Friday, August 26, 2011
For several summers when I was in my early teens, I attended a two-week German-language immersion camp. The counselors spoke German to us all the time from the instant we arrived, and in addition to the language, we learned German songs, dances, games, and so forth. The food was German, too, and I remember it actually being pretty good, which is a glowing testimonial considering what a picky eater I was at the time. I liked the noodles and schnitzel and potatoes, and different varieties of bread were baked fresh on site daily, so if there was nothing else I liked I could always have plenty of tasty brot und butter. (It also helped that there was great chocolate—we could buy Ritter Sport and Toblerone, which at the time were hard to find in the U.S., at the little commissary every day.) I remember enjoying the breakfasts especially; there were these wonderful big, fluffy white rolls with butter and jam, and sometimes there was muesli.
I probably would have forgotten about muesli completely if it hadn’t been for the fact that my oven has been out of order for months, depriving me of my two favorite breakfast foods, granola and baked oatmeal. I tried making oatmeal in the microwave or on the stovetop for a while, but I just couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm for it, especially as the summer temperatures soared and the prospect of eating a piping hot breakfast held less and less appeal. In my desperation, I wondered, what if I just threw most of my usual granola ingredients—oats, coconut, nuts, fruit—in a bowl and poured milk over them? Well, duh: That’s muesli! I gave it a shot, and as soon as I tasted it, I was transported right back to those happy days at camp. More importantly, it was delicious: I love the taste of raw oats (I pop a handful in my mouth whenever I’m cooking or baking with them), and I’ve always been a little disappointed by the way that taste gets muted in cooked oatmeal. In muesli, the oats absorb enough milk to become tender, but they still retain their flavor and a pleasing chewiness (although unless you want to soak them in milk overnight, I recommend sticking to the smaller quick oats). I add oat bran and flaxseed for more fiber, nuts for protein, a hint of sweetness and spice, and fruit for moisture, vitamins, and color. Plus coconut, because I love coconut.
I’ve really been enjoying this as a summer breakfast—it’s hearty but not heavy, easier to eat than granola (sometimes all that crunching can be tiring first thing in the morning!), infinitely customizable, and very cool and refreshing, plus a great way to use up some of that juicy summer fruit (I always seem to buy a bit too much, and then it ripens all at once). You can put whatever you want in it, in whatever quantities you prefer, but the following is my rough template. I usually just mix it up in the morning before I eat it (on weekends or days I’m working at home), without worrying about precise measurements, and sometimes I throw together two or three servings at once while I’m at it, but I haven’t tried making a big batch yet. It would be really easy, though, if you don’t mind doing the math.
½ cup quick oats
1 tablespoon oat bran
1 tablespoon flaxseed meal
1 tablespoon unsweetened flaked coconut
2–3 tablespoons nuts (I usually use sliced almonds or chopped pecans)
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon brown sugar
A few pinches of cinnamon and/or cardamom
½ cup fresh fruit (I usually use fresh blueberries, sliced strawberries, or chopped peaches or nectarines, but banana or apple might be good too, and I imagine you could use dried fruit such as raisins or apricots)
Milk to taste (or yogurt, if you prefer)
1. In a cereal bowl, combine all ingredients except fruit and milk. Stir well, then top with fruit.
2. Add enough milk to moisten the oats to your liking (they absorb some of the liquid, so be generous), stir, and eat.
Time: 5 minutes
Leftover potential: If you double, triple, or otherwise multiply this recipe and want to save some for later, stop before adding the fruit and milk; place muesli in an airtight container and store at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Add the fruit and milk when ready to serve.