Saturday
Jun092012

A Recipe for Muesli 

Loving the Swiss

As you’ve likely heard, the beautiful wife is half-Swiss.  The tricky part for me is to figure out just which parts are Swiss.  For example, she’s on the petite side, as the Swiss often are, so give that a check.  On the other hand, while she loves the mountains she doesn’t like to climb them, so that’s a mix.  One thing is uniquely Swiss—she defends her views without getting into wars.   She also loves chocolate, so her mouth must be Swiss.  But now that I think about it, I’ve never heard her yodel.

What brought Switzerland to mind was a blog comment several months ago from Julie, a girl we knew in her youth, now living in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Look here for a typical dinner menu.) I went back and reread her impressions about the Swiss, world leaders in longevity:

“I was blown away how health conscious the Swiss are . . . fast food is almost nonexistent . . . sugar just isn’t a staple in their diet . . . desserts aren’t even sweetened.  They eat little meat . . . and meat is outrageously expensive (boneless chicken @ $15/lb).”

Bircher Muesli

Well, their approach to health is just one more reason I find the Swiss endearing.  Which, because I was looking for a recipe with grains, brings us to their breakfast cereal, muesli.  Muesli is an uncooked mixture of oats, fruits, nuts, and seeds.  Dr. Maximilian Bircher-Benner (1867-1939), a Swiss nutrition reformer a century ago, invented muesli for patients in his health clinic. 

Dr. Bircher-Benner lived before science had much to say about nutrition, which saved him a lot of confusion.  But he observed the hardy vitality of those who lived in the Alps and ate traditional foods, including dairy foods, rye and oats, wild berries, summer vegetables, with occasional meat.  The native diet led him to invent Bircher muesli.  He also convinced his followers to eschew meat and white breads in favor of fresh vegetables, fruit, nuts, preferably uncooked. 

I found this original recipe for Bircher muesli:

Ingredients:

  • 1 T rolled oats, soaked in 2–3 T water, or apple juice
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1 T  cream
  • 1 apple, preferably a sour variety, finely grated
  • 1 T ground hazelnuts

Directions:

Soak oats in water or apple juice for 2-8 hours.  Before breakfast, combine lemon juice and cream.  Stir in oats, grated apple, and top hazelnuts. 

A Muesli Recipe

I also found a box of imported Familia Swiss Muesli at the local health food store.  It was a little expensive by the box; however, because it’s dense, it’s cheaper per ounce than many packaged cereals.  I liked the taste but it violated our more-fiber-than-sugar rule (14 gm sugar; 4 gm fiber), so I wanted my own recipe. 

Traditional recipes often include rye flakes (a grain common to Switzerland’s difficult terrain) with the oats.  I decided to stick with oats plus flax seeds, to add some omega-3 fat.  (If you soak overnight, the flax seed is soft enough to eat whole, but you can also grind fresh at the time of use.)  Likewise, older Swiss recipes use hazelnuts but I substituted chopped almonds, more common here and rich in vitamin E.  Many add vanilla and a dash of cinnamon.  Fruit typically includes apples and currants in season or dried fruits in winter. 

Because the juice of local fruits is often used with Swiss muesli instead of milk, we tried four forms of liquid, all soaked overnight in the refrigerator.  Test #1 used water, the most common method for oatmeal; #2 used milk, #3 had apple juice, and #4 followed the Bircher recipe of cream with lemon juice, a sort of yogurt.  Before breakfast we added grated apples, raisins and dried mango pieces, and sliced almonds. 

Everyone makes their oatmeal with water but the beautiful wife preferred #2 and #3; #4 was too tart.  I liked them all but I especially liked how muesli is another way to avoid the cost (as well as the sugar and chemical additives) of packaged cereals. 

Skip’s Swiss Muesli (feeds 2 adults)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C rolled oats
  • 2 T flax seed
  • 1 C water, milk, or natural juice
  • 1 apple, grated
  • ¼ C fresh berries, or 2 T raisins or dried fruit
  • 3 T chopped almonds, walnuts or pecans
  • 1 T coconut flakes (optional)
  • Dash of vanilla (1/8 tsp)
  • A shake of cinnamon

Directions: 

  1. Soak oats and flaxseed with liquid; use the refrigerator if milk.
  2. In the morning add grated apple, berries or chopped fruit, nuts, optional coconut, and spices.
  3. Voila—you’ve got a healthy breakfast full of whole grain, fruits, and nuts, with lots of natural fiber and no added sugar.  Stir, add milk, cream, or juice, and serve.

The End of Packaged Cereal

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (1852-1943) was the American equivalent of Dr. Bircher-Benner.  A century ago they were comrades-at-arms in the opening battles of the nutrition reformation.  Kellogg partnered with his brother Will to invent a healthier breakfast cereal, but they broke up over a critical nutrition issue—whether to improve sales by adding sugar.  John left the business and Will’s company became the sugary breakfast behemoth of our day—the Kellogg Company. 

