if you are making it for a crowd. The total calorie count for the original version with nonfat milk is 429 calories.
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup nonfat milk
1/2 organic banana, sliced
2 medium dates, chopped
1 tablespoon dried, unsweetened coconut
6 almonds, coarsely chopped (you may omit these if you like, but I like the added crunch )
1/8 tsp ground ginger or to taste
1/8-1/4 tsp cinnamon or to taste
A dash of salt
1. Heat the milk, oats, banana and dates until the mixture begins to bubble. Stir regularly to keep it from sticking to the bottom. Lower the heat to medium. The mixture should begin to thicken after about 5 minutes.
2. Add the ginger, cinnamon and salt, coconut and almonds. If you want, try toasting the coconut and almonds in a skillet before adding them. It is amazing how much a little dry heat enhances the flavour.
3. Serve with a sprinkle of coconut on top.
Variations: While making this I pondered some of the more decadent options to be explored. For a richer meal and more pronounced coconut flavour, try replacing half the nonfat milk with coconut milk. If you don't want a saturated fat overload, I recommend using "light" coconut milk, which usually has about 60% less fat than the regular. As always, please buy organic if you can.