A new savory side dish (how sweet it isn’t)

oatmealOnion oatmeal?

For today’s excursion into the peculiar, Mr. Tidbit will depart from his normal practice, and not discuss an odd new foodstuff fresh from the laboratories of some giant grocery firm.

Instead he will discuss an odd new foodstuff fresh from his own kitchen.

Let Mr. Tidbit Be clear: He is not claiming that he is the first person to have had the remarkable insight that led to this new comestible — only that he did have it, perhaps along with hundreds or maybe millions of nameless cooks throughout recorded time.

And here it is: A serving of oatmeal (the kind that comes in the big cardboard cylinder, not the instant kind that comes in little envelopes) can be made, according to the instructions, with half a cup of oatmeal and a cup of either water or milk. Standing at his kitchen counter one recent day, about to prepare some oatmeal, Mr. Tidbit glanced at that instruction and – realizing that there are many more edible liquids than water and milk – wondered whether oatmeal could be prepared with any of those other liquids.

It should not surprise you, dear reader, that the answer is yes. Mr. Tidbit is not mean enough to drag you through all that introduction only to say that you can’t use another liquid to make oatmeal.

For example, you can prepare oatmeal with canned soup. For a single generous serving, half a cup of 1-minute or old-fashioned oatmeal and a cup of soup. And — depending on what soup you try and your own tastebuds – the resulting savory oatmeal can be pretty darn good.

That it can be that tasty, and that there’s such a wide range of potentially interesting flavors, led Mr. Tidbit to realize immediately that he had produced not a breakfast food, but rather a side dish — perhaps a flavorful substitute for mashed potatoes or rice.

His first experiment was with beef consommé (it comes condensed, so he used half a cup of soup and half a cup of water). He microwaved it (a little longer than the oatmeal instructions suggest, to produce a more substantial texture), and it was great! (And it was an inspired guess, as it remains one of Mr. Tidbit’s favorites.)

Experiments with more soups yielded some insights: Soups with lots of solids (bean with bacon, for example), aren’t very successful. And noodles or other pasta need to be strained out, because they contain lots of extra liquid, which causes the oatmeal to take much longer to cook.

But what turned out to offer the widest selection of interesting flavors was packaged sauce, gravy and marinade mixes, which hadn’t even occurred to Mr. Tidbit at first. For the single generous serving, stir a cup of water (a little at a time at first) into a teaspoon to a tablespoon of the mix (trial-and-error is involved here: Some mixes are more assertive than others). Add the oatmeal, stir, microwave and stir again afterward.

The results range from subtle and complex (béarnaise sauce is a nice one) to piquant (garlic, herb and wine marinade, for example) to spicy (chili mix).

Mr. Tidbit has taken to having a bowl of savory oatmeal as a mid-afternoon snack. In that situation, with no competing flavors from other meal components, he has been pleased to find that almost anything works. Among his favorites, besides consommé, are sausage gravy mix, sweet onion (sold as a burger mix-in) and leftover pho from the Saigon Uptown restaurant in Minneapolis. With the noodles strained out.

Al Sicherman

Author: Al Sicherman

Al Sicherman and his used dog, Gus, live in Minneapolis. Al is on the left/

3 thoughts on “A new savory side dish (how sweet it isn’t)”

  1. I did this today an hour before reading your column. Instant oatmeal and hot bouillon make a perfect “filler” for meat loaf or meatballs. Added an egg and a bit of shredded cheese today, too.

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