Thursday, 10 December 2009

Whole Oats Porridge & Macrobiotics



I had a visit from my friend, Constantin, a couple of weeks ago, and his love of macrobiotics reminded me that I know very little about it. And well, I still don't. I know that macrobiotic diets work to balance yin and yang elements in food, for our health. I know that eating extremes of yin and yang (balancing of flavours to enliven the palette) is what most restaurant food thrives on.

It seems that what makes so many South East Asian cuisines desirable: that sour, sweet, salty, spicy, bitter battle for your taste's affections, is what makes us too focussed on eating and not enough on health.  Macrobiotics, Co tells me, isn't about inspiring interest in food. It's about being bored, taking the focus away, making eating less an attempt to stimulate and more an act of nourishment.

hmmm...


Regardless of how I feel about this right now, as my stomach starts to plan my next meal (a full gloried flavour competition between roasted butternut, walnuts, capers and some tart creme fraiche), I have to admit that there are some mealtimes when I relish a bit of boredom. Some days, all I want to do is eat oats. After working in a kitchen all day, for instance, tasting and seasoning endlessly, my palette craves blandness. And first thing in the morning for breakfast, to start my stomach off well.

Now, I know there's art in the perfect oats. I studied at an Irish cooking school, afterall, and one of my best friends, Dako, is an expert at making the perfectly salted (in the Scottish tradition) bowl of oats. But until Co's visit, I'd always thought oats needed to be rolled or cut. Apparently not. Co says that, in fact, whole oat porridge is a macrobiotic orgasm.

So we made them, and it is, and I've been doing it every since. It's hard to imagine going back to rolled oats after the texture revelation that is whole oat porridge. The oats have an al dente slipperiness to them. They resist the bite just enough, while still releasing their creaminess into the porridge as a whole. And the process is incredibly simple.


Whole Oat Porridge

1 cup of whole dry oats serves about 3 healthy porridge eaters

1 cup whole dry oats
3 cups filtered water (approximately)
sea salt
dried figs, prunes or apricots (optional)
yoghurt (optional)
maple syrup (optional)

Soak the oats in the water over night, and then using the same water, set them on a very low heat to cook, stirring occasionally. I use a Japanese ceramic cooking pot, cheaply acquired at many Asian grocers, but any nonreactive, thick bottomed pot will do. As the oats come to a slow simmer, they will give off a little froth. Just keep stirring this back in. I find it unnecessary to skim off for any taste reasons and eventually, it just disappears into the creaminess. Add as much sea salt as you like to taste (or taste along the way and add more).

Try to keep the heat low, keep an eye on the level of the water, but keep the lid on. To start, allow for about a centimetre of water above the oat line, and then as they absorb the water and get more creamy, if they dry out, add a little bit more. But if there's still water there, don't add any, because on a very low heat, the oats will manage to get nice and creamy and the rest of the water will simply evaporate or be absorbed.

Cook the oats for half an hour or a few hours, depending on how textured you like them. The longer you cook them, the softer the oats get, but I have yet to stretch it to the point where they entirely break down. However long you cook them, aim for a porridge where there is no excess water and generally a thick cream around the grains.


Depending on how ascetic I'm feeling, sometimes I like to add a few figs or prunes along the way. Sometimes I also add a spoonful of yoghurt, a teaspoon of maple syrup and some sliced apples, right when I'm serving up. The yoghurt emphasises the porridge's creaminess while adding a slight 'tang', the maple syrup's salty sweetness plays with the oats' more earthy tones, and the apple lifts its freshness.

How very unmacrobiotic of me.

One of the particularly nice things about this porridge is that it's endlessly reheatable. Just leave any leftover oats in the pot. In our cold Berlin kitchen, I don't store them in the fridge, but use your discretion with this. The next day, add a little water, and slowly heat and stir to break up the porridge until it's smooth again.

Recommended Reading (I'm just about to start reading this book, kindly sent to me by Co, and recommended by him as a gentle introduction to Macrobiotics):

Oliver Cowmeadow, Yin & Yang: A Practical Guide to Eating a Balance & Healthy Diet, Cornish Connection,  2000.

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