Swiss summertime cereal

Growing up in Washington DC, I never heard of muesli. I ate it often in Paris, where it was prominent among the cereals, even in small grocery stores.

meusli 88 good  (photo credit: )
meusli 88 good
(photo credit: )
I am not a celebrity chaser and yet I was delighted to meet Bob Moore and his wife, Charlee, at the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim, California. Anyone who frequents natural foods stores in the US would recognize him as the founder of Bob's Red Mill, renowned for bringing whole grains to the American public. A favorite of mine among their products is muesli, a cereal that's perfect for summer. During the hot-weather season, people don't feel like preparing whole grains because many of them take long to cook. Although oatmeal cooks quickly, a bowl of steaming oatmeal is not so enticing on a hot day. Muesli is the answer. Classic muesli, made of oats, nuts and dried fruit, requires no cooking at all. This cereal, which you mix with milk and eat cold, was invented around 1900 by a Swiss doctor, Maximilian Bircher-Benner, who believed in the healing power of a diet rich in grains, raw fruits and vegetables rather than meat; this was considered a revolutionary idea in Europe at the time. His recipe called for oats soaked in water, grated apple, lemon juice, cream and an optional topping of nuts. Growing up in Washington DC, I never heard of muesli. I ate it often in Paris, where it was prominent among the cereals, even in small grocery stores. In the US, as in Israel, it is available in natural foods stores and some supermarkets, but you have to look for it. At the expo I discussed the different attitudes toward muesli with Dennis Gilliam of Bob's Red Mill, who noted that Europeans have over 20 kinds of muesli to choose from. He feels that Americans don't eat it often, out of habit. "People are used to Corn Flakes," he said, and speculated that maybe they want the crunch. "Besides," he added, "many Americans do not keep plain yogurt in their refrigerator." He likes his muesli with yogurt. Didi Emmons, author of Vegetarian Planet, admitted that "Muesli may seem like a strange breakfast cereal at first, since it's quite different from crispy, light packaged cereals, and it takes some chewing prowess." But like Emmons, I love it because of the different textures of the dried fruit, oatmeal and nuts. The muesli from Bob's Red Mill is an enhanced version made with five different rolled grains - oats, wheat, rye, triticale (a high protein wheat-rye hybrid) and barley, as well as almonds, date crumbles, raisins, sunflower seeds, walnuts and omega-3-rich flax meal. To make it at home, Gilliam noted that you can take the same rolled oats that you ordinarily use for oatmeal and simply add nuts and dried fruit. He recommends soaking the mixture in yogurt, fruit juice or milk for 5 to 10 minutes or overnight. Actually, my husband and I like to mix muesli with cold milk and eat it without soaking it, but this depends on the thickness of your rolled oats and your personal taste. Granola resembles muesli, but for granola the ingredients are toasted, and so muesli is easier to make. Many nutritionists prefer muesli because it tends to be lower in sugar and fat; granola often contains honey or sugar and oil. Proponents of raw foods believe that muesli is more healthful because heating food kills valuable nutrients. Although muesli is a simple dish, it is found on hotel menus, especially in Europe. When it's served in a goblet and topped with fresh berries, it feels like a luxurious breakfast. Some chefs pamper their guests by crowning muesli with sweet whipped cream, but that turns it into dessert and defeats the purpose of eating muesli as a healthy breakfast. Oats are one of the 12 healthiest foods, according to Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook. She explains: "No matter how old you are, you need to eat your oatmeal or some form of oats, because they provide fiber that lowers blood cholesterol levels and thus reduces the risk of heart disease... By eating a big bowlful you'll bank a good portion of your day's fiber first thing in the morning." Chef Margaret Fox, author of Morning Food, prefers unsweetened muesli but suggests adding a little maple syrup if necessary. She soaks the oats in apple juice (which provides natural sweetness) and flavors the muesli with vanilla. She serves it topped with bananas, berries or peaches, as well as yogurt and toasted almonds. For best flavor, Jacobi recommends using fine quality oats. With them she mixes sliced almonds, oat bran, sunflower seeds, dates, dried figs, whole wheat flake cereal, shredded apples and low-fat plain yogurt. Besides breakfast, she finds muesli is a good snack. We agree! To entice kids to eat oatmeal, Jacobi developed a drinkable muesli "that tastes like a bowl of cinnamon oatmeal." After soaking oats, raisins, walnuts and flax seeds in vanilla soy milk, she whirls the mixture in a blender with applesauce, cinnamon and ice cubes. The refreshing result resembles a smoothie - no wonder kids love it! MUESLI WITH ALMONDS, RAISINS AND FRESH FRUIT You can make the dry muesli mixture in quantity; it keeps about two months in an airtight container at room temperature. Muesli tastes best with dried and fresh fruit. Use any fruit you like - peaches, berries, bananas, grated apples, pears, grapes, orange segments, kiwi or pineapple. If you vary the fruit, the nuts and the liquid used to moisten the muesli, you'll come up with as many variations as there are boxed cereals, and your breakfasts will be more natural and healthful. 1⁄4 cup rolled oats 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped almonds, pecans or hazelnuts 2 Tbsp. raisins or diced dates or dried figs 1 to 2 Tbsp. diced dried apricots (optional) 1 to 2 teaspoons flax seed meal about 1⁄2 cup milk, soy milk or yogurt, or more to taste Sliced peaches, banana, berries or other fruit Mix oats with almonds, raisins, apricots and flax meal. Add milk; if you like, cover, refrigerate and soak 10 to 15 minutes or overnight. At serving time, top with fresh fruit. Makes 1 serving. Faye Levy is the author of Feast from the Mideast.