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Goodbye, Granola 

In search of a warm breakfast

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Malaysians start their day with coconut rice wrapped in banana leaves. Egyptians prefer slow-cooked fava beans in olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. In Myanmar, the traditional breakfast is fried rice with peas, whereas a normal Japanese breakfast is also rice, but with fish and pickles. As this global snapshot attests, the act of breakfast, or breaking the fast after a night's sleep, appears to be universal, but the particulars are not.

Closer to home, we Americans favor bagels, cereals, yogurt, smoothies or eggs. None of these staples satisfies me. In fact, I take a perverse pride in not having eaten a standard American breakfast in years. Here are my problems with each:

Bagels (and their cousins: scones, muffins, other pastries). Too big, too doughy. In one of my rare smart decisions concerning food, I weaned myself from most bread around the turn of the millenium and have never looked back. It was not about gluten, by the way. Gluten and I aren't besties but we're on cordial terms. No, the problem with bread is once I start, I find it very, very hard to stop — which is not a great way to start the day.

Cereals, including granola. Too sweet, too fast. I know, I could make my own granola and omit any sweetener but it's also ephemeral — here one minute, gone the next. Yes, I'm familiar with the Buddhist concept of impermanence. All is transitory, all is fleeting — but still! I want my granola to last, and it's gone before I know it. I've found that a small amount of preparation makes the meal feel longer.

Yogurt. Too cold. If I lived in the tropics, I'd probably be happy eating yogurt every morning. But living in a cool climate, I want breakfast to warm me and get my motor humming. Cold foods make me want to crawl back under the covers.

Smoothies. Also cold. Plus, I don't want to drink my breakfast, even if it's thick and shake-like; it doesn't feel like a real meal. I want something solid, not baby food.

Eggs. They work for me once in awhile, but not every day. I used to have a Sunday morning tradition of eating out and I'd always faithfully order poached eggs on toast. But even once a week seems too much now. And I never liked the sticky sensation of yolk on my teeth.

So what's left? Anything? In search of a warm, solid, filling breakfast, somewhere in the last 15 years, I invented a concoction I call "Warm Bean Stew Salad."

This hot breakfast doesn't take much preparation, yet provides those good-for-you elements like protein, greens and roughage. I like the friendly assault of contrasting tastes: the sweetness of caramelized onions; the crunch of pecans; the umami pungency in the miso. The dish is so satisfying, but I often have a second helping. Even then, there's usually enough left over for tomorrow's breakfast.

Warm Bean Stew Salad

For the beans:

1 can of cannellini or small white beans

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, cut in half and thinly sliced

½ cup sliced carrot

½ cup sliced zucchini

¼ cup tomato sauce

¼ cup parsley (optional)

Dash of rosemary or thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a cast-iron frying pan. Add the sliced onions. Cook them slowly, turning frequently, until they are caramelized. Set aside.

In a saucepan, sauté the other tablespoon of olive oil, the carrot and zucchini for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the white beans, tomato sauce, parsley and seasonings.

For the salad:

1 cup spinach leaves

½ cup spring onions, chopped

5-6 white button mushrooms, sliced

4-5 cherry tomatoes, halved

¼ cup roasted pecans

For the salad dressing:

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

3 tablespoons yellow miso paste


Whisk the dressing ingredients together, adding water a tablespoon at a time to adjust the intensity to your taste.

Toss the salad ingredients and add a cup of the bean stew. Mix, drizzle with the dressing and enjoy.

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Louisa Rogers

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