Thursday, April 24, 2014

Oats - Canadian Grown Superfood

My Dad starts everyday with a bowl of oatmeal. I used to think – boring! However, as I have begrudgingly come to learn he is usually right about most things and there is a lot of wisdom in his actions. Just don’t tell him that I said that.  

Why are oats a superfood?
Simply said, FIBRE! As a whole grain, oats are high in both insoluble and soluble fibre and you need both for a healthy diet. Insoluble fiber is the bulky fiber found in vegetables, bran and whole grains like oats. It keeps you regular and prevents constipation. Soluble fiber is the sticky fibre found in pulses, nuts, flax, barley and, of course, oats. It helps lower blood cholesterol levels and, therefore, reduces the risk for developing heart disease. Oats have also been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels and aid in promoting a healthy blood pressure. They are also an excellent source of iron and a good source of plant protein.
Confirming oats superfood status is a health claim from Health Canada based on research findings that the soluble fibre in oats, called beta glucan, helps reduce cholesterol. Beta glucan is found in all cereal grains but is particularly rich in oats and barley.

For those with Celiac disease, oats are naturally gluten free. However, they are often harvested and processed using the same equipment as gluten containing grains like wheat, barley and rye.  There are now several farmers and processors that are implementing practices to ensure cross-contamination with cereals containing gluten does not occur.  These ‘pure’ oats are safe for most people following a gluten free diet.  In fact, they are often a welcome addition to a gluten-free diet as they provide dietary fiber, B vitamins and iron, which are often hard to get on this diet.

Oat Definitions:
Oat Groat or Pearls: are the whole oat grains with the hull removed. I, personally, think oat groats conjures visions of bowls of gruel served on dark wintery days and that the term should be changed to oat pearls. It sounds more appetizing and exotic. Oat pearls are great in salads and pilafs.

Steel Cut Oats: are made by cutting oat pearls into two or three pieces using a sharp steel blade. Steel cut oats have risen in popularity and are consider chichi in the some circles. They take longer to cook then rolled oats and have a slightly fuller flavor and texture then rolled oats. When time permits steel cut oats do make the best oatmeal!

Rolled Oats or Old Fashioned Oats: are made by steaming whole oat pearls and then rolling them.  This process shortens cooking time compared to steel cut oats. They are the oats used most often in your breakfast oatmeal and for baking.

Quick Oats or Oat Flakes: are made by steaming and rolling steel cut oats. They often are consider the least healthy of the oatmeal family but really, like other oat products are made from the whole oat.  They are simply processed into smaller pieces to shorten the cooking time. These are the oats found in instant oatmeal products and are also often used in baking.

Oat Flour and Oat Bran: are made from grinding oat pearls.  The resulting flour is sold as whole oat flour. Separating out the bran from the whole oat flour produces oat bran. The bran is sold separately and the flour without the bran is sold simply as oat flour. Pure oat flour is often used in gluten free baking.

Although, starting your day with a hot bowl of oatmeal is great. Oats don’t have to be relegated to just breakfast. Here are some recipes for snack using oats as well as a savoury side dish - Oat Risotto – made with steel cut oats!  Enjoy. 

Fudge Lara Balls
This recipe is from my friend Tilly Wiens, who works at Avena Foods in Regina, Saskatchewan. Avena Foods produces various ‘pure’ whole oat products under the brand name Only Oats for the gluten free market.  Tilly likes toasting the oats with the pecans for a deeper flavour to both ingredients.
1 cup toasted pecans
½ cup quick flake oats
¼ cup cocoa
1/8 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground flax
2 tbsp chia seeds
1/3 cup chocolate chips
¾ cup Medjool dates (pitted)
1 tsp vanilla
1.    1.    Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). On a baking sheet, add pecans and oat flakes. Toast for 3 to 4 minutes stirring frequently.
2.    Place all in ingredients except dates and vanilla in food processor. “Pulse” until pecans are finely chopped. Add dates and vanilla and process until the mixture is sticky enough to roll into balls. If the mixture is too dry add 1 to 2 Tbsp (15 – 30 mL) water and continue mixing to reach desired consistency.
3.    Roll into small balls, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. If you want to dress them up, press balls into shaved chocolate, toasted coconut or finely chopped nuts. Store in fridge and serve chilled.Yield: 20 to 25 servings.

Hint: if you don’t have Medjool dates, add 3 Tbsp (45 mL) water to regular dates and microwave for 3 minutes, stirring after 1 ½ minutes. Stir again and allow to cool.  

Soft and Chewy Lentil Granola Bars
This yummy snack combines oats with another Canadian superfood – lentils - for double dose of fibrey goodness.
¼ cup (60 mL) dry red lentils
1½ cups (375 mL) old-fashioned (large flake) or quick oats (not instant)
½ cup (125 mL) packed brown sugar
1/3 cup (85 mL) oat flour
½ tsp (2 mL) salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) cinnamon
1 cup (250 mL) raisins, dried cranberries, cherries, chopped dried apricots or figs, or a combination
1 cup (250 mL) chopped walnuts, pecans, almonds, or a combination
¼ cup (60 mL) sunflower seeds
¼ cup (60 mL) pumpkin seeds
1/3 cup (85 mL) canola oil
1/3 cup (85 mL) peanut or almond butter
1/3 cup (85 mL) liquid honey, maple syrup, or golden syrup
1 large egg
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla
1.    Preheat the oven to 350°F and spray a 9x13-inch pan with nonstick spray. In a small saucepan of boiling water, cook the lentils for 10-15 minutes, until soft. Drain well and set aside.
2.    In a large bowl, stir together the oats, brown sugar, oat flour, salt, and cinnamon. Stir in the dried fruit, nuts, and seeds.
3.    In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, peanut butter, honey, egg, and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients along with the cooked, drained lentils and stir until well combined and crumbly. Press into the prepared pan.
4.    Bake for 25-30 minutes, until set and golden around the edges. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into bars
Servings: 18 bars.

