Balancing breakfast

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Sybil Kapoor on balancing time and expediency when it comes to making breakfast

Words: Sybil Kapoor

In a world filled with advice on healthy eating, I often end up irritated by the media’s barrage of dos and don’ts. In fact, being of a contrary nature, I frequently feel like doing the exact opposite to what I am being told. As a result, over the years I’ve evolved my own common sense code of healthy eating, namely to eat simply and in moderation.

If you are like-minded, read on, if not, this might not be for you. I’m not going to recommend you eat something because it’s a superfood, nor am I going to tell you to watch your calories. We all know that to lose weight successfully depends on eating less and exercising more, just as we all know that preventing weight gain is finding the right balance of food and lifestyle.

Instead, over the next three months, I’m going to explore how to live in an enjoyable, healthy way by cooking and eating simply, starting with breakfast, moving on to quick evening meals, then easy weekend food.

Guiding principles
Since this is the way I live and eat, I should explain that one of my guiding principles is to buy relatively unprocessed foods. In other words, I don’t buy ready-made muesli, but I do buy organic rolled oats.

My policy is not based on any scientific knowledge; instead it has slowly developed as a result of my feeling so much better when I eat less processed food. It allows me to control my sugar, salt and fat intake naturally and avoid a wide variety of additives. However, as in all things in life, a balance has to be found between time and expediency.

Breakfast allows me to have a quiet, happy moment at the beginning of each day. There is a sense of decadence in being able to sit and enjoy it with my family, yet it’s very easy to organise food that is quick to make, thereby giving time to gently savour it.

Dense dark rye bread
The wonderful thing about breakfast dishes is that there are no firm rules as to what to serve or how to make them—you can vary everything to your own taste. You could eat dense dark rye bread with some finely sliced cheese or ham, or you could, like me, breakfast on homemade muesli or fruit compote. During the working week, they can be pulled from the cupboard or fridge in seconds, enabling you to linger over your meal.

At this time of year, I tend to make compotes from apples, pears or forced rhubarb. Dipping into a bowl of poached rhubarb and (frozen) raspberries (added at the end of cooking), topped with a spoonful of natural Greek yoghurt or fromage frais and a sprinkling of oats is my idea of breakfast heaven.

Bramley apples taste wonderful simmered with blueberries (fresh or dried), or cooked with dried cherries, cranberries, raisins or sultanas. Sweeten to taste with sugar at the end of cooking, as the other fruit will add some sweetness.

Re-train your palate
Remember that something eaten straight from the fridge will taste less sweet than when you sample it hot or tepid. Also, it worth’s noting that the less sweet food you consume, the more sweetness you will perceive in food, so if you have a sweet tooth, you can re-train your palate by gradually under-sweetening your food.

Pears have a more delicate flavour, so I simmer lemon zest and juice in a little water and sugar, flavoured with black peppercorns or cinnamon, before adding my peeled, cored and roughly diced pears. Depending of my mood, I might add peeled, cored and diced dessert apples or once the pears are almost cooked, some frozen mixed summer berries.

Once cooked, fruit compotes will easily last for four or five days if stored covered in the fridge. I tend to make them in the evening or at the weekend. Dry muesli mixes will keep for several weeks in a sealed container. If you prefer eating them pre-soaked, simply measure out your portions and soak with your chosen liquid then keep covered overnight in the fridge.

Fruit, nuts and seeds
Much has been written on muesli mixes and there is an infinite variety of recipes. In Britain, they tend to be made with rolled oats. Jumbo rolled oats have less flavour than normal rolled oats. You can add any combination of dried fruit, nuts and seeds.

My current favourite is chopped prunes, dried apples, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, but I also love freshly grated apple stirred into rolled oats and soaked overnight in milk or thinned buttermilk, before adding some diced banana, almonds and dried blueberries the following morning. You can even pre-chop the dry ingredients to speed up your morning preparations.

At weekends, when I have more time, I indulge in cooked breakfasts that can range from porridge made with medium or rough cut oats, to bacon butties. This has the added benefit of minimising breakfast boredom.

My porridge, cooked with salt and soft mineral water, is gently cooked for 20 minutes while I savour my coffee and chat, then I serve it with a splash of organic double cream and depending on who is eating, soft muscovado sugar or roughly ground sea salt. It needs nothing else.

Winter favourite
Once in a while, I can’t resist serving kippers, baked in foil with a pat of butter. The foil helps minimise lingering kipper smells. Another winter favourite is griddled or grilled flat mushrooms eaten with crisp bacon and grilled tomatoes. It’s surprisingly filling.

If we’re heading out on a long walk, I love starting the day with warm buttered baps filled with crispy bacon and served with cherry tomatoes. Bread freezes well and baps can be defrosted and warmed in the oven while I fry the bacon in sunflower oil.

I always keep some artisan sourdough breads that I’ve pre-sliced in the freezer for when we feel like toast. It can be toasted from frozen and is gorgeous eaten with scrambled eggs, especially if a little smoked salmon is stirred in at the last moment. However, sometimes, it’s just good to eat some unsalted buttered toast with a little honey or homemade marmalade.

After all, happiness, along with moderation and common sense, is one of the keys to staying healthy.