Vegan birchermuesli, inspired by Switzerland
The hardest thing about travelling for me is often breakfast. At home, I start my day with healthy whole foods: steel-cut oats, or a smoothie, sometimes whole-grain toast for nut butter. It’s not that I’m a health food puritan, but I find a sugary, carb-heavy breakfast makes me sleepy and hungry the rest of the day. On the road, especially at mid- and low-range US hotels (the kind that boast of their make-your-own-waffle stations, as though that means homemade), it can be hard to find anything good at all: the peanut butter has sugar, the yogurt has sugar (and no fat) and the eggs are inedible scrambled-from-a-carton, meaning if I want protein, I have to pack it in.
And then there’s Switzerland. On the one hand, every breakfast buffet features Nutella and white bread, which can be hard to resist. But on the other hand, you’ll usually find cheese, and full-fat yogurt, and – best of all – birchermuesli and toppings. (Breakfast at left from Hotel Dom in St Gallen.) A Swiss classic, birchermuesli is basically oats soaked overnight with grated apple, milk and yogurt, ending up with a super creamy cereal – a cold alternative to oatmeal, really – that can be dressed up to your taste. Also common at Swiss buffets is bowls of raw pumpkin and sunflower seeds, perfect to add crunch, flavour and nutrition to your morning oats. And at Swiss grocery stores (and, important for travellers, the Sprüngli at Zurich airport), you can grab delicious to-go birchermuesli from the yogurt section. The Sprüngli version has raspberries mixed in and possibly red currants, and tastes sweet enough that they must be adding at least a little sugar, but it’s perfect to have on the plane to sub in for whatever your airline likes to call a meal.
There are plenty of recipes online for creative takes on “overnight oats,” but I really wanted to recreate what I’d had in Switzerland. Unfortunately, my first few attempts were mediocre, making me suspect that the secret was fatty Swiss cream or something similar. And then, I found this Jamie Oliver video online and had an epiphany. It’s brilliant: he uses grated banana in his soaking mixture to add sweetness and creaminess. The following is a riff off of that recipe, a slightly tropical take on birchermuesli. Measurements are approximate – play with it!
1 cup slow-cook rolled oats (gluten-free if you roll that way)
1 apple, grated
1 banana, grated (best to use one that’s still fairly firm – not green, but not mushy)
1 – 2 cups almond milk, or other nut milk of your choice
2 – 3 tablespoons coconut milk (from a can)
1/3 cup leftover pulp from homemade nut milk (optional)
spices (vanilla powder, cinnamon, etc.) – optional (my almond milk has spices so I don’t add any here)
Mix all ingredients in a large Mason jar or other container. (The narrower the better to prevent browning.) Leave in fridge at least 4 – 5 hours or overnight. Serve topped with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, almonds, shredded coconut or toppings of your choice. (Thawed frozen raspberries are a nice option – throw some in the fridge the night before at the same time as you’re making the muesli.) Makes 2 – 3 servings, and will keep for a couple of days – if you’re making breakfast ahead, you can separate the mixture out into separate to-go containers for breakfast at or en route to work.
Oh, and here’s a gratuitous Switzerland photo, just to get your mind in vacation mode. I wrote about sledding in Switzerland for enRoute.