Oatmeal is one of those foods, like pickles or Brussels sprouts, that I never thought I would like so much as an adult. As a kid, like most kids, I found the bland bowl of oats thoroughly unappealing. Now, I could go on and on about its virtues: It's warming on a cold winter day; it's an ideal base for a variety of toppings; it's nutritious and quite filling. But I realize it's not for everyone, and that blandness often requires some added oomph to make it special. One of my friends recently told me she is often too bored to ever finish an entire bowl of oatmeal. Disdain noted. Maybe these recipes will change her mind. Here are five ideas for turning the hearty grains into bowls that are savory, instead of cinnamony or sweet. By using oats more like rice or quinoa, oatmeal becomes a breakfast or lunch option that's far from boring.
Michelle Stark, Times food editor
Apples, Gruyere and Rosemary
To make, combine 1 teaspoon butter and 1 medium apple (cut into bite-sized pieces) in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook until the apples begin to soften. Then, add your oats. You can use ¼ cup steel-cut or ½ cup rolled oats, but either way, let them cook in the pot for a few minutes, stirring them around with the apples so they toast a bit. Add 1 cup water, bring the whole thing to a boil, then cook according to the oats' package directions. (It will vary for steel-cut versus rolled.) Turn the heat off, stir and let sit for a minute. Then, stir in 2 tablespoons shredded Gruyere cheese and ½ teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. This makes 1 serving. Recipe adapted from shelbsandcheese.com.
Egg and Cheese
To make, bring a cup of water to boil in a saucepan. Add ½ cup quick-cooking rolled oats and cook for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a nonstick pan over medium heat and crack an egg into pan. Cook until the egg white is set but the yolk is runny; this should take 2 or 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. When oatmeal is done cooking, spoon into a bowl. Top with egg, then grate 2 tablespoons sharp cheddar cheese on top and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallions. Season with salt and pepper to taste. This makes 1 serving. Recipe from Everyday Food.
Soy and Scallion
In a small saucepan over high heat, combine 1 cup rolled oats and 2 cups water. Boil water, then turn heat to low and cook about 5 minutes until water is just absorbed. Turn off the heat and add 2 teaspoons soy sauce and 1 tablespoon scallions. Season with sea salt, then top with extra scallions. Serve. This makes 2 servings. Recipe from seriouseats.com.
Mushrooms, Gouda and Thyme
Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add 1 cup steel-cut oatmeal, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until oats are tender. While oats are cooking, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in another pan over medium heat. Add ½ medium thinly sliced onion and 2 cloves minced garlic and saute for 3 to 5 minutes. Add 6 to 8 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms and 4 sprigs fresh thyme and let cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until mushrooms are brown. Remove thyme sprigs. When oatmeal is done, turn off the heat and fold in ½ cup grated Gouda cheese. Stir well, then add to pan with vegetables and stir again. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 2 to 4. Recipe adapted from Shape.
Savory Oat Bowl
First, let's make a toasted nut topping for this savory bowl. In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea to double the recipe and save some of this for future oatmeal bowls; it goes well with sweet varieties, too. To make, mix ¼ cup each rolled oats, slivered raw almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds with ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil in a bowl. Place on a baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven, until fragrant. When done, remove baking sheet from oven and set aside. Now, make the oatmeal. Bring a cup of water and ½ cup steel-cut oats to a boil in a small saucepan and add a pinch of salt. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 about minutes. While oats are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and 1 finely diced garlic clove and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Cook for a minute or so, then add a large handful of spinach leaves and cook until they wilt slightly but not too much. Spoon oatmeal into bowl, then add greens and any juices from the pan. Garnish with about 1 tablespoon of the toasted nut topping and add a dollop of plain Greek yogurt at the end. Season with salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. This makes 1 large serving. Recipe adapted from the New York Times.