Wednesday, April 21, 2010

vegan bircher müesli

oatmeal for warm weather

During the gray months, I like to start the day with a bowl of thick, steamy, steel-cut oats.  You'll have to wait until fall for a post on steel-cut oats, though, because they're out of season in my house (gotta give them a chance to breed and raise their young). It's time to move on to breakfast options that are best enjoyed chilled, and a bowl of cold, cooked oatmeal seems depressingly Dickensian. We're going to tuck into something cheerful and healthy, an inspired dish from the Swiss Alps.

This is a Bircher (say "beer-cher") -style müesli, consisting of rolled grains, dried fruit, and chopped nuts. Its name honors the Swiss physician who promoted a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains, though the traditional version also includes dairy.  The amount of salt, fat, and sugar in müesli is highly variable. It can be prepared simply, exhibiting the sweetness of the dried fruit and the richness of the nuts; or, it can be a dessert-as-breakfast dish, garnished with compote and creamy accoutrements. I prefer the moderate approach, and developed this tasty, filling, sensible version.

Müesli can be purchased in the cereal aisle of many grocery stores, but it's wicked simple to throw together your own, personal blend.  I like to use a multigrain rolled cereal for the base: rye, barley and wheat add richness and complexity to the customary oats.  If you have issues with gluten, just stick with gluten-free, rolled oats.

Toasting the grain enhances its flavor and provides a crisp texture.  It gives you the option of serving crunchy müesli with milk, perhaps adding it to commercial cereal or granola to cut down on their fat and sugar.  Soaked overnight, its texture becomes moist and tender, a soothing breakfast food that is ready when you rise.

The flavor of your müesli is largely determined by the nuts and dried fruit that you add.  My favorite combination includes a variety of rolled grains, dried apples and apricots, hazelnuts and almonds, producing a mildly sweet, toasty flavor.  For more sweetness, go with raisins and chopped dates, or even dried pineapple and shredded coconut. Hazelnuts can be substituted with your favorite nut or seed.  However, I strongly urge you not to tinker with the sliced almonds-- their flaky texture is perfect in this dish.

I like to store the grain and topping components separately, mixing them by the bowl to ensure fair distribution of the goodies. For me, soaking is not optional; müesli might be the only dish for which "soggy" is a flattering descriptor.  This dish led me to finally try soy yogurt, which I didn't even consider in my former life as a dairy addict. I used Silk Live! vanilla yogurt, and was surprised by its smooth texture and clean flavor.  One tub provides a week's worth of dollops, and it's become an essential topping for my müesli. A bit of grated apple provides additional sweetness and acidity, and a sprinkling of chia seeds ups the nutritional quotient of this light, nourishing breakfast.

Vegan Müesli
makes a batch for 6 servings

Notes: Rolled oats may be substituted for multigrain cereal. Try to find dried fruit that does not contain added sugar or preservatives, such as sulfur dioxide or potassium sorbate.

To make a batch of muesli:

  • 2 cups rolled multigrain cereal (such as Country Choice Organic Multigrain cereal)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apples
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Spread rolled cereal evenly in a sheet pan. Bake for 10 minutes, or until cereal smells toasty.
  3. While cereal is toasting, combine nuts and dried fruit and store in an airtight container.
  4. Remove pan from oven and allow cereal to cool on the pan.
  5. Once cooled, store cereal in an airtight container.
To prepare one serving of müesli:
  • 1/3 cup toasted cereal
  • 1 heaping tablespoon nut and dried fruit mixture
  • 1/4 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1/4 cup grated, unpeeled apple
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla soy yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon chia seeds
  1. Combine cereal, nut and fruit mixture, non-dairy milk, and apple in a cereal bowl. Stir, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
  2. Remove bowl from refrigerator and stir müesli. Top with yogurt and chia seeds and serve.

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