Friday, December 9, 2011

The Breakfast Dilemma
What’s cooking? Coconut Oat Pilaf

To cook or not to cook? When it comes to breakfast, that’s the big question. Especially when we have guests, I’m always torn between the desire for sleep (“Breakfast here is DIY – we have yogurt, eggs, cereal, fruit,...”) and the image I have in my head of everyone gathering around the kitchen island while I whip up some eggy concoction or pull yummy biscuits or coffee cake out of the oven.

The truth is, of course, that hardly anyone ever wants to wait the hour or so it’ll take me to manage one of those scenarios. And I have the additional challenge of making myself look like someone you want to face at that time of day.

But when my children show up for a visit, breakfast is a lot easier to manage. They sleep late enough that I can have it ready when they make their morning appearance, and they don’t care as much what I look like. They also really like breakfast, which means they’ll tolerate whatever fuss I want to make.

So when my younger son and his girlfriend showed up over the Thanksgiving break, I pulled out all the stops. Ginger scones one day, Paris breakfast another, and this wonderful breakfast pilaf for a third. (It doesn't look like much in the photo, but what can you do? Brown food is a tough photo subject.) The original recipe came from the indefatigable Mark Bittman, a couple of years ago in The New York Times. Some of the ingredients he uses are a bit more exotic than my pantry, so I tweaked it here and there.

The pilaf is delicious as a savory breakfast, but I need something sweet in the morning, so I serve mine with a touch of pure maple syrup (no Aunt Jemima’s, please) or some honey. You could also try it with your favorite jam. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for days.

Coconut Oat Pilaf

Adapted from Mark Bittman in The New York Times.

Quakers makes it, too.
Serves 4.

2 tablespoons butter
1½ cups steel-cut oats (not rolled), rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon minced or grated ginger [Kitchen Goddess note: Buy fresh ginger and keep it in an airtight container in the freezer. Life will be a lot easier.]
1 tablespoon mustard seeds (brown or black are both fine)
¼ teaspoon Chinese Five-Spice Powder
¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or a pinch of chili flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup shaved coconut (I buy mine dried, in the bulk food aisle; if you buy fresh, store it in the freezer)
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, mint, or parsley, or a combination (I prefer the combination.)
½ apple, grated (large holes)
¼ cup toasted and chopped pistacchios (or other nuts you like)
Maple syrup (warmed)

Put butter in a pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. When it melts, add oats and ginger and stir until coated. Add spices and a pinch each of salt and pepper; stir until fragrant, just a minute or two.

Stir in 2½ cups water, bring to a boil, and reduce heat enough that the mixture gently bubbles. Cook undisturbed, until most of the water has been absorbed and holes begin to appear on surface, about 10 minutes. Cover, remove from heat, and let sit for up to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast coconut in a skillet over medium-low heat, shaking pan and stirring several minutes until the coconut is toasted and fragrant (careful that it doesn’t burn). Toss coconut and herbs into oats, fluffing mixture with a fork. Sprinkle grated apple and toasted nuts on top. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary and serve hot or at room temperature. Drizzle maple syrup on top if you like it sweet.

Yield: 4 servings.

Kitchen Goddess note: All three of my breakfasts were easy and reasonably fast to make, especially if you check the night before that you have all the ingredients, and that you set out whatever dry ingredients you’ll need. It’s that maddening mise en place philosophy of organizing and arranging what you need at the beginning, that the Culinary Institute harps on. Don’t you just hate it when they’re right?


  1. Looks like it is right up my alley. I must give this pilaf a try. Thank you for posting the recipe.

  2. Is that the yummy dish you made for The Writers Retreat Breakfast?
    Also, Ginger Scones? How did I not know about this before. Love!

  3. Waking up to a wonderful breakfast was certainly one of the highlights of my Austin trip. And because my morning meals have consisted only of instant oatmeal since then, just looking at the picture of the pilaf is making my mouth water. Thank you again!

  4. Cybill, you can come for breakfast any time!