Two favorite breakfasts: Beans and toast, and Bircher muesli

Oct. 24, 2023
Beans and toast, left, alongside another breakfast of Bircher Muesli. Photo: Bill St. John, for UCHealth.
Beans and toast, left, alongside another breakfast of Bircher muesli. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

When I cook for myself, I count it honest to take my own advice. For example, I ate very well during the two-plus years of that relentless, isolating, spirit-sapping pandemic. Being put alone in my home, to my way of thinking, does not justify having someone else — especially Ma Stouffer or either of her sisters, Marie Callender and Sara Lee — cook for me.

As I continue to do now, I try to nourish myself each day with the best of my own cooking or even leftovers from it. (I am quite a fan of excellent leftovers.) Doing so both does my body well and just simply and happily lifts my soul.

More great tips and recipes from Bill St. John.

And, of course, to feed others well, at their family table or with guests at mine, appears to do the same for them. What a concept.

Recently, I brought over to a friend, isolated by a week’s illness and its attendant travail, one of my favorite breakfasts: two pieces of top-notch rye bread, lightly toasted, showered with unholy amounts of both salt and pepper, oozing my best Italian extra virgin olive oil, the double planks of toast slathered in a light beef broth that I had constructed some days before and topped with a handful of cannellini beans also cooked ahead and waiting to give up their deliciousness.

She loved it, ate a second bowl the next day and asked for the recipe. Why not share the recipe with you, too, as well as one other favorite breakfast? (My kitchen has a regular rotation of four favorite breakfasts, following yet another of my cooking counsels, “Never get bored or be boring.”)

Yes, for breakfast, beans and broth and toasted rye bread oozing olive oil. For the first meal of the day, we Americans can get rutted in mere eggs or cereal or smoothies. Many in other countries, though, eat as their first daily meal many of the sorts of foods that we save for later in the day — pho in Southeast Asia, for one example, or, for farmers everywhere, something very hearty in the dark of the morning. Makes sense to me as meals for this very important breaking of the overnight fast.

Bircher muesli, its origins at the turn of the 20th century, was the doing of a Swiss doctor, Maximilian Bircher-Benner, who believed in the salvific qualities of raw foods. My own recipe has evolved over several years to be based on plain whole milk yogurt well-sparked by citrus juices and orange rind zest. As a result, I’m able to tamper its tanginess with another favorite — and very healthful — everyday food: raw, unfiltered Colorado honey.

To fashion the Bircher muesli, you might adopt my habit of having on hand two 64-ounce tubs, one replete with yogurt newly bought, the second empty and ready. They split the work nicely, and you’ll have an ample supply of these long-lasting, refrigerated “overnight oats.”

It is uncommon for me to recommend a brand of foodstuff, but for the beans and toast recipe, I cannot help but heartily suggest what I have toasted for years: Denver’s Marczyk Fine Foods Jewish Rye. For me, it is spot-on “Goldilocks” rye bread: not too many caraway seeds, just enough; not too dense a crumb, just enough; no over-the-top rye scent or flavor, just enough.

Squiggles of honey tamper the tanginess of this version of “overnight oats” called Bircher Muesli. Photo: Bill St. John, for UCHealth
Squiggles of honey tamper the tanginess of this version of “overnight oats” called Bircher muesli. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

Bircher muesli

Good up to 10-12 days in the refrigerator. Makes 8-9 cups.


2 cups plain, whole grain rolled oats (not “instant” or “quick”)

4 tablespoons green or golden raisins

1 cup apple juice or cider

1 cup milk or half-and-half

1 apple, cut into small dice, skin-on

3/4 crushed nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, or the like)

3 cups plain whole milk yogurt

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/4 cup orange juice

Zest of 1 orange


Soak the oats and raisins in the apple juice overnight, refrigerated.

Add the remaining ingredients and mix very well. Serve or let ingredients blend flavors for an additional few hours.

If desired, top with squiggles of honey and additional fruit or fruit compote.

Variations: To make vegan, substitute plant-based milks and yogurt and, if averse to honey, use maple syrup. To make nut-free, substitute sunflower or pumpkin (pepitas) seeds. To serve warm: heat slowly in the microwave (covered) or small pot atop the stove. Other additions or substitutes: nut butters or tahini; dried chopped apricots, dates, cherries, blueberries or cranberries; applesauce.

Cannellini beans, beef broth and toasted rye bread — for breakfast, yes. Photo: Bill St. John, for UCHealth
Cannellini beans, beef broth and toasted rye bread — for breakfast? Yes. Photo by Bill St. John, for UCHealth.

Beans, Broth and Rye Toast

Makes 1 serving.


1 cup cooked white beans (or half a 15.5-ounce can white beans such as cannellini or Great Northern), with whatever water or cooking liquid comes along with the 1-cup measure of the beans.

1 1/2 cups beef, chicken, lamb or vegetable broth, preferably homemade.

2 slices Marczyk Fine Foods Jewish Rye bread, toasted to desired level.

1 1/2 tablespoons best-quality extra virgin olive oil.

1/4 teaspoon (or more, to taste) sea or kosher salt, large grain if desired.

Liberal grindings of black peppercorns.


Heat beans and broth in a small pot and, when warmed through, mash about 1/2 of the beans with a potato masher, heavy-wired whisk or the bottom of a wooden spoon or spatula.

Arrange the toasted bread in the bottom of a large (ideally preheated) bowl and top the toast with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spoon the beans and broth onto the toast and serve.

Reach Bill St. John at [email protected]

About the author

For more than 40 years, Bill St. John’s specialties have been as varied as they are cultured. He writes and teaches about restaurants, wine, food & wine, the history of the cuisines of several countries (France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, and the USA), about religion and its nexus with food, culture, history, or philosophy, and on books, travel, food writing, op-ed, and language.

Bill has lent (and lends) his subject matter expertise to such outlets as The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, The Chicago Tribune, 5280 Magazine, and for various entities such as food markets, wine shops, schools & hospitals, and, for its brief life, Microsoft’s In 2001 he was nominated for a James Beard Award in Journalism for his 12 years of writing for Wine & Spirits Magazine.

Bill's experience also includes teaching at Regis University and the University of Chicago and in classrooms of his own devising; working as on-air talent with Denver's KCNC-TV, where he scripted and presented a travel & lifestyle program called "Wine at 45"; a one-week stint as a Trappist monk; and offering his shoulder as a headrest for Julia Child for 20 minutes.

Bill has also visited 54 countries, 42 of the United States, and all 10 Canadian provinces.