The Telegraph
| Sunday, August 25, 2013 |

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Taking an oat

Oats have always had bad press, but it's time they got their due, says Rahul Verma

If you are among those who shudder when someone mentions the word oats, you can join my club, where the queue of would-be members would put the Gymkhana to shame. I suppose it has something to do with all the porridge that we were forced to eat in our childhood. Even now, when I see a bowl of congealed porridge, my eyes kind of glaze over. Never again, I tell myself.

Of course, one should never make such rash promises. I have a feeling that when I meet Utpal Mondal, the corporate chef of Hotel Hindusthan International, I'll have to eat my words — and some of the oats that he has been working on for the last one year. And truth be told, I don't think I'll really mind it.

And that's because the chef has been looking at oats with different eyes. His "wellness menu" doesn't serve oats as a gruel. His oats are crispy, and sometimes grainy. And he effectively replaces rice with oats in a vegetable biryani and a khichri cooked with roasted moong dal and arhar dal.

  • Grilled fish with oatmeal and green peas mash

"It's excellent for the health," chef Mondal stresses. "And it can replace the usual cereals in many dishes."

The chef's Mission Oats is part of a global phenomenon, where cereals and grains that we have been looking down upon are being openly feted.

In fact, says chef Ranveer Brar of Hotel Novotel Mumbai Juhu Beach, one reason why oats occupy the high table today is the very fact that they have been seen for long years as an uncharismatic ingredient. "Oats are very much up there not just because of their high fibre content, but also because they were seen as the poor people's meal," chef Brar says.

  • Oatmeal vegetable biryani

The chef points out that the tendency so far has been to present oats in a boiled and mushy form. But the grains can be used in very many ways — and lend a different kind of a taste to a dish. "The grains will give a crunchy, crispy and crusty taste to your food," he says.

Chef Mondal's grilled fish served with a mash of green peas and oats has this grainy texture. He marinates the fish with salt, pepper and lime juice and then crumbs it with oats before grilling it. And then he prepares mashed peas mixed with roasted oats as a side dish.

Whole oats, the chefs stress, have their own taste and texture. "The grain can be made into good risottos and great accompaniments to dishes," chef Brar says.

  • Oatmeal khichri

I am all for oats if we can give them a taste that doesn't come close to that of porridge. And I find (despite the ever growing queue in front of my club) that there are people apart from chef Mondal who have been singing paeans to oats. There is actually a site called eatmoreoats.com.

Of course, one must admit that oats are healthy. They lower cholesterol, help control blood sugar and pressure and even have anti-carcinogenic properties. If they have a problem, it's with their image.

"But oats are not necessarily boring," chef Mondal insists. On the contrary, he believes, oats can be fun. All that we have to do is open up our own minds.

Oatmeal Hotpot

(serves 1)

Ingredients:

•15g oats •50g boneless chicken •20g cubed carrots •20g chopped broccoli •20g green peas •10g chopped onion •5g chopped leeks •5g garlic •1g fresh thyme •5ml olive oil •2 bay leaves •300ml vegetable stock la few black peppercorns •salt to taste •1 lime (optional)

Method:

Heat oil in a non-stick pot. Add black pepper, onion, garlic, leek, bay leaf and thyme. Add the vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer. Let it simmer for 15 minutes. Strain and keep the clear liquid back in the pot. Heat. Add the chicken and vegetables. Keep on low heat. Remove the scum from the top. When the chicken and the veggies are almost done, add the oats. Raise the heat. Bring to a boil. Add salt to taste. You could squeeze a fresh lime over it. Serve hot.