Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Steel Cut Oats: A Revival

For about 5 days in November, I was trapped in a dome in Washington DC- a 19 story, glassed-in dome, resplendent in holiday decorations and glitzy as all get out. It was a convention center and I was there with some colleagues for a conference. 

For all that opulence, the food choices in this place were pretty dismal. Between talks and sessions, when we had the time (and decent weather- this was DC in November, after all) to step outside this place, there were some good meals to be had nearby. Thai restaurants are usually good bets and we found one that had warming curries and bright, crunchy fresh spring rolls. Another evening I got to try a Beyond Burger for the first time. I'm not sure if I liked it or not. One evening I gave up the hunt for local restaurants and slipped into a Chipotle franchise, got myself a big bowl of lettuce, roasted veggies and black beans with lashings of hot salsa and ate it up sitting on my fluffy hotel bed, watching reruns of Forensic Files

Over in the convention center, the hunt for breakfast was proving difficult. The breakfast sandwiches either had meat or the wrong type of cheese (I'm weird about cheese) and the sugary breakfast pastries had no appeal. There in the warming cabinet were little cardboard cups of plain cooked steel cut oats. It seemed like the best option. To the bland oatmeal I added a few pinches of salt, and a spoonful of grape jelly from one of those single serving packs. That little cup was so warming and delicious. The nutty and nubby texture of the oatmeal was quite simply delightful. How had I forgotten about this wholesome and humble ingredient for years? I enjoyed that oatmeal breakfast four days in a row and it kept me full and happy until lunchtime. 

Back home I bought a canister of steel cut oats as soon as I could get to the grocery store. Steel cut oats are the least processed form of oats- they can take a lot of time to cook on the stove, which is why I haven't bothered much with them in all these years- but the electric pressure cooker (instant pot) makes them a hands-off, easy-cook option. The natural pressure release is important- it keeps the cooked oats from sticking to the pressure cooker insert.

For weekday breakfasts, I have been making plain steel cut oats and then adding some toppings right before I eat it. 

Basic steel cut oats

(About 4 servings)

1 cup steel-cut oats
4 cups water
1/4  tsp. salt

Place all ingredients in the Instant Pot.
Pressure cook on HIGH for 4 minutes. 
Natural pressure release. 

Scoop cooked oats into a bowl. Add a handful of berries (I use frozen ones) and a tablespoon of peanut butter or other nut butter. Stir and enjoy. 

This weekend, we had new neighbors over for brunch and decided to dress the oats with cardamom and nuts for a kheer-like porridge. 

Oats Kheer

1 cup steel cut oats
6-8 pitted dates, chopped
4 cups water
1/4 tsp. of salt

Place all ingredients in the Instant Pot.
Pressure cook on HIGH for 4 minutes. 
Natural pressure release.
Stir in 1 cup (or more) of almond milk and a tsp. of ground cardamom.

(Any kind of milk will do. I imagine thin coconut milk would make this taste like a payasam.)

To serve, top the oats kheer with chopped dried fruits and nuts. I used pistachios, walnuts, cranberries and golden raisins. The dates and dry fruits make the kheer gently sweet. I did not feel the need to add sugar. 

Leftover oats kheer
for breakfast today
THE TOP THREE SECRET TRICKS- OK, not so secret and not really tricks but I find that I enjoy steel cut oats immensely if they are not cold, thick and gummy but are instead 
(a) soupy, which means they might need additional liquid (milk or water) after cooking because oats absorb a lot of water. 
(b) Oats are best warm, and a stint in the microwave gets this done quickly. Steel cut oats reheat beautifully so they can be cooked ahead of time and stored in the fridge. 
(c) A little bit of salt goes a long way in making oatmeal tasty, even in a sweet context as with the kheer.

Some of my new-found enthusiasm for steel cut oats is certainly tied to a book I read recently called How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger. (Weird title, I know.) More on that book next week.

* * * On The Screen * * * 

This weekend V and I did something that we rarely get to do these days- we got a babysitter and went to the movies. The movie was Knives Out, a very entertaining ensemble murder mystery with a twist. Not the sort of movie that you necessarily need to watch on a big screen or anything, but it was a fun night out. Maybe it will come out on one of the streaming services once it is done in the theaters.

NOVA on PBS has some interesting documentaries. The best one I've seen recently is called Look Who's Driving, about recent advances in self-driving cars. This was informative and very scary in parts- such as when they showed people who own semi-autonomous cars but act as though they are fully autonomous ones, taking actual naps at the wheel of a car that is not yet self-driving. Cars are getting pretty smart but what can be done about humans?

Speaking of technology and scary stuff, I happened to see a video of a "robot dog" made by the company Boston Dynamics- and it was unbelievable to see the smoothness, speed and agility of this mechanical animal. That same day, I saw Metalhead (series 4, episode 5 of the Black Mirror series) and it was literally terrifying. I really love this series but have to be in a certain mood to watch it. 

Right now, V and I are enjoying Jeopardy episodes on Netflix and sporadically watching Grantchester on Amazon Prime. 

* * *Doggie Drama* * *

Draped in his favorite security blanket
Duncan is now 2 months past his surgery and is recovering well. He seems to be his old self again and is able to use his leg without limping. The main problem right now is that he is bored right out of his skull. Overall, he is being such a good boy but every now and often there is some moaning and whining as he begs us to let him run free. But we are being pretty strict with the confinement and doctor's orders are being taken seriously. 

The vet surgeon will X-ray his leg in early Jan and if she is happy with how it looks, he will get to resume his normal life. Fingers tightly crossed!! 

