Savory Oats with Kale, Mushrooms and Walnuts Recipe + other ideas for savory oats

savory oats with kale, mushrooms and walnuts | pamela salzman

I teach a breakfast cooking class once a year and in this past one, savory steel cut oats were on the menu.  That’s right, savory oats, as opposed to the standard oatmeal with sweet toppings like bananas and brown sugar or raisins and peanut butter.  There were quite a few raised eyebrows and comments like “I’m not so sure about this” or “I trust you, but this doesn’t sound good.”  Needless to say, the risky recipe that month was also the surprise hit.  No one could believe how much they enjoyed a savory version of oatmeal.

cleaning shiitake mushrooms

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a sweet tooth which needs no more encouragement than it already gets.  Starting my day on a savory note often helps to keep sweet cravings at bay, at least until late afternoon.  If an egg and veggie scramble or avocado and tomato toast is acceptable for breakfast, why not oatmeal with vegetables?  Oats are so bland, the perfect backdrop for almost anything.  In fact, I like to think of oats like pasta or risotto or polenta — infinitely versatile.  One of my students thought she could easily serve her family these savory oats for Sunday dinner.  Why not?

stem and slice the kale

This post is more about encouraging skeptics to try this, than providing a specific recipe.  Because once you are open-minded about eating oatmeal with veggies, you’ll see that you don’t really need a recipe.  But, I would like to point out that I always try to incorporate high quality fat and protein in my breakfasts so I will have staying power until lunchtime.  Protein can be anything from an egg to nuts and seeds to dairy, like cheese, yogurt or milk.  Good fats are in eggs, nut and seeds, avocado, olive oil, ghee or organic butter.  I’m a texture gal, and since oatmeal is creamy, I do like to add something with crunch, like nuts.  But that’s my personal choice.  I do think oats can accommodate bold flavors in the flavor department, so don’t be shy with garlic, crushed red pepper or ginger, for example.

savory oats with kale, mushrooms and walnuts | pamela salzman

Let me come clean.  Even though I am crazy about savory oats, my kids prefer sweet.  But the beauty of making a pot of oatmeal, whether it’s rolled oats or steel cut, is that you don’t have to commit to sweet or savory.  I leave the pot on the stove and everyone does his or her own thing.  I will do a quick sauté of veggies for myself and anyone else who wants them.  If I have no takers, they know where to find the bananas and pecans.

savory oats witk sautéed kale, mushrooms and walnuts | pamela salzman

I took images of my favorite combo, which is sautéed kale and mushrooms plus gomasio and chopped walnuts.  But I have done many iterations of veggies on oatmeal and I’ve listed a few at the bottom of the recipe.  If it looks like I won’t be eating lunch until late and I won’t have time to take a snack break in the morning, I will add a drizzle of olive oil.  In my June class, I sautéed lots of garlic, crushed red pepper, cherry tomatoes, shredded zucchini and basil in olive oil and served it over the oats with grated Pecorino on the side.  It was absolutely delicious.

savory oats with sautéed kale, mushrooms and walnuts | pamela salzman

What do you have in the fridge from last night?  Roasted cauliflower?  Reheat it and put it over oats with sautéed garlic and shallots, toasted pine nuts and raisins.  In fact, you don’t have to use oats!  You can use your favorite warm porridge, like this gluten-free blend I sometimes make.  You know I probably shouldn’t play this game, because I’ll be here all day coming up with great possibilities for oats.  I would love to hear from you though.  Are savory oats a thing for you yet?  Any combinations you’d like to share?

