For many of us, porridge is more of a concept than an actual dish – one that exists within the imaginary backdrops of fairy tales, nursery rhymes and childhood adventure stories. It’s the wholesome breakfast of choice for Goldilocks and the three bears; for Oliver Twist, it’s the base for a sad, watered-down dish known as “gruel” – a name so very fitting for the lumpy gray matter. As a kid, this split left me wondering whether porridge could be a source of nutrition and comfort, and simultaneously a vehicle for cruel and unusual punishment. Yet neither of these possibilities help to clear up the real question – what, exactly, is porridge? And how does it differ, if it all, from oatmeal?
Rest easy, because we have answers: Oatmeal, it turns out, is a type of porridge, and although the two terms are often used interchangeably, not all porridge is made from oats. In fact, a porridge is any hot cereal made from a variety of grains, vegetables and even some legumes. (Remember the nursery rhyme, “Peas Porridge Hot”?). Cream of wheat, steel-cut oats and polenta? Yup – all have the potential to become porridge.
In a new phenomenon to grip the food world, frumpy-sounding dishes of yore are refreshed with new looks fit for even the trendiest Instagram profiles. We’ve seen modern twists on deviled eggs, shepherd’s pie, even shrubs – sweet-tart fruit beverages that date back to Colonial America, which now crop up as an ingredient on swanky bar menus across the country. Now, porridge is having its renaissance – and some of the new iterations we’re seeing are quite enticing. If you’re loyal to your morning meal, consider one of these newfangled takes on the nursery-rhyme classic, from cheesy breakfast polenta to bountiful barley bowls studded with dried fruit and nuts.
This small pearly grain has probably made numerous appearances on your dinner plate, but we’re highly in favor of this new morning makeover (pictured at top). Couscous is stirred and fluffed with the help of hot milk and maple syrup, then it’s topped with chopped pecans, fresh strawberries and a dollop of cool yogurt, for protein.
Barley, cornmeal and steel-cut oats create the base for this overnight porridge laced with cinnamon and vanilla. Try topping your bowl with a mixture of fruit and nuts. We happen to love dried cranberries and pistachios!
Yes, chia are technically seeds, but plump them up with a bit of milk (in this case, coconut milk) and they take on a wonderfully chewy, grainlike texture. This version from Food Network Kitchen is fortified with coconut flakes and diced fruit for extra fiber and a touch of sweetness.
Breakfast polenta has been popping up on bougie brunch menus for some time now, which inspired us to make our own. This ultra-savory version is amped up with grated Fontina, juicy crushed tomatoes and a couple of cheerful sunny-side-up eggs.
If you dislike the “mushy” texture of oatmeal but haven’t yet given up on breakfast bowls, then this Mexican-inspired breakfast quinoa topped with avocado, salsa and cilantro just might hit the spot.
Wild Rice, Farina and Then Some
Rice for breakfast? You bet. The sturdy texture and nutty flavor of wild rice makes it the poster child for a hearty breakfast porridge. Fortify the base by adding steel-cut oats, barley or farro, and farina or wheat cereal to your rice cooker, along with orange peel, cinnamon and brown sugar. We’re certain that fairy tale porridge never tasted this good.
Consider yourself a porridge connoisseur? What are your favorite grains to use? How about toppings? Weigh in below in the comments section!