February 24, 2008

Brain Food: Mexican Oatmeal Soup

Posted in dinner, recipe, soup at 2:35 am by veganalects

My room is a sty. I haven’t had clean socks in days. I have three loads of laundry, 150 pages of reading, and a fearsome paper to do this weekend. But there’s always dinner.

I pried myself out from under the crushing pile of obligations long enough to make said dinner, as dining hall vegan hot dogs seemed somehow less than appealing. Good meals to good think!

My mom sent me a veganized recipe from the New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook which she figured would be simple and quick enough for a college vegan to make. I had most of the ingredients on hand and a grocery store run covered the rest.

I further adapted my mom’s adaptation by adding spinach and cayenne to the recipe, so I figure it’s different enough from the original to reproduce here. Oatmeal soup sounded a little strange to me initially, but it was quite tasty. The oatmeal gives it a nice texture and substance, and, well, I always like spinach. I eat cayenne on everything these day; you probably should too. The soup was indeed fast enough for a busy college student to make. On a crusty dorm stove, to boot.

(Sort of) Mexican Oatmeal Soup
Serves Six…or one, with five days of leftovers!

1 1/3 cups rolled oats
4 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 medium (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes, or 2 large fresh tomatoes
6 cups vegetable broth*
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne (or more, to taste)
3-4 cups loosely packed spinach
black pepper, to taste

1. Toast the rolled oats in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until they are brown but not burned. Set them aside in a bowl.

2. Heat the oil in the skillet; add the onion and garlic and sauté briefly.

3. Add the tomatoes, broth, salt, cayenne, and oats. Simmer for 6 minutes over medium heat.

4. Add the spinach and stir in until wilted. Grind pepper liberally over soup and serve immediately.

*Because this soup is simple and barely spiced, the quality of the soup will depend largely on the quality of the vegetable broth. Homemade broth is ideal, but I know I don’t have time for that. Make sure the ingredients don’t include too many things that aren’t vegetables; you might need to try a few brands before you find one you like.



  1. Dad said,

    Wash your socks!

    I question whether putting cayenne on everything is such a great idea, aesthetically speaking. To my way of thinking, that will depend on whether the recipe has some mild, subtle flavors in it that make it distinctive. If so, wouldn’t the cayenne simply blot those flavors out and tend to make everything taste a little bit like everything else?

    Last week we chatted with someone who has just finished a book on the history of French food. She explained that what we think of nowadays as French cuisine is really post-medieval. In the middle ages, French cooking was really Italian (meaning Roman) cooking, simply because of the history of who had conquered whom. Roman cooking turns out to have had a lot in common with North Africa: many flavors, with lots of spices, blended together. Early modern French cooking – what we think of today as French food – broke with this tradition and developed a totally different aesthetic. It was based on the idea that every ingredient should have its own distinctive, recognizable, taste in the food. (Part of the reason that French cooking uses a lot of butter, our friend explained, is that butter brings out the flavors of other ingredients more strongly.) Allowing every ingredient’s flavor to express itself was more “natural.” The older, medieval, aesthetic was that blended flavors showed greater artistry – “natural”, instead of seeming like a praiseworthy thing, meant primitiveness. So the change in cooking styles really represented changed attitudes toward the natural. (That’s obviously not the whole story, but our author friend was keeping it simple in the retelling.)

    Anyway – my comment about cayenne is meant to suggest some sympathy toward the modern French idea that distinctive flavors shouldn’t be masked with spice.

  2. Rachel said,

    Hmm, interesting point. I see what you mean, but I don’t think cayenne has a very strong flavor–its heat stands out more than its taste. In this recipe the cayenne didn’t mask the flavors of the ingredients (I tried it with and without). As for “everything” else, that unfortunately means dining hall food, for which the spice rack is a godsend. In some dishes you want to taste every ingredient; in others you hope you won’t be able to. But either way, I don’t think cayenne (as opposed to, say, cumin, or for hot things, as opposed to vinegar-based hot sauce) is very disruptive.

  3. Hmm what a good idea, to put oatmeal in a savory dish :o)

  4. Lizzy said,

    A quick easy spicy soup with oatmeal? I will difinitely give that one a try!!! It looks great =)

  5. Anke said,

    this is a wonderful idea. I love oatmeal but I rarely have breakfast a home, the one meal I would use oatmeal for. porridge for dinner just doesn’t do the trick. but a hearty soup with oatmeal in it – that sounds enticing. plus it is a quick dish – an added bonus as I, too, am struggeling with the workload of business school and communting on top.

  6. KLC said,

    WHAT a great idea, I’ve often wondered in a desultory way about oatmeal as a soup thickener but never enough to really experiment. Kudos to your mom for sending recipes to college! Dining hall food — you never hear good things about it.

    I also second your comments about cayenne. It’s good for your heart and circulation, anyway.

  7. Kelley said,

    This recipe surprised me over 20 years ago when I first encountered it in the middle east. It’s served to break the Muslim fast at sundown every evening during the month of Ramadan, and I, who had never liked oatmeal as anything but a cookie, fell in love with it. When I got a hankering for it recently and tried to refresh my memory with an internet search, all I could find was “Mexican” oatmeal soup. The (non-vegan) recipes are identical, though, so I have to wonder if/when the culinary cultures crossed. Anyway, thanks for sharing! It was great to try it again, and it took the edge off a blustery winter day!

  8. Ibtisam said,

    To get the middle eastern soup recipes on the Internet, you have to type it in Arabic. There are lots of them 🙂
    شوربة الشوفان
    Oatmeal soup

  9. My mom (who is German) started me making this soup when I was young. In our case we brown the oatmeal. Then saute the garlic and onion. Now we add the broth, tourmic (sp? yellow spice), thyme, basil and parley. When it comes to a boil stir in two beaten eggs slowly. Cook for an additional 4 min. and enjoy.

    Your version sounds good too

  10. Helen Aguilar said,

    I received a copy of New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook as a wedding gift back in 1973. This was my favorite recipe. When we moved to Florida, it kind of took a place on the back shelf. Now that I am back up North, I got to thinking about this wonderful soup. Couldn’t believe my eyes when your version came up on Google.

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