Tell me what you're doing as we count down to 2020- 22 days to go.


  1. Thoroughly enjoyed your post as always, Nupur. I have long learnt that the fanciness of hotels and convention centres very often has no correlation to the quality of their food! Delighted to read that dear Duncan is recovering, although I can imagine how frustrating life must seem for the poor baby right now. It will all be worth it - soon. And oh - I have tried the Beyond Burger and absolutely hated it. Gagged after the first bite and that was that :)

    1. Dear Kamini- Duncan is dealing with the situation as best he can and we are giving him extra pets and attention as much as possible. I wish I could entertain him with a stack of library books or a good old Netflix binge!

      The beyond burger...on the one hand I am pleased with the plant based food trend. It is a move in the right direction. But now I feel like the token vegetarian entree in a standard restaurant won't be a black bean burger or good old gardenburger or whatever, but will be the "as meaty as possible" beyond burger, and that's too bad. I wouldn't say I hated it, but I definitely did not like it. Ketchup and mustard can cover a multitude of things so I ate most of it :)

  2. Dear Nupur
    Another wonderful post! Oats kheer! Yum yum. We became grandparents to a gorgeous little girl last week so you can imagine our joy! I made dinka ladoos just with dates - no sugar and our daughter in law loved the taste! Read and bought a beautiful book called the Travelling Cat Chronicles in November and highly recommend this to you and your readers. Here's wishing you and V and Lila and Niam a very merry christmas and a happy joyful and successful 2020 - all my love - Shubha

    1. Dear Shubha- Congratulations on the new grand-baby! How exciting! Dates are really versatile for a sweetener, aren't they? I've put the Traveling Cat Chronicles on my TBR list. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season!!

  3. Oh Nupur, please let me know the next time you are in DC. As somebody who has learnt a lot of cooking from this blog, I would have loved to have you over for a meal of Tuesday soup, ragda pattice and some fig walnut kulfi! These and many more feature regularly in our home now. Interestingly, I discovered steel cut oats over the last week as well. I had bought a pack over a year ago to see what the fuss was about and I don't think we managed to cook it right on the stove top and it perished in a neglected corner of the pantry. Until a recent weekday morning, we discovered that we've run out of our regular rolled oats. I tossed it into the instant pot and my very picky 7 year old commented it tasted better than his regular oats. I also toss in a spoon of chia seeds to up the fiber content.
    Wishing you and your family a very happy and healthy 2020. I hope we get to hear more from you the next year.

    1. Sowmya- You are so sweet! Now I'm kicking myself for not inviting myself over to your place for dinner in DC :) I'll have to do that next time I'm in the area. How fun that you too are loving steel cut oats. Chia seeds and/or flax seeds would be a great addition; will try that next time. I have a feeling I'll be eating them all winter.

  4. I find breakfasts difficult when eating out - so much egg and meat and like you I prefer savoury to sweet. We had a work conference lately and it was interesting that there was a move towards vegetarian for sustainability motives but it got pared back a little - but it is a start. Hope Duncan gets the all clear in January. And hope steel cut oats help you get through the winter :-)

    1. Johanna- For the best egg and meat free savory breakfasts you'll have to go to India! Seriously, Indian savory breakfasts are the best- idlis, dosa, upma, poha. Here in the States I do like my eggs and potatoes in the morning, but sweet breakfasts and breads (like bagels) are more popular.

      It is great that plant based foods are being more popular and more widely available. Let's hope the trend continues in 2020!

  5. Just got back from a wedding week in Kolkata where there was an overdose of potato, luchis and rice! lol. And as much fun as I had, my body was so craving a salad at the end of it, which is the first meal I had on coming home (how the times have changed!). I am looking forward to our vacation to a remote island near Thailand in a few days, which will end 2019 for me!
    I had spent a long weekend in DC with some friends way back in 2012 and had loved the city and the museums there (still remember some exhibits so clearly from the museum of history). I dont ever remember loving steel cut oats - mainly because of the gummy texture. Even regular oats, I cook al dente or eat them cold as overnight oats without cooking. I need to give steel cut oats another try. Wishing you and your fam a warm and cozy year end and a quick recovery to Duncan.

    1. Neha- When you say how times have changed, I can 100% relate! My tastes have changed so much in the last year or two, I can hardly believe it. Steel cut oats have a much better texture than rolled oats. And now that your tastes have changed ;) you might love it, like I did.

      DC is a really fun city, although on this trip I did not get to experience any of that- we were stuck in this conference center. Great Ethiopian food in DC! I hope you have a fantastic island vacation!

    2. I have been meaning to come back here and let you know that I re-tried steel cut oats and LOVED them. I soaked the raw oats overnight and just gave them a quick boil in the morning for 5 minutes and they were the perfect texture. My 6 year old also loved them with added banana and now it has become our standard weekday brekkie.

  6. Came back from a long and eventful India trip . My beloved grandmother passed away when I was there at the ripe old age of 94. A great soul who lived a full life( 4 grand children and 5 great grandchildren ) she died as she lived....full of dignity and grace...fading away like a wilting flower which is no mean feat in these days of needlessly "heroic" last stage medical interventions that tax the wallet but don't add any quality to the recipient.

    Anyhoo...back here in chilly NJ fell violently ill ugh so oatmeal seems just about the only thing to keep up our strength.

    Btw next time in DC try Rasika . We tried it after we checked out a cookbook from our local library ...creative, jamesbeard awardee chef. Brilliant food.

    Hope poor dunkie is back to his usual self soon.

    Happy holidays to you and yours !


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