Series by Rebecca Fallihee
What are your favorite oatmeal additions? Mine tend to be whatever fruit is in season, or in deep-winter, grated carrots or parsnips, and some variation of nut butter or seeds sprinkled on top. Then sometimes, I pivot off into uncharted territory with savory oatmeal additions like miso and black radish. Just like when we decide it’s a great day to skip our routine running route and choose an unknown trail instead, trying out new flavor combinations keeps mornings fresh, and dietary diversity is essential for overall health.
Without straying too far off route in the morning kitchen, this apples and spice variation on oatmeal is delicious and a great seasonal spin on a classic runner’s breakfast.
In one pot you make the spiced apples. And in the other, you make oatmeal. For those who run early and are ready to eat soon afterwards, make a batch of the apples ahead and you have a flavorful add-in for oatmeal in minutes. Alternatively, for a day that calls for something other than oatmeal, make your favorite pancakes and add a few pieces of spiced apples to each pancake just after you’ve dropped the batter in the pan. Top the finished pancakes with the remaining spiced apples and honey or maple syrup to serve.
To finish off with extra oatmeal add-ins, choose whichever toppings you prefer. Chamomile flowers are completely non-traditional, but excellent because they add a touch of bitter and pungent flavor to the meal. For balanced digestion, adding a small amount of bitter and pungent flavors to meals (which is also in the spices), really helps, and we often don’t tend to add much of these stronger flavors to meals. If you’d like to try this addition but don’t have access to loose-leaf chamomile, split open a bag of chamomile tea and use the contents of half to one bag as a non-aggressive and tasty gently bitter flavor choice.
Apples & Spice Oatmeal
Serves: 2 medium-large portions; reduce oatmeal amount as necessary
Cook Time: 10-15m
Note: Use either crisp, lightly sweet apples or tart green apples—and see if you can try a new variety than your usual. Mine has seasonally available Jonagolds.
2 medium apples, cored and roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Splash of water
1-3 teaspoons honey or maple syrup
1 ½ cups old-fashioned oatmeal
3 cups water
¼ tsp. sea salt
Optional topping ideas: milk of choice, 1-2 Tbs. ground flax seed, sunflower or almond butter, tahini, extra ground cinnamon, dried chamomile flowers
- In a small saucepan, combine the chopped apples, cardamom, cinnamon, and a splash of water. Stir everything together. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 8-10 minutes, stirring a couple times, until the apples are soft. Remove from heat and stir in honey or maple syrup. Add a teaspoon or so to start and add more if necessary. The amount depends on your apple varieties and sweetness preference.
- Then cook oatmeal according to package directions, or your preference. I add my oats and water and salt to a small saucepan and cook over low heat for 5-7 minutes or until soft.
- Serve the oatmeal alongside the apples or stir the apples in completely. Finish it off with any of the topping ideas or choose your own. I added ground flax seed and sprinkled a spoonful of chamomile flowers and a dash of additional cinnamon and cardamom on top.
Many years ago, I worked on a farm in Ireland for a summer, and instead of running many miles per day, I was walking them instead. My job was primarily collecting data on various strawberry variety trials, so I spent most days counting and weighing (and tasting) berries, monitoring for bugs, pulling weeds, and measuring sugar content in fruit. Though I definitely loved spending my days outside in the fresh air, I hadn’t much time to chat with co-workers, and so I always looked forward to lunch.
The usual lunchtime routine for most of my co-workers was a quick, beans on toast prepared in the farm office canteen. Theirs was a sliced white bread and beans in their red sauce from a can affair, and I always thought there was room for improvement to make a good idea truly great.
Sometime in the years after that, beans on toast became a favorite quick and easy comfort meal, nearly always aided by the addition of sautéed mushrooms. Truly delicious and yet so simple. It has become my go-to when no other meal sounds good, I want something comforting and delicious, or simply just because. And it works super well for a quick lunch, especially if you’re working from home this year.
In the variation below, I pureed the beans into a garlic and sage flavored creamy spread, but if you’re without a food processor, these can be mashed with a fork instead.
Ultimate Lunchtime Comfort Mushrooms and Garlicky Beans on Toast
Note: For a quick, comforting, delicious lunchtime meal, you’ll need to pick up a good loaf of bread (whole grain sourdough is my preference) or bake your own, and fresh mushrooms of any type. Cannellini or great northern beans, either cooked a day ahead from dried beans or from a can, are wonderful for this, but realistically whatever type of bean you have available will work. The rest of the ingredients are likely in your pantry already, but if not, it’s okay to improvise with seasonings.