5.0 from 2 reviews
Savory Oats with Kale, Mushrooms and Walnuts
Serves: 4
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 4 cups water (use 3 ¾ cups if oats were soaked overnight and drained)
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 big bunch kale, stripped and chopped coarsely
  • ½ pound shiitake mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp paper towel and sliced
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ⅓ cup chopped walnuts (or another nut or seed, toasted or raw)
  • gomasio for sprinkling on top
  1. Place the oats, water and sea salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower heat and simmer oats uncovered until oats are tender, about 40 minutes. (Soaked oats only take 30 minutes.)
  2. In a large skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  3. Add vegetables, a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and sauté until tender, about 6-8 minutes.
  4. Portion the oats into 4 bowls and top with the vegetable mixture. Add an extra drizzle of olive oil or a different oil like flax, hemp or avocado. Top with walnuts and sprinkle with gomasio.
Other options I love:
Sauteed cabbage and scallions, sesame oil, shoyu, gomasio or sesame seeds and a poached egg
Shredded zucchini or sautéed asparagus, goat cheese and toasted, salted pistachios
Burst cherry tomatoes, garlic, crushed red pepper, basil and grated Pecorino or Parmesan
Dried chilies, coconut milk, dried unsweetened coconut, toasted cashews, scallions and shoyu


Gluten-Free Millet and Shiitake Pilaf Recipe

I waited several years before I taught a recipe with millet in my classes.  Why?  Because I was afraid.  Afraid my (adult) students wouldn’t like it.  Afraid I would turn them off to millet forever.  Afraid I would lose credibility as someone who could offer them nutritious food that tasted great and that their families would probably eat.  And then I realized this is exactly the attitude I am trying to teach my students to avoid.  It’s such a mistake to fear introducing new foods to your family because you’re not sure if they’re going to like them.  So it was really silly of me to be reluctant to teach Millet and Shiitake Pilaf, which I absolutely love, love, love.

First off, let me introduce you to this fantastic seed.  Millet in this country is used more as bird feed than a nutritious and tasty side dish, which is nuts because it has been cultivated for many thousands of years.  I know millet looks like a grain, tastes like a grain, and cooks like a grain, but it is actually a seed.  Millet is gluten-free and kind of similar to quinoa, but a bit drier and it has a slightly nutty, corny flavor.    It is naturally alkaline, which is not easy to come by in a grain or seed, as most are slightly acid-forming.  Millet is also considered to be one of the least allergenic and most digestible grains/seeds.  It is nearly 15% protein and rich in B-complex vitamins, as well as iron, magnesium and potassium.  Wow!

Are you wondering why you have never tried it, let alone heard of it before?  Crazy, I know.  I buy millet in the bulk section at my local natural foods supermarket, but there are several manufacturers including Eden, Bob’s Red Mill, and Arrowhead Mills which sell it packaged.  I use it the way I would any other grain, in a pilaf, a salad, in soups, even pureed with cauliflower for an awesome mashed potato substitute.   One of my favorite breads is a millet bread by Food For Life.  I’ve seen many recipes for millet porridge which call for doubling the liquid and stirring the millet constantly to make a super creamy, hot breakfast cereal.  Personally, I prefer millet in a savory preparation, but many people love millet this way.  Besides the cauliflower mash which I’ll show you how to make one day, a pilaf is my favorite way to eat millet.  I especially love the soft texture of the mushrooms and onions with the dry millet.  But if you aren’t a fan of mushrooms or your kids won’t just pick the mushrooms out like Mr. Picky, leave them out and use something else like peas or asparagus tossed into the pot with 5 minutes to go.  Just like my students last year, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much you like millet and that it’s not for the birds!

Have you tried millet before?  I’m always on the look-out for delicious ways to prepare it, so please share!

Millet and Shiitake Pilaf
Serves: 6
  • 1 ½ cups millet, rinsed and drained
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons unrefined cold-pressed olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps wiped clean with a damp paper towel and chopped into 1 –inch pieces (you can use any mushroom, but shiitakes are so much more nutritious!)
  • 3⅓ cups water or homemade chicken stock (use 3½ cups liquid if you're NOT going to eat it right away since the millet will dry up as it sits)
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • a little chopped parsley or shaved parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)
  1. In a 2-3 quart saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion, garlic and mushrooms until softened.
  2. In the meantime, place the millet in a heavy skillet over medium heat and roast until dry with a toasty aroma.
  3. Transfer the millet to the saucepan with the onion mixture and stir to coat. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes or until all the water is absorbed. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Millet dries up and gets fluffier as it sits. Leftovers will firm up considerably in the refrigerator, so add a little liquid when reheating.