When it comes to cereal, I’m not just a flakes-and-milk kind
of girl (nor when it comes to anything, I hope). When I eat, I really like to deck
out my food. I have a way of packing as many different ingredients and calories
into a meal as possible (probably because I eat once or twice per day).
So, I would like to introduce to you a more enjoyable version of cereal—or perhaps I should say, grains.
To start, I must note that this is not quite the type of cereal that becomes edible once your pour milk on top of it. After becoming frustrated with the difficulty of finding a box of cereal that doesn’t have a bunch of added silliness to it, such as sugar, I looked again at the ingredients list one day and thought, “Hey, why don’t I just replace cereal with the actual grains themselves?” Thus, puffed rice and oats in the shape of O’s became simply a box of brown rice and some rolled oats.
And I enjoy it just as much as anything that’s pre-packaged. And I don’t have to worry about what some dude in a factory laced it up with.
At first I was a little uncomfortable with combining rice, fruit, and nuts into one bowl, but it’s hard for me to stay weirded out for long. Like I said—I combine lots of different foods at once.
Besides-- that’s not nearly as weird as what I used to eat before I was vegan or gluten free: a sandwich filled to the brim with cooked vegetables and either eggplant or a sunny-side-up egg. Hummus spread on one slice of bread, avocado on the other. Oh, and peanut butter and sunflower seed butter spread on top. And nuts stuck into the peanut butter. And oats spread over the top of the whole thing. Messy as all hell, and I’ll probably never eat such a monstrosity again, but it’s delicious. If you can spare yourself the embarrassment, give it a try—you won’t regret it.
Now, back to the recipe at hand: this isn’t really a recipe—it’s just a list of suggested ingredients. I have no numbers for you. Additionally, this is the way I usually and prefer to eat it. But, of course, what you put in your body is up to you. Feel free to mix things up.
That being said, I am an advocate of putting things in your body that are nice to it. So unless you have any particular food allergies, I think you can trust this recipe. It is vegan and gluten-free, and there should be no sugar, salt, or anything else added, provided you buy ingredients free of these things (be wary of salt and sugar when buying nuts and nut butters). Additionally, grains should be whole.
Without further ado, here we go:
The Ultimate Cereal Bowl:
Please note the absence of milk. I occasionally have a glass of rice milk along with this, but that's about all. I'll note that I'd prefer to have a nut-based milk, but most of those I've seen have carrageenan and/or sugar added to them, and I'm not about all that jazz. So be wary the next time you go to the vegan smoothie-bar: plant-based milks, quite frankly, tend to have a lot of silliness in them.
Soaking and Cooking the Grains
I recommend soaking the grains for at least 6-8 hours prior to cooking them; I usually soak them for up to 12-24 hours. This makes them easier to digest (especially teff: it’s unfriendly to me otherwise), and it gives a creamy texture to the rice that is delightful.
I always soak the grains, in water, in the same pot that I will cook it. I put a lid on the pot and leave the pot on the stove. I’ve seen other people soak their grains in containers and put them in the fridge, though I have had no issues with leaving the grains out. Just put a lid on the pot that covers the whole thing is all.
Make sure there’s still plenty of room in the pot after you’ve poured the water in: the grains get big and fluffy! I was surprised the first time I did this: I had to move everything into a bigger pot!
Also make sure to stir, and to add plenty of water: you may have to add more water after the first few hours.
The brown rice I use is usually is precooked to some degree (not completely)—I believe the term is “parboiled.” This way it doesn’t take as long for me to cook (though I’m uncertain whether this is the healthiest option). The brand I usually use is called Minute, and it claims that the rice takes about 10 minutes to cook, which, for this recipe, is just about spot-on.
I start out at mid to high heat and lower the heat every couple minutes, until letting the rice sit for a few minutes with no heat. I keep the lid on when I cook so I don't have to use as much heat, nor for as long: a covered pot has a good way of cooking itself for at least a few minutes.
I cook a lot at once, so the pot tends to stay hot for a while. Often, I let the rice stay in the pot for another 12 hours after cooking before I put it in the fridge. It stays fine.
Also, I should add that I usually cook all the grains in the same pot (this does not include the potatoes). I’ve had no issues with this.
I’ve never tried soaking sweet potato or squash, in case you were wondering, though that would be interesting. These both take longer to cook than grains, and sweet potato tends to take longer than squash.
Shortly after the sweet potato or squash is done cooking, put it in a bowl and mash it with a fork or spoon (you’ll know it’s done if you can mash it easily). Mashing potatoes is much easier while they’re still hot (and I can assure you a more eloquent tool is unnecessary for this: this takes about 10-20 seconds for one potato).
