It is impossible to have too many ideas for quick and easy breakfasts, especially ones that are cheap, relatively good for you and able to be made in advance. Often vegan and thickened with chia seeds, overnight oats – a cousin of muesli, which was popularized by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner in the 1900s – are a nutritious, adaptable and nearly effortless make-ahead breakfast.
Amanda Claypool, co-founder and chief oat officer of Washington-based oat milk company Blue Crate, has been preparing overnight oats for almost every
morning of the past five years. “There are times when I eat them in the morning and then don’t need to eat lunch until 1 or 2,” she says, noting how calorie-dense and sustaining the dish can be.
During a hot and muggy summer, a helping of no-cook, cold overnight oats is especially welcome. Here are some tips and suggestions, as well as a recipe with a few flavorful variations, to get you started.
FIRST, CHOOSE YOUR CONTAINER: I like to use a two-cup glass container with a lid (such as Pyrex brand) because the larger surface area means ingredients are more evenly dispersed with each bite, and there’s enough room for lots of toppings. Any container will do, but if you’re sensitive to leached plastic tastes, stick to glass.
NEXT, CONSIDER THE LIQUID: If you avoid dairy, use an alternative milk, such as one made from oats, nuts or coconut. In times of a depleted refrigerator, I’ve used water and amped up the flavor with spices, though it’s not ideal, as the finished texture isn’t as creamy. Apple cider and kombucha present a good way to lend a touch of sweetness. The amount of liquid will affect the finished consistency: For a silky porridge, I like 1½ parts liquid to one part oats (so, ¾ cup liquid to ½ cup oats). For nicely plumped oats, flip the proportions and try about one part liquid to two parts oats (1/3 cup liquid, ½ cup oats, for example).
NOW FOR THE FUN PART – THE MIX-INS: Spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and nutmeg are a natural fit – try 1/8 to ¼ teaspoon of those, one at a time or together. Turmeric is also lovely, especially when paired with coconut milk, maple syrup, dried cherries and tart jam. Conjure an oatmeal cookie with vanilla extract. Give the oats depth with unsweetened cocoa and a pinch of espresso powder. Flax and chia seeds add both nutrients and a thicker texture. Start with one tablespoon of each and use at least 1½ times the liquid to oats, lest you end up with sludge. If you have plainly seasoned leftover cooked grains, such as quinoa, wheat berries or buckwheat, drop a spoonful into the bowl. If adding dried fruit, you can mix it in then and there, to let it absorb some of the liquid, or wait until later, to keep it extra chewy. Finally, don’t forget to add salt: Just a pinch will tie everything together and make those flavors pop.
Once you’ve added your liquids and flavors, stir them together, making sure the oats are moistened, then put a lid on it, put it in the refrigerator and go to sleep.
PICK OUT YOUR TOPPINGS: Since whatever is in your bowl is on the softer side, now is a good time to add a little texture. Cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut flakes (all toasted) are my go-tos for crunch. Boost the
protein with a spoonful of nut butter. Fruit is a natural choice to add sweetness and a little bite. Speaking of sweetness, try maple syrup, honey, date syrup or a few spoonfuls of jam. If you’re the type of person who has dried rose petals in their pantry, know they make a bright and lovely addition, too; other herbs, such as lemon verbena, mint or even a smidge of thyme would also work. For a little tang, hit that bowl with a dollop of yogurt.
Here’s a basic recipe to get you started, with a few variations at the end.
BASIC OVERNIGHT OATS
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use instant or quick-cooking)
1/3 cup liquid, such as water, milk, apple cider, kombucha
1 tablespoon nut butter (your choice)
1 tablespoon fruit preserves, honey or maple syrup
A few spoonfuls plain yogurt (optional)
2 tablespoons toasted nuts or seeds, such as cashews, walnuts or pumpkin seeds
A handful of fresh berries, 1 small sliced banana or other chopped fruit OR 2 tablespoons chopped dried fruit, such as cherries, raisins, cranberries, pitted dates
Combine the oats and salt in a lidded bowl and pour the liquid over them. Use your fingers or a fork to pat down the oats to make sure they are all moistened. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours, and up to 24 hours. The liquid should be totally absorbed.
When ready to assemble, give the oats a stir, then top with the nut butter; the fruit preserves, honey or maple syrup; and the yogurt, if using. Finish with the toasted nuts or seeds and fresh or dried fruit.
For a turmeric rose bowl: To the soaking liquid, add ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric, 1 tablespoon maple syrup and 1 tablespoon dried cherries. When ready to eat, top with toasted pumpkin seeds, apricot or peach jam, and dried rose petals.
For a chocolate tahini bowl: To the soaking liquid, add 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1/8 teaspoon espresso powder and 1 tablespoon honey. When ready to eat, drizzle with a little tahini, then top with toasted cashews, chopped dates and some banana slices.