Something I enjoy about staying with my husband’s family is that every morning a smorgasbord of cereals is set out on the side kitchen bench, ready for whenever we come down for breakfast. I was contemplating this array one morning, and in talking with my mother-in-law about porridge, she discovered that somehow, I had the idea that oats came from wheat. But oats are oats, she said, and wheat is wheat!

I’m happy to report that the ancient Greeks and Romans were similarly mistaken about oats, as they considered oats to be a diseased form of wheat, or a weed. This I learned from Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen (2004), an illuminating and entertaining reference work that contains not only encyclopaedia-style entries on foodie items (for example: dairy, vegetables, sauces, and beer), but also other tidbits such as the chemical structures of polysaccharides, a structural diagram of ice-cream (revealing its status as a ‘semi-solid foam’), and curious articles such as ‘Why Some Fish Seem To Dry Out Faster Than Others’, ‘Olive Oil Can Make Crazy Mayonnaise’ and ‘The Logic of Cream Puff Pastry’.

McGee confirms that oats, indeed, are just oats. It is also clear that since antiquity, oats have also enjoyed a somewhat minor status among the grains (unlike wheat, which is a superstar grain). Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary defined oats as “a grain, which in England is given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people”. But even if I was mistaken about its classification among grains, I’ve always been a huge fan of eating oats in just about any form: in biscuits, loaves, granola, muesli, porridge, you name it. There’s something hearty and affirming about oats that combines comfort and healthfulness.

I hope you enjoy this recipe for Chocolate Bircher Muesli as much as we do. Admittedly, the chocolate element is something that the reputed inventor of bircher muesli, Dr Maximilian Bircher-Benner, would likely not have included for the version he served to his hospital patients in Switzerland. If you want, of course you can skip the chocolate and instead experience the ringing virtuousness that comes from a supremely healthy oaty breakfast. But the chocolate version is good, and is a nod to that other germanic breakfast treat, Schokomuesli.

img_1450.jpgThis is my entry for Weekend Breakfast Blogging #20, hosted this week by Mansi of Fun and Food. This month’s theme is ‘Balanced Breakfast Meals’, and this bircher recipe contains representatives from all 4 categories for all-round brekky wholesomeness (fruit, grain, dairy, protein). Mansi asked for recipes that are both wholesome and delicious – so for extra deliciousness, I am submitting this chocolate version. This recipe serves 2, and the quantities are just a guide: the most important thing is the 1:1 ratio of oats to milk. It’s easy to make and easy to remember, and you can use whatever berries or nuts you have on hand (fresh blueberries are great, as are pistachios).

Chocolate bircher muesli

1 cup rolled oats
1 cup milk
40g dark chocolate, roughly chopped (about 2 heaped tablespoons)
1 green apple
1/2 cup low-fat greek-style yoghurt
125g strawberries, sliced (about 1/2 a cup)
2 tablespoons raw natural almonds, roughly chopped
Honey, to serve

The night before you want to serve this, put the oats, milk and chocolate together into a bowl and stir. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight.


To assemble the dish: grate the apple (including its skin) and stir this through the oaty mixture, before the apple has a chance to discolour. Make sure you also put in any of the juice that runs out of the grated apple. Serve out the oaty mixture into 2 bowls. Top with the yoghurt, sliced strawberries and chopped nuts, and a light drizzle of honey to taste.