Beyond Oatmeal: Everything You Can Do With Oats

20151201-bananas-foster-oatmeal-vicky-wasik-010.jpg

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

For years, I always kept a container of oats around the house, tucked into the back of my pantry for chilly-morning breakfasts and the occasional batch of cookies. But more often than not, I'd wind up tossing the questionably stale cereal long before I reached the bottom of the canister.

I'm thriftier with my ingredients these days, and more committed to finding ways to use them up. Luckily, it didn't take much experimenting to realize that, like most whole grains, oats are remarkably versatile. You'll most commonly find them rolled—steamed and flattened for oatmeal—or sold as the longer-cooking steel-cut, or Irish, oats, which still have their fibrous bran attached. In either case, their nutty flavor and chewy texture make them an easy addition to sweeter preparations, like cookies and breads. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. From creamier smoothies to savory, satisfying twists on the breakfast staple, here are some of my favorite ways to plow through a tin of oats in no time at all.

Not Your Average Oatmeal

[Photograph: Yvonne Ruperti]

Sure, you can mix some rolled oats with water, stick it in the microwave, and call it breakfast. But you can also add a few extra flourishes to make your morning meal truly shine. If you're feeding a crowd, try baking your oatmeal—it's a hands-off method that's easy to whip up in big batches, with whatever ingredients you have on hand. Think sweetly spiced cinnamon-apple, juicy strawberry-almond, or a warming batch of maple-banana.

Going the stovetop route? From bananas Foster–inspired oatmeal to savory versions stirred with ricotta and sage, soy sauce and scallion, or squash and bacon, we have 19 great mix-in ideas to shake up your routine.

Nutty-Sweet Batters and Doughs

[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

Let's be real: There's a good reason why oatmeal cookies are the poster child for rolled oats. Our recipe yields thick cookies with a crisp crust and a chewy, moist center. Better yet, you'll need only one bowl to make them happen, which means they should probably be happening all the time. If you're a fan of thick cookies, don't stop at the strictly oatmeal variety—a dash of oats mixed into any recipe will help things along, since the oats will swell and soften thanks to the moisture in the dough.

But cookies aside, oats can enhance a whole range of batters and doughs. Try them in hearty-but-fluffy oatmeal–brown butter pancakes; a tangy, buttermilk-infused banana oatmeal bread; bite-size sour cream and chocolate chip oatmeal muffins; or these tender and flaky spelt and oat cookies, which get their molasses richness from muscovado sugar.

No-Roll Pie Crust

Step 5: Line With Foil

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

If you like a graham cracker crust, you should definitely meet its salty-sweet cousin, the oat crumble crust. Throwing rolled oats in a food processor produces a granulated oat "flour" that we combine with all-purpose wheat flour and a sprinkle of salt before mixing it with creamed butter and brown sugar. Then the dough is lightly baked for a toasty flavor and golden-brown hue, before it's processed with a bit more butter and pressed into a pie plate. The result is a pleasantly crisp-crumbly crust with the flavor of an oaty shortbread cookie. Try it with this tart-sweet no-churn lime ice cream pie and your mind just may be blown.

Superior Smoothies

20160412-oats-smoothie.jpg

[Photograph: Shutterstock]

I know what you're thinking: oatmeal, in a smoothie? Yup, it sounds sorta weird, but boy, does it work. You can add a few tablespoons of cooked rolled oats to virtually any smoothie—sweet or savory—for an extra-creamy texture. You'll be surprised by just how much longer it'll fill you up, too. If you need proof, look no further than The Maine Squeeze, a bright, summery blend of fresh blueberries, tart lemon, spicy ginger, a touch of honey and milk, and, of course, oats. But you hardly need a recipe to make an oat smoothie work: The grains pair nicely with whatever flavor strikes your fancy. Check out our pro tips for making awesome smoothies to get started.

Crunchy Granola and Streusel Galore

20160412-oats-granola.jpg

[Photograph: Shutterstock]

Homemade granola isn't just a delicious, long-lasting snack—it's a ridiculously easy, hands-off process that can be tailored to your tastes with just a few minor tweaks. Simply mix your oats with some favorite grains, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit (unsweetened coconut flakes make a great addition); add a binding syrup, like butter-enhanced maple, agave, or honey; and bake it all in a 300°F oven. Add extra binder to make a sliceable tray of chewy granola bars, or keep things light and loose for a toss-able granola, like this honey-almond rendition or our coconut- and matzo-spiked Passover take. If you're feeling more experimental, try toying with more savory ingredients, like citrus zest, chopped herbs, and even chili powder.

Oh, and once you have that granola, you can incorporate it anywhere you would a streusel, from fruit crisps to simple baked apricots to a light and refreshing Greek yogurt panna cotta.