Did I say behemoth?  I should have said dinosaur.  With the Breakfast Compote, our first recipe, and Skip’s Swiss Muesli we now have two healthy options for starting your day.  There are still a few cereals that meet our health rule—more-fiber-than-sugar—but 95% of the packaged cereals are a toxic use of grains and will go the way of the dinosaur in the food reformation.

This morning I read an article on PBS about rampant tooth decay in the villages of El Salvador.  The native foods I remember from living there have been replaced, it turns out, by Food Inc’s products.  They’re drinking soda instead of water, and eating packaged candy and chips instead of mom's tortillas with frijoles.  We’ll come back to this question in a future post—how did the Swiss discover healthy foods while the Salvadorians lost their food traditions?  Forget about the wars that rage—the loss of food traditions is the tragedy of our time.

Please comment:  Share your favorite healthy breakfast.

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Reader Comments (9)

Great post! I have loved cereal for years and dare say I was even addicted to it! When I would get asked what my favorite food was I would answer cereal. Thankfully I've broken the habit.
Now my morning meal is almost your exact recipe, depending what I have on hand. One other difference is that I add about a tablespoon of whey when I soak it overnight. It makes the oats easier for the body to digest and is also a probiotic.
I also make this for my babies breakfast: oats, flax, whey, cinammon and bananas or apples.
My husband often makes us what he calls Kale Eggs for breakfast. Kale sautéed with onions added to a couple of eggs, scrambled, then a touch of cream cheese added for creaminess.

June 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDee

Dee, you get it. Where do you get your whey?

June 9, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

Thanks, Skip! That little encouragement from you gives me the boost I need to keep going. I'm doing the best that I can for my little family but it's often overwhelming.

I get whey from the yogurt that I make (from raw milk and easy enough that I can do it...which means its easy!) The whey keeps for about 6 months in the fridge. I soak beans in it and add it into smoothies for a little probiotic punch. It's also great to add to your compost pile!

June 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDee

Great post. Thanks for the little shout out ;) I love muesli. And with that said, I was never a cereal lover. Now it's a breakfast staple, mixed with yogurt. . A German friend of mine just moved to the states and was disappointed to find out most yogurts have gelatin and pectins and no live culturals, whereas here its just live culturals and milk. And a big disappoint was also no muesli on the isles ;). Your recipe sounds great. I'm coming your way for a visit, I can bring a few of my favorite kinds of muesli if your wife is missing that Swiss taste. I can include chocolate too. ;)

June 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

We love homemade granola, green smoothies, homemade whole grain toast, steel cut oats oatmeal and breakfast burritos at breakfast time. We switch it up. The eggs for breakfast burritos are a way to use up any produce in the fridge: onions, peppers, celery, zucchini, tomatoes, garlic - it's all good. We sauté the veggies, then crack the eggs on top and scramble them.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJodi

I just had muesli for breakfast this morning. Like a previous poster, I mix mine with yogurt in a Ball jar the night before. It's a great on-the-go meal. My staple breakfast is a couple eggs with some type of veggie, either sautéed or raw. I also enjoy whole wheat, buckwheat, or quinoa pancakes with real maple syrup and berries on occasion.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

That was so interesting to learn the history of Muesli! I am as German as your wife is Swiss (well, almost...) The first time I ever ate Muesli was in the home of a dear couple in Northern Germany--on the North Sea. Our kind hostess served us the creamiest, most delicious breakfast dish with grapefruit mixed into it. At the time I had no idea what I was eating. I just knew I loved it! I spent YEARS trying to figure out exactly what I was served that morning. I finally discovered how to make it myself, thanks to a health-conscious friend who gave me some of her recipes. My friend's recipe is very similar to your recipe for Swiss Muesli! The oats are so light and fluffy when soaked overnight. I sometimes soak them in water and then mix a little yogurt in. And sometimes I soak them in an almond milk/water mixture. We vary our Muesli a lot (and we also love ours with grated apples) but my favorite kind is still grapefruit Muesli!

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

I know this is really late to the conversation but I just found Kashi 7 grain pilaf and I use it as a hot cereal! I always hated oatmeal growing up (and know I know why...we always got the instant packets with flavors...yucko). But I LOVE this cereal! it's got a nice texture that was missing with the instant stuff. I've also found I really enjoy homemade baked oatmeal (with a little less water than usual to make it drier) and I eat both with homemade apple or pear sauce and cinnamon dashed on top.

I still don't like hot cereal in the summer though...I'm going to try this! It would be a nice change from shredded wheat or bran flakes.

August 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGwen

We eliminated cereal from our diet nearly 3 years ago. It was challenging at first, but now we are used to it. I'll definitely be trying the muesli. I'll share a new-to-me oatmeal recipe that my entire family loves. Cooking the oatmeal in a crock pot makes this taste more like tapioca pudding for breakfast. 2 cups steel cut oats, 6 1/2 cups water, 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 cup cream. Combine all ingredients in a crock pot (use cooking spray or liner to prevent sticking) and cook on low 6-8 hours. We top ours with walnuts and a tiny bit of butter--but no sugar necessary with the cranberries. This is now a favorite in our home.

December 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDebbie

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