Oats have always been one of my favorite foods. Perhaps it is the trickle of Northern European blood running through my veins that does it, but they are just so wholesome and satisfying that I feel I could live on them and nothing else if I had to. There is nothing very exciting about them – in taste and appearance both they might be called “bland” – but they just make me feel…well, nourished. They are sustaining, nourishing and stick to your ribs kind of good. They are the homely staple of the pantry.
And I don’t have to tell you how wonderful oats are for your health. Their stick to the ribs quality comes from their high fat content (the highest of any grain), making them a wonderful cold weather food. They are also high in protein (13 grams per half cup); B vitamins; minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and manganese, and have a small amount of omega 3 fatty acids. All this and they are also a great source of fiber. They nourish the nervous system, support healthy cholesterol levels and are thought of by some as possessing the same balancing, stress normalizing effects as many adaptogenic herbs. They are balancing both to those of a dry, depleted constitution or those who have an excess of heat and inflammation.
My second favorite way to prepare oats, aside from maybe oatmeal custard, is to make those delectably wholesome little crackers that the Scots love so much: the oatcake. The oatcake is your canvas – you can leave it plain as day and celebrate its unpretentious charm, or you can jazz it up with all manner of stylings. Paired with a little crystallized ginger and lemon zest, and you have a lovely little nibbler for your tea. But my latest favorite is the dulse and pumpkin seed combo – a nutrient rich pair that seem to figure prominently in my savory snacking, if I do recall (popcorn anyone?). The trio works some kind of umami magic together in the mouth – the perfect symphony of crunch, salty, nutty and hearty. You hardly need the slab of cheddar or slather of nut butter to top it – though I would highly recommend it.
Dulse and Pumpkin Seed Oatcakes
1 1/4 cups oat groats
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1/8 cup dulse flakes (or other seaweed, broken into small pieces)
1 handful pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted in a dry pan
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup just boiled water
1. Preheat the oven to 350F and line two baking trays with parchment paper (or lightly dust with flour).
2. Grind the oat groats in a coffee grinder until you have a somewhat coarse meal.
3. Mix all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, then make a well in the center and add the olive oil and a good splash of water. Continue adding in water until you have a firm (not sticky) dough. If the dough is too sticky, simply add more ground oats.
4. Form the dough into a ball, and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. Then roll it out on a floured surface to a 1/4 inch thickness.
5. Cut out discs with a cookie cutter, and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, then turn and bake for another 5-10 minutes, or until golden brown on top and bottom.
6. Cool on a rack, and then store in an airtight container. Enjoy topped with cheese, nut butter, hummus, sardines, pesto….the list goes on.
And remember, though Samual Johnson, in his English dictionary, defined oats as “A grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people” – any Scotsman would tell you that, while England is noted for its excellence of horses; Scotland is noted for the excellence of her men.