Chewy Cinnamon Oat Cookies
A chewy, heart-healthy cookie that is easy to make and yummy. To make this recipe gluten free make sure to buy gluten free rolled oats and oat flour.
1/3 cup granulated sugar (75 mL)
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (60 mL)
3 Tbsp canola oil (45 mL)
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract (5 mL)
1 1/4 cups rolled oats (300 mL)
1/3 cup oat flour (75 mL)
½ tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp baking soda (2 mL)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (7 mL)
1/8 tsp salt (.5 mL)
1 cup golden raisin and dried cherry blend (250 mL)  or 2/3 cup (150 mL) golden raisins and 1/3 cup (75 mL) dried cherries or cranberries
1/3 cup sweetened flaked coconut (75 mL)
1.    Preheat oven 375°F (190°C).
2.    In a medium mixing bowl, combine granulated sugar, brown sugar and the oil. Using an electric mixer on medium high speed, beat until well blended, about 30 seconds. (The mixture will have a grainy texture at this stage.) Add the egg and vanilla; beat until well blended. Add the oats, flour, xanthan gum, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and beat until blended. Add the raisin mixture and coconut and beat until blended.
3.    Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using a teaspoon measure, spoon teaspoons of dough onto cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake 5 minutes or until puffy and slightly golden on edges. Do NOT bake longer, they will not look done when removed from oven. Place cookie sheet on wire rack and let stand 3 minutes. Carefully remove paper and cookies from cookie sheet and set aside to cool completely (On parchment paper.) Repeat with remaining cookie dough. Store completely cooled leftovers in an airtight container at room temperature.
Yield: 48 cookies.

Oat Risotto
Oats are not just for breakfast. This recipe partners oats with ground flaxseed, another Canadian superfood. Ground flaxseed also has a Health Canada health claim for lowering cholesterol.
1 small onion, diced
1 Tbsp canola oil 15 mL
1 cup steel cut oats 250 mL
3 cups low sodium chicken broth, heated 750 mL
½ cup white wine125 mL
½ cup frozen baby peas, thawed 125 mL
1 Tbsp chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, parsley, dill, etc. 15 mL
2 Tbsp ground flaxseed 25 mL
1 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese 25 mL
1.    In a medium pan, over medium heat, sauté diced onion in oil for 1 minute.
2.    Add oats, cook and stir 3 minutes until starting to lightly toast and smell nutty.
3.    Add 1/2 cup (125 mL) hot broth, stirring constantly until liquid is absorbed.  Repeat with another 1/2 cup (125 mL) doing the same until you’ve added a total of 2½ cups (625 mL).
4.    Add peas and herbs.
5.    Stir in wine, cook and stir until wine is absorbed.
Risotto is served el dente.  Taste and check texture, adding more both and cooking a few more minutes if needed.
6.    Remove from heat, stir in ground flaxseed and Parmesan.
Yield:  3 cups (750 mL)
Serving Size:  4 servings of about 3/4 cup (175 mL)

Add at the fourth addition of broth:
125 mL (1/2 cup) diced zucchini, edamame, etc.
125 mL 91/2 cup) sliced mushrooms
50 mL (1/4 cup) chopped sundried tomatoes.
Wine may be substituted with 125 mL (1/2 cup) of chicken broth.
Note: Risotto should be served a little on the soupy side not thick like porridge.
Recipe courtesy of Prairie Oat Growers Assocociation ( and

Cherry Crisp
I always use a matrimonial square type topping for my crisps. The flour and baking soda make a thicker, crunchier topping. I know it is dessert but I also add ground flaxseed for a nutty flavor and a bit more fibre. 
1 3/4 cups quick cooking oats 425 mL
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 425 mL
¼ cup ground flaxseed 60 mL
1 cup packed brown sugar 250 mL
1 cup butter 250 mL
1 tsp salt 5 mL
1 tsp baking soda 5 mL
grated rind of 1 lemon (optional)
3 cups fresh or thawed sour cherries with juice, pitted 750 mL
1/2 cup white sugar 125 mL
¼ cup cornstarch 60 mL
1 Tbsp lemon juice 15 mL
1.    Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease one 9 x 13 inch (22 x 33 cm) baking pan.
2.    Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, butter, salt and baking soda. Add lemon rind if using. Use a pastry blender to work the butter into the flour until mixture is crumbly.
3.    In a saucepan, combine cherries with juice (about ½ cup/125 mL of juice), sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice.  Heat and cook until mixture is thickened and resembles a pie filling.
4.    Add cherries to baking pan. Cover with oat mixture.
5.    Bake at 350 F (175 C) for 30 to 40 minutes or until top crust begins to brown.
Yield: 10 servings.
Source: Dorothy Sandercock

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