Image: Kristin Belz
Oat groats may look boring, but they're a substantial and healthy whole grain to use as a base for cold salads or hot breakfasts. Here, the dried grain before (left) and after cooking. The hulled oat kernels plump up nicely and stand up to strong flavors like olives and sundried tomatoes (see the recipe below).

As conscientious foodies in 21st century Portland, we’re on a mission to eat as well as we can – that is, to make and enjoy healthy and delicious food everyday. We know the food pyramid; we know whole grains are its strong and sturdy foundation. As for the mission, though, we like to make it fun. Grains are good for this. (Check out our Guide to "What is a Whole Grain, Anyway?")

Cooking with grains means venturing beyond the white rice and Quaker Oats so many of us grew up with. And they're a much more nutritious, wholesome replacement for pasta in a number of dishes, including cold salads.

Oat groats are a new (old) grain to try out. Before the Quaker factory started processing oats, before Uncle Ben got his face on a box of instant rice, oat groats were grown, hulled, and cooked, often as a breakfast cereal. No reason they shouldn’t get some love in our kitchens today. 

According to Bob of the Bob's Red Mill (to quote another friendly-faced, white-haired old man, this one our local grain guru in Milwaukie), “groat is an old Scottish word that describes an oat kernel with the hull removed.” (He adds, “Use a home mill to grind groats into fresh oat flour” – but I think I’ll let him take care of that part. That's what the big red mill is for.)

The taste of oat groats is a bit nutty and almost buttery, in a sweet, soothing way. You can oak them overnight to quicken the cooking, but it's not necessary. They'll never cook as quickly as couscous or quinoa, but in under an hour they'll be ready. Cook them as you would pasta – in ample water to cover, and drain when they’re tender but not mushy. 

Grain salads like this one are especially good for picnics or for take to work sack lunches, since they're portable and, being oil- instead of mayo-based, they can sit at room temperature for a time without spoiling. This recipe is vegan, adapted from Grain Mains by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.

Oat Groat and Black-eyed pea salad

1 cup oat groats
1 cup dried black-eyed peas
½ cup finely chopped pitted green olives (about 4 ounces)
½ cup finely chopped dry-pack sundried tomatoes
1 garlic clove,  minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

  • Soak the oat groats in a big bowl of cool water for at least 8 and up to 16 hours. Do the same thing with the black-eyed peas.
  • Pour the oat groats into a large saucepan, cover with water by several inches, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until tender if still with a little tooth, about 45 minutes. Drain in a sieve or colander, then run under cool water to stop the cooking. Drain thoroughly.
  • As the groats cook, drain the black-eyed peas in a colander, pour them into a second saucepan, and cover with a good amount of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain cooked peas in a colander in the sink, cooling them with tap water, too.
  • Pour the groats and the black-eyed peas into a big bowl. Add everything else: the olives, sundried tomatoes, garlic, oil, vinegar, oregano, pomegranate molasses, red pepper flakes, and nutmeg. Toss to serve.

Serves 4. Stores, covered, in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Notes on options and short cuts

  • Substitute a 15-ounce can of black-eyed peas for the dried; drain and rinse the peas before tossing into the salad.
  • Cook the oat groats ahead and substitute 2 cups cooked oat groats for the dry.
  • Pomegranate syrup is a Middle Eastern sweet/sour condiment available at specialty and some major grocery stores. Optional substitution: balsamic vinegar, which will give a sharper flavor. 
Once you've made the grain salad, try this entirely different option for oat groats: cook it as a breakfast cereal with cinnamon, apple, milk and brown sugar.

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