Macrobiotic households frequently start the day with a bowl of soft cooked grains and a vegetable on the side. After going the whole night without eating, our bodies do well with moist, softer cooked foods, easing the transition into the day. This is in stark contrast to either the dry crunchy cereal and toast or the fried animal proteins of a standard american diet which can tax the digestive system and create a heaviness at the time of day when our energy naturally wants to rise.
I know a lot of people who eat either rolled or steel cut oats every single morning for breakfast. If this is you, I would like to encourage you to branch out and try other grains. Here’s a list to get you started: brown rice, millet, whole oats, untoasted buckwheat, rye, quinoa, amaranth, teff, polenta or corn grits, hulled barley, wheat berries, bulghur, couscous and emmer. A few of my favorite combinations are whole oats with a little teff, barley with vegetables, soft millet with winter squash and steel cut oats with polenta. The only grain I don’t like for breakfast is quinoa, but I know a lot of people who love it.
My life changed when I started eating a moderate portion of whole grains and also when I started adding vegetables to my breakfast. My blood sugar stays more even throughout the day and I have consistent energy all morning until lunch. I had no idea vegetables were so powerful until I started eating them in the morning. Add greens, winter squash or root vegetables to your breakfast five days in a row and see if you can tell the difference. Even when I go out to eat and want pancakes, I order a side of vegetables or a green salad and I don’t feel the crash from the sugar an hour later like I used to.
Overnight Oats or Barley
This technique works for steel cut oats, whole oats and hulled barley. I think millet gets too soggy when prepared this way. Rinse the grain and place in a saucepan. Add twice as much water as grain plus a pinch or two of sea salt. Bring to a boil, cover and turn off the burner. Let sit overnight. In the morning add some more water and simmer until desired texture. Using this technique greatly reduces the amount of cooking time in the morning. Some people use their crockpot to cook their grains through the night.
Double Boiler Grains
Here is another technique for reducing time spent in the kitchen in the morning. Using a double boiler works for rolled and steel cut oats and polenta. I am sure it works for other grains as well, but these are the ones I have tried. Place your grain, the appropriate amount of water and a pinch of sea salt in the top of the double boiler. Place it over boiling water in the bottom pot and cover. Reduce heat so the water in the bottom pot is at a simmer. Now you can leave the kitchen and do other morning tasks and your breakfast will cook itself.
Soft Cooked Leftover Grain
One great thing about whole grains is that you can add water and they can cook on low heat for long periods of time. The grains just get sweeter and more delicious. A lot of traditional societies have a version of congee, which is basically a long, slow cooked grain. Most leftover whole grains can be made into a breakfast porridge. In a saucepan, just add water to some cooked grain and simmer on low heat until soft and creamy. One of my favorites is millet with sweet vegetable. Try this technique with leftover brown rice, hulled barley, millet, untoasted buckwheat and whole oat groats.
Cracked Grain Cereal
I first heard about using a coffee grinder to make breakfast cereal during a Feeding The Whole Family cooking class by Cynthia Lair back in the mid 1990’s. It’s a great way to make your own baby rice cereal. Just make sure you keep the coffee grinder you use for grinding grains separate from the one designated for grinding coffee.
It’s super easy. Rinse and toast your grains. I usually toast extra and keep them in my fridge until I am ready to grind them. Any grains discussed above will work. Barley takes a little longer to grind and if it’s not toasted it won’t grind well at all. I like to only use one or up to three different grains. I think it can be hard for our bodies to digest numerous mixed grains at one time.
When you are ready to make the cereal, grind a few tablespoons in your coffee grinder as course or fine as you like. Just try to stay away from the flour end of the spectrum. Bring some water and a pinch or two of sea salt to a boil. The amount of water will depend on how much grain you are adding. Start with a smaller amount if you aren’t sure. You can always add more water as it cooks. When the water is boiling, add the grain in a stream whisking constantly so it doesn’t clump. Let come up to a boil again and lower heat to simmer. Add more water if necessary as it cooks. Cook until desired texture, about 8-10 minutes depending on the grain, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.
Add-Ins and Toppings
Toasted nuts or seeds (we grind these and children call them sprinkles)
sweet vegetable jam or onion butter
unsweetened cooked apple, peach or pear sauce
strawberry rhubarb sauce
small pieces of apple, peach or pear cooked in to the grain
oil sautéed dulse, toasted nori strips
unsweetened apple butter or 100% fruit spread (I love the sour cherry from Bionaturae)
ume plum (add to leftover rice at the beginning of reheating)
a little miso
a scoop of creamy squash or carrot soup added on top
diced winter squash, either cooked into the grain or roasted with olive oil and then stirred in at the last minute
diced onion, carrot, cabbage (layer in bottom of pot, add leftover grain and water, simmer for 20 minutes)
dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and diced and added same as the vegetables above
nut or seed butter
cinnamon or cardamom