I usually make enough rice and sweet potato at once to last me for at least 2-3 days—sometimes even up to 5 days. Brown rice can usually last for about 5-7 days in the fridge before it goes rank. So, I recommend making some extra so that you don’t have to keep cooking every night.
A nice perk about this recipe is that people usually don’t want to share it with you, as is often the case with cereal. So you can walk around with your bowl in hand, flaunt it all about, and no other human beings will make contact with it. Ever.
To prepare the bowl itself, I usually start by adding a few scoops of peanut butter. Then, I sprinkle in the nuts and seeds. Then I cut up and throw in the fruit. Next, I add as much rice as will fit in the bowl. Then, I top it all off with a couple scoops of mashed sweet potato.
My main recommendation is that you don’t put the rice in first: it’s harder to properly mix the peanut butter that way. Slap down that peanut butter first, baby. Rice is best last or near-last.
Now, we come to the potentially-messy yet fun part: mixing! Make sure you cut up the fruit generously and mix everything together well—you want the peanut butter to be well-distributed. That means that all the grains should have some peanut butter on them. You don’t want the peanut butter to all be sitting at the bottom of the bowl!
My general rule is that I’m done mixing when I can’t find any more peanut butter at the bottom of the bowl. Usually I mix a decent portion of it before I start eating, and then I continue as I go along.
“Mixing,” in this case, is not the same as “stirring”—the way I eat this, there is very little if any water in the bowl (usually none). So to mix, I usually scoop up whatever is at the bottom of the bowl and then place it on top. Then I might spread the peanut butter around a bit with the bottom of my spoon. I repeat this process a number of times (I assure you it’s not that labor intensive. It’s just a spoon, dog).
I promise: as long as you mix it well, you don’t need to add any sort of sweetener for this to taste good—not even cinnamon. Seriously. You get fruit, nuts, yummy seeds, and peanut butter in every bite. How tasty is that?
Occasionally I have a small, grain-less version of this recipe with only 1 type of fruit (usually blueberries). That is just as delicious, if not more so than the grainy version. So, if you’re on a grain-free kick, this recipe still may serve you.
Money and Caloric Considerations
If you’re a little tight on cash, as I have been lately, hemp seeds are the first thing you will omit; after that, nuts (aside from, perhaps, peanuts). Pumpkin seeds are cheaper than nuts yet appear to have a similar macronutrient content (high fat and protein). After that, replace pumpkin seeds with sunflower seeds. Use rice, oats, and maybe millet (depending on price)—quinoa, teff, and amaranth are a little more pricy.
Just recognize that the more high-fat foods you cut out of this, the more you’ll grain you’ll end up wanting. Well, and peanut butter. If I could only keep two ingredients of this recipe, it would be rice and peanut butter.
I eat this “cereal” bowl almost every day, and it is the source of the majority of my calories, so I like to load it up with a lot of peanut butter and rice. If you’re trying to safely cut calories for whatever outrageous reason, you can give the grain-less version a try.
As a relatively small long-distance runner I can’t say I have much of a need to cut calories: I just try not to be ridiculous about how much I eat. To me it’s more important that I eat healthily. I’m no weight-loss guru, but I think if people focused on eating healthily rather than on just eating less, they would have better, more sustainable results.
I’ve never seen anyone else eat anything like this, but I can’t imagine they wouldn’t enjoy it. Perhaps there’s a stigma in our culture against eating too many different foods at once. Or people think something has to be pre-packaged to be convenient and good-tasting. But this really doesn’t take that long to make, nor is it not-tasty.
Among raw vegans there is indeed an idea that mono-meals (eating only one food at a meal, such as lots of peaches) are indeed healthier than throwing back a bunch of different foods at once. Somehow, I have a feeling there is merit to that, though I haven’t tried it myself. Perhaps that’s the next challenge/advancement on my list… For now, though, I stick to the variety.
I should mention that I usually eat this “cereal” bowl after a big plate of mostly-raw vegetables with beans, hummus, and avocado (again, I usually eat most of my calories at one meal). I feel that eating vegetables first makes this bowl that much more enjoyable. It’s not that I dislike vegetables—I think they’re delicious. It may just be the contrast in taste, or the fact that I get some decent nourishment first.
Whatever the case, just keep the lack of vegetables in this bowl in mind. Get some of those in your day, will ya?
Perhaps I’ll take some pictures or even a video the next time I make dinner. The bowl is truly an aesthetic creation: to look at the beauty that is a completed cereal bowl is deeply gratifying.
Maybe I’ll even make time estimates and measure things, just to pretty up this recipe with some numbers. We shall see.
Now, do yourself a favor and go have a healthy, delicious meal. :)