There are people in this world who eat their oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins on top, then carry on about their lives, and that's fine. The fact that they're eating oatmeal is a good thing, but how sad for them. What a missed opportunity! Oatmeal can, and should, be treated as a canvas for all sorts of inventive toppings, both savory and sweet.
Yes, savory—stay calm, it's a little overwhelming for the mind to process if it hasn't already. The first time I fooled around with savory oatmeal ("wait, you can do that?" was my initial thought), it changed my life. Oatmeal with some soy sauce and a fried egg on top became a very regular dinner staple, especially when the cupboard was depressingly bare. It's a comforting, cheap, ready-in-minutes, ribs-stickingly hearty and satisfying meal.
Oatmeal is so often limited to the confines of breakfast, which just isn't fair. Those poor, neglected oats, sitting there as quinoa, wheatberries, and other whole-grains get all the love. Oatmeal doesn't fall asleep after 11 a.m.! It's a social grain, ready to mingle with sauces, spices, and other flavors at all hours.
Back in 2009, Mark Bittman helped advance the concept of savory oatmeal when he plugged soy sauce and scallion oatmeal on NPR. But savory oatmeal is nothing new. Plenty of regional cuisines have some form of savory oatmeal or oatmeal-like porridge. Take congee, which, depending on where you are in Asia, can be topped with preserved duck eggs, fish sauce, pork, greens, or other veggies. In Ethiopia, genfo is a thick porridge made with spiced butter and the chili blend berbere.
It was time to pull out the largest pot possible and create our own oatmeal concoctions. So, we boiled 16 cups of water and measured out eight (eight!) cups of rolled oats—any kind will do, though the Irish Kilbeggan oats are a personal favorite. Here are the 19 variations we came up with, including a Thai-inspired one with dried chiles, coconut milk, cashews, and soy sauce (WIN), as well as sweet variations with Nutella, sweetened condensed milk, and since there were Oreos lying around the office, OreOats happened. We even made one with bourbon and toasted pecans (DOUBLE WIN).
Any other experimental oatmeal-toppers out there? Be not afraid; share your favorite variations with us!
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