When it comes to food, I probably have fewer “mainstays” than most people. Sure, I have my favorites, but you’re more likely to find me whipping up a one-time-only creation from the scraps in my refrigerator than making “Monday night meatloaf” or some such weekly regular.
I’ve always wanted to be that person. Known for a dish. Talked about in social circles. (“You’ve simply got to try Jen’s famous butternut squash lasagne…”) But I’m not, and I’ve come to terms with that. You’ll rarely find me making anything twice, let alone committing it to memory.
Except for a few special standouts, which brings me to this post. Meet my new obsession: Bircher muesli. Straight outta Switzerland, my new breakfast staple came to me by way of the chic city of Melbourne Australia, where I got to travel for work last month to sit in cafes and wax poetic about soaked oatmeal. Sort of.
Before Melbourne, I was only vaguely aware of this strange mixture that, to my uneducated palate, was basically just un-crunchified granola. We did eat a chocolate chunk enhanced version of it by the handfuls when I was living and working in West Africa but it quickly faded from my memory. I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I saw it again in health food stores, packaged up in cute little bags. I’d read somewhere that you should soak it in juice (really? cereal and juice?), but passed it off as an odd, old-world habit.
Foolish, foolish me.
After trying it again in Australia, where it’s offered on every breakfast menu from upscale bistro to underground cafe, I was hooked. The texture was soft and fluffy, yet stick-to-your-ribs hefty. Toppings included everything from stewed fruit to banana and macadamia nuts. The possibilities were endless. One thing this was not was “just cold oatmeal.” This stuff is in a class by itself–so much so that in Australia, the granola we think of here goes by the name “toasted muesli.” I found that funny for some reason.
Muesli was introduced around 1900 by the Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner for patients in his hospital. I figure if it was good enough for a doc, it’s good enough for this breakfast-loving triathlete who needs a nutritious start to her day. And it’s quickly making a move on coffee as the number one thing to look forward to during a 6 a.m. swim. I’ve surprised myself by how many consecutive mornings I’ve been able to eat this stuff. And enjoyed it. A lot.
Preparing Bircher muesli is as easy as toasting bread or pouring cereal, if not easier. Let me introduce you…
Step 1: Procure some raw muesli. Above is my current favorite, the bulk Hot European Cereal from Sprouts’ market. (*update: see my review of Muesli Fusion here.) I love it because it includes dates and raisins that get all puffed up when you soak them, as well as almonds and sunflower seeds for extra protein and good fats. (The mix doubles as a base for homemade granola too.) Bob’s Red Mill makes a pre-packaged version, or you can make your own from bulk food store ingredients. In a pinch, plain old-fashioned oats will work just fine too.
Step 2: Soak the mixture in half the amount of liquid. Here, I used 2 cups of muesli, and one cup of apple juice. I’m still experimenting with the best combinations, and have some other juices on hand to try soon. (It’s always best to air on the dry side, as you can add more yogurt in the morning.)
Step 3: See how easy this is? You don’t even have to stir. Just put a lid on it and shake! Heartily stir in about 1/3 cup of plain yogurt (Greek-style will make it too pasty), then pop the mixture in the fridge overnight.
Step 4: The next morning, take out what you want (I usually make about two days’ worth at a time), and check it for consistency. If it’s too dry, mix in some more yogurt or milk. Some recipes call for grated apple to be added here too, but I usually skip that step in the interest of time.
Step 5: Top with your favorite toppings. I make a big jar of toasted coconut, dried cranberries, pepitas, flaxseeds, and almonds and keep it around for a quick topping.
And for those of you who need a more traditional recipe, here you go:
2 cups bulk dry muesli (ie: Sprouts’ bulk Hot European Cereal mixture) or old-fashioned rolled oats **update: if you want a real treat, use one of Muesli Fusion’s mixes, which I reviewed here.
1 cup liquid (try low-fat milk, natural apple juice, or a mixture of the two to discover your perfect creamy/sweet ratio)
1/3 – ½ cup low-fat plain yogurt (not Greek)
½ an apple, grated (optional)
coconut flakes, slivered almonds, and/or hazelnuts, toasted
raisins and/or dried cranberries
stewed or fresh fruit
apple butter or maple syrup for extra sweetness
granola (what the Aussie’s call “toasted muesli”)
pluma moos (fruit compote)
- Mix the dry muesli mix or rolled oats with the cup of liquid and the yogurt. Let sit overnight in the fridge or on the counter if you don’t want it really cold.
- In the morning, stir in more yogurt to achieve the desired consistency. Many recipes call for the addition of grated apple. Try it if you have time but it’s by no means essential.
- Top with your favorite toppings and enjoy!