I recently bit the bullet and had all four wisdom teeth removed, something I should’ve done as a teenager. It was horrible. Actually, beyond horrible. I was part of the 30% who had problems with blood clots forming (mine formed, just very slowly) and was therefore in excruciating pain for one week straight. Thank god I’ll never have to do that again.
As you can imagine, the first five days necessitated a lackluster diet of yogurt, applesauce, pudding and juice, and let me tell you, I’ll never underestimate texture again. So the moment I felt well enough to chew, I made a big batch of steel cut oatmeal.
Why steel cut as opposed to rolled oats, you ask? Because their taste (nutty) and texture (chewy) are superior. Sure, they take a bit longer to cook but the proof is in the porridge.
The best way to prepare steel cut oats is by soaking them overnight. Not only does this cut the cooking time down to 10 minutes, it vastly improves the nutritional profile. Here’s the thing: whole grains contain phytates, which are indigestible organic acids. Left untreated, they bind to nearby minerals (calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc) and block their absorption. Simple soaking actually neutralizes phytates so that they can’t make off with the good stuff. Therefore, grains that have been soaked, fermented or sprouted are much more nutritious than their untreated versions.
I find it fascinating that most cultures, especially preindustrial cultures, fermented or sprouted their grains before turning them into porridge, breads or cakes. In India they ferment lentils and rice for at least two days in order to make idli and dosas. Ground corn is soaked by African natives before being added to stews while in Mexico, corn cakes called pozol are wrapped in banana leaves to ferment for days. That amazing Ethiopian bread, injera, with its slightly sour taste is made by fermenting a grain called teff. Throughout Europe grains were soaked overnight in soured milk or water before being turned into porridge. Even our American pioneers understood the benefits of treating grains; they were famous for their sourdough breads, pancakes and biscuits. Unfortunately, much of this ancient wisdom has been lost in the buzz of modern life, and quite recently at that. The instructions on the Quaker oatmeal box used to call for an overnight soaking!
With a little forethought you can easily reap the benefits of soaked grains. In the case of steel cut oatmeal, simply boil the oats in water for 1 minute and then let them sit overnight. Another ten minutes in the morning is all it takes to sit down to a piping hot bowl of goodness.
I'd say those 11 minutes are worth it.
Overnight Steel Cut Oatmeal
Soured, fermented oats had a place in the traditional Welsh diet. This treatment is much simpler but provides similar benefits. This oatmeal topped with a little butter and cream tastes exceptional.
3 large or 4 moderate servings
4 cups water
1 cup steel-cut oats
Pinch of salt, optional
Toppings of choice: butter, maple syrup, milk, cream, brown sugar, fruit, nuts, etc.
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the oats and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat, cover and let stand overnight at room temperature.
In the morning, heat the oats along with a pinch of salt (if using) over high heat, uncovered, until boiling. Reduce to low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes or until the oatmeal is tender but still has a bit of chew. Divide among bowls and top as desired.