An ode to overnight oats

Steel cut oats are coarser than other types of oats – Pictures by CK Lim
Steel cut oats are coarser than other types of oats – Pictures by CK Lim

KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 – Oats are like durians; you either like it or you don’t.

For the latter, whether it is more perfume or more stench would depend on your stand for or against. Rather than the smell of the King of Fruits, it’s typically the texture of oats that is make or break.

Those who are kinder would describe a bowl of oatmeal as lumpy gruel. Those with less empathy for this much maligned grain might liken it to cardboard-coloured goo that has lost even its desire to ooze. Unappetising, to say the least.

I blame instant oats.

Sure, a box of instant oats is a boon to harried parents trying to dish up some sustenance for their children in a jiffy. But sustenance is not the same as scrumptious; merely surviving isn’t the same as thriving.

(Plus, I bet the stuff lands with a thud in one’s stomach, making second period History even more of a chore than usual.)

So I’d understand if you are just the slightest disbelieving when I tell you a bowl of oats can be like manna from heaven. You’d say, “If I wanted gruel or goo, I’d much prefer some Cantonese congee, silky and smooth.”

I would too, but Cantonese congee takes a slow fire and a watchful eye. And the stuff you buy outside is probably too salty and generously seasoned with MSG.

Easier to make your own goo, uhm, oats.

The secret to nutty, chewy and toothsome homemade oats is to eschew the fine dust manufacturers call instant oats or even its slightly coarser cousin, rolled oats. No, if you’re going to feast on oats, you’d want to go all the way.

What you want are steel cut oats.

These are also known as pinhead oats or Irish oats. They are the least processed of all types of oats.

In fact, that’s the only difference – how much the oat groats (the whole grains of oats with their inedible hulls removed) are processed.

Steel cut oats are simply groats that have been chopped by steel blades (hence the name) into two to three pinhead-sized pieces. That’s it.

Rolled oats would require further processing, such as steaming and being rolled into flat flakes for easier cooking. Instant oats are even more fragmented, meaning they absorb water faster which cuts down cooking time even more.

This is why oatmeal made from instant or rolled oats often have that gruel-like texture that can put so many off. But honestly, if you cook steel cut oats long enough, you can create gruel too.

Which is hardly the point.

All you need is to soak the steel cut oats overnight in some liquid and a pinch of salt
All you need is to soak the steel cut oats overnight in some liquid and a pinch of salt

So to best preserve the chewy texture and nutty flavour of the steel cut oats, simply soak them in some water or milk, seasoned with just a pinch of salt, and leave them to chill overnight in the fridge. You go on with your life and they will do their own thing.

That’s really all you need – steel cut oats, some liquid and salt to taste – and the magic of time.

And when you wake in the morning? Manna from heaven awaits.

OVERNIGHT OATS

The easiest liquid to use for soaking overnight oats is water or milk. The latter will be creamier, of course. If you’re lactose intolerant, the same amount of plant milks such as almond milk or rice milk would work very well too.

(You could, naturally, soak steel cut oats in oat milk as well but that might just be gilding the lily...)

Though it seems negligible, the tiny pinch of salt isn’t negotiable as it gives a subtle savouriness to the overnight oats without making it salty.

The vibrant red of goji berries will add a burst of colour to your oats
The vibrant red of goji berries will add a burst of colour to your oats

Basically it brings everything together. No matter how many toppings you use the next morning, you’ll find it incomplete somewhat if you forgot the salt.

Macadamias add to the nutty notes of the oats
Macadamias add to the nutty notes of the oats

The fun is in how you customise your overnight oats. Even during the overnight soaking, you can add an array of other ingredients to the mix – chia seeds for some omega-3 fatty acids, fresh vanilla for its fragrance, cinnamon for its inimitable sweetness, even protein powder if you want that added boost.

Blueberries and honey are two delicious and healthy toppings for overnight oats
Blueberries and honey are two delicious and healthy toppings for overnight oats
Customise your own bowl of overnight oats with your favourite toppings
Customise your own bowl of overnight oats with your favourite toppings

When the oats are ready in the morning, the final step is the toppings. Choose whatever you like best. Recommended toppings include fruit such as berries, various nuts, some cream or yoghurt to make it even richer, nut butters, honey and even a dash of matcha powder for a healthy finish.

Make this your own bowl of heavenly manna.

Ingredients

70g steel cut oats

120ml milk or water

1 pinch salt

Optional soaking ingredients

1 tablespoon chia seeds or flaxseed

1 pinch cinnamon powder

1 scoop whey protein powder

Toppings (suggested)

10-12 goji berries

10-12 blueberries (or other fresh berries)

A drizzle of honey or maple syrup

6 macadamia nuts, whole or chopped (or other nuts)

1 tablespoon Greek yoghurt

1 tablespoon peanut butter (or other preferred nut butter)

Method

Mix the main ingredients – steel cut oats, water/milk and salt – with any additional soaking ingredients in a large sealable container. Close the lid tightly and leave the container overnight in the fridge or for at least 10 hours.

When the overnight oats are ready, dish into a serving bowl. Garnish it with additional ingredients and mix well before serving.

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