Oat groats with blue cheese, walnuts & spinach: $1.98/serving

This dish was adapted from a recipe that uses an unfortunate euphemism for oat groats: “warm oat berries.” Maybe I’m just being juvenile, but that sounds a lot more unappetizing than “oat groats.” The oat groat is the original whole grain of the oat. A lot of people might not think of oatmeal as a processed food, but indeed it is—even the super-wholesome-seeming steel-cut or rolled oats are simply oat groats that have been chopped up or pressed and then baked. Groats take a while to cook, however, which is why I happen to find them better suited to dinner. They offer a very mild oat flavor with a satisfying chew not unlike farro, and lend themselves to a variety of salad or side dish applications.

The recipe this is based from on is for “warm oat berries” in Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, which appears—deservedly so—on many year-end top 10 lists for 2011. As a main dish, it makes 2 servings.

• 1 cup oat groats (look for these in the bulk bins at a natural-foods store or co-op; it’ll be cheaper than anywhere else, if you can even find them anywhere else)50 cents
• 3 oz. mild blue cheese or Gorgonzola, crumbled: $1.50
• 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts: 90 cents
• 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted green olives (yes, I buy the little $1.29 jars of the ones with pimentos; they’re so cheap the pimentos are indistinguishable from the olives in both taste and texture): 40 cents
• 3 cups raw spinach: 20 cents
• 2 T plus 2 tsp olive oil: 14 cents
• 2 short splashes of balsamic vinegar: 10 cents
• 3 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves (garden): $0
• 3 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves (garden): $0
• 2 tsp red wine vinegar: 10 cents
• Salt and pepper: 2 cents
TOTAL: $3.95/2 = $1.98/serving

Put the oat groats in a medium saucepan.

Add 1 1/4 cups water and a pinch of salt, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, or until oats are soft but still a little chewy.  Remove from heat and set aside, leaving the lid on the pan.

Divide the spinach between two large entree plates; dress lightly with 2 tsp olive oil and a couple of splashes of balsamic vinegar.

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, add the walnuts and 2 tsp of the thyme and cook until walnuts are just starting to brown, about 3 minutes.

Add the cooked oat groats, olives, a large pinch of pepper, and a small pinch of salt (the olives themselves are really salty, so go easy). Cook until heated through. Adjust seasonings. Remove from the heat, sprinkle with the red-wine vinegar and stir in 2 oz. of the blue cheese, just until it starts to melt.

Divide mixture between the two plates with the spinach—either beside the spinach or on top—top with the remaining cheese and thyme and serve immediately.

To eat, mix the groats and the spinach together. (The contrast of the fresh, cool spinach with the warm and salty groats really makes this dish—and isn’t part of the original recipe—which explains both my inelegant explanation and why I didn’t wilt the spinach first and advise combining it at the last minute.)

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