4-6 cloves of garlic (~ ½ a bulb)
1 ½ cups cooked white beans (or 1 can, drained and rinsed)
a couple good pinches of dry sage leaves
a few splashes of warm water
salt and pepper
4 thick slices of bread, toasted (in oven under broil or a toaster)
8 oz. mushrooms, any soil residue brushed off and roughly chopped
a couple good pinches of dry thyme leaves
a splash of red wine vinegar
a handful of spinach or other greens, optional
a drizzle of olive oil
- Set the oven to 400 degrees F. Wrap the garlic cloves in a little square of foil, scrunch the edges to seal it into a little pouch, and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. This can be done ahead.
- Remove the garlic from the oven and let it cool a bit. Take it out of the foil and squeeze out the creamy flesh from each of the cloves onto a cutting board.
- In a food processor, combine the garlic with the drained white beans, sage and a few splashes of water. Puree until it’s smooth, and then add some salt, pepper, and more sage, or water until it’s your desired taste and consistency. Thick and spreadable is what you’re going for. Then gently warm them up, either on the stovetop in a small saucepan, or in a covered glass dish in the microwave.
- Then get your bread slices toasting.
- In a large sauté pan heated to medium high, spread the chopped mushrooms into a single layer, along with a pinch of salt. Cover and without stirring, let them cook for about 4-5 minutes, until the bottoms are sticking a little and are golden. Add a couple pinches of thyme leaves, a little more salt and pepper, and stir. They’ll be looking fairly close to done. Add a couple splashes of vinegar, stir and loosen up any mushrooms that have stuck to the pan, and then turn off the heat. If you’d like, you can stir in a small handful of greens at this point and cover to wilt for a quick minute. Otherwise, remove from the heat and drizzle in a little olive oil.
- To serve, spread each slice of bread with the creamy white beans and garlic. Then spoon over the mushrooms on top. This is best eaten with a fork, but if you don’t mind the mess, your hands are okay too!
Savory, deeply flavored miso noodle soup is always welcome on a cold and dark winter evening. This tends to be the one I make most often. The ingredient list looks long at first but most of them are staple vegetables and base seasonings you’ll likely have on hand. And with a teeny bit of prep ahead, this comes together fast. I find that this soup can sometimes be stretched to more than four servings, but you’ll have to increase the water to make more broth.
Everyday Miso Noodle Soup
Notes: If you’ve never cooked with miso, now is your chance to discover this tasty ingredient. Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning, usually made from fermented soy beans and often another grain such as barley or rice. The light miso is the mildest flavored, and the one I prefer is actually chickpea based (Miso Master Brand). Most grocery stores will carry some type of light miso. Other than in this or other soups, miso also adds a great depth of flavor to salad dressing, and can be added to roasted or sauteed vegetables for another deep, savory flavor hit.
If you’re wary of tofu, this is a good way to try it. I press the water out of it for 30 minutes before cooking for best texture. You can do that by slicing the tofu block in half, wrapping the two pieces in a couple of paper towels, and then pressing them between two cutting boards with something heavy on top. Otherwise, use your choice of protein, cook it separate from the soup, and add in near the end.
1 lb. firm tofu, drained and pressed OR your choice of other protein
a couple pinches of curry powder
1 Tbs. olive oil
2-inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced or finely grated
½ tsp. sea salt
1 ½ cups roughly chopped carrots
1 ½ cups roughly chopped celery (~2 stalks)
1 ½ cups roughly chopped mushrooms (4 oz.)
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups water
2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
8 oz. brown rice noodles (pad thai or fettucine size)
2 cups kale, spinach or similar, chopped finely
2 Tbs. white miso paste + a couple splashes of water
a dash of cayenne powder or red pepper flakes, to taste
optional toppings: toasted sesame or sunflower seeds, or a drizzle of olive oil or toasted sesame oil
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Chop the pressed tofu into 1-inch pieces and lay in a single layer on a baking pan lined with parchment. Sprinkle a few shakes of curry powder over the tofu pieces and then stir gently to coat most sides. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring briefly about half way through. Prep the rest of the soup while the tofu is cooking.
- Heat a large saucepan and the oil over medium high heat. Once it’s hot, add the ginger and salt and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Then add the carrots, celery and mushrooms. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften. Stir in the garlic and cook about two more minutes.
- Then add the water and apple cider vinegar, and bring the mixture up to a boil. Stir in the noodles, using a spoon to submerge them completely. Cover the pot and turn down to a simmer. One minute before the noodles are al dente, add the kale and tofu, and stir them in. Brown rice noodles typically take around 11 minutes to cook, but check your package.
- In a small bowl, stir together the miso and a couple splashes of water. Stir or whisk until the miso is incorporated. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the miso paste and cayenne or red pepper flakes. Go light on those seasonings at first and then taste and adjust them as needed.
- Serve in bowls, topped if desired with toasted seeds and/or a drizzle of extra olive or toasted sesame oil.