Last month, in the midst of all the rain, I found myself pining for comfort food and decided to host a couple of Nordic porridge-themed pop-up brunches. At first, ticket sales were considerably slower than usual, maybe because the word porridge just isn’t all that tantalizing. Many people associate porridge with thick and sticky gruel that seems more fitting for hanging wallpaper than actual consumption.
However, the porridges I was introduced to and learned to cook while living in Copenhagen were completely unlike the instant oatmeal paper packets I’d grown up eating in Ohio. Scandinavian porridges are in a league of their own because they feature a wonderful combination of grains and a variety of fresh and seasonal toppings.
The Scandi methodology behind a good bowl of porridge is pretty simple and is based on a medley of two or more grains, one whole, and the other a flake, like oatmeal. The whole grains give the porridge its bulk, and the flakes add creaminess.
Because whole grains require more cooking time, I wait to add the flakes until the grains are tender. Water works perfectly well as the sole cooking liquid, though sometimes I’ll substitute a portion with some milk for a richer flavor.
Once the flakes have cooked through, I add a dash of salt and a knob of butter. Citrus zest, a leftover scraped vanilla pod, a mashed banana or a handful of almond flour are some of the things I might stir into a sweet porridge, just as I would finish a savory porridge with some fresh baby spinach, grated cheese or a handful of chopped fresh herbs. It’s these stir-ins in particular, that help boost flavor and ward off the threat of bowl boredom.
And then there are the toppings. The key is to keep things simple by selecting two or three no-to-low-prep ingredients. For example, topping off each bowl with thinly sliced fruits or vegetables, like pear, carrot, fennel or radish, not only adds flavor but also a bit of texture for crunch. Nuts and seeds do their share of lifting a weighty porridge, too. And for creaminess, a spoonful of a quality nut butter or ripe avocado can work wonders. When it comes to savory porridges, a runny egg, flaked smoked fish or crispy lardons never disappoint.
Last week, excited by the debut of local rhubarb at the farmers market, I sliced a bunch of stalks on the bias and dried them in the oven. The next morning we enjoyed one of my favorite porridges made with millet, amaranth and oats topped with the dried rhubarb, sliced strawberries and tarragon sugar. Needless to say, there were no leftovers, and my only thought was: instant oatmeal packets, go home. Print
For the dried rhubarb
- 5 ounces rhubarb, ends trimmed
For the porridge
- 1 quart water
- 5 ounces whole millet
- 1 ounce amaranth
- 3½ ounces old-fashioned rolled oats
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 8 ounces strawberries, washed
- 6 ounces whole milk
For the tarragon sugar
- 2 ounces sugar
- ½ bunch tarragon (or mint), stems removed
- Preheat oven to 200°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut rhubarb in 1/8” slices on the bias and arrange closely (but not overlapping) on baking sheets. Bake for approximately 1 hour, until the slices are completely dry and crisp. Cool completely. (Can be made ahead and kept in airtight container for up to 1 week.)
- Make the porridge. In a medium saucepan bring water to a boil. Rinse millet in cold water and stir into boiling water together with amaranth. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until grains are tender, about 20 minutes. (The porridge can be made and cooled in advance to save time in the morning.)
- Stir in the oats and continue to simmer until soft, about 10 minutes. Add additional water, if needed.
- Stir in salt and butter.
- Meanwhile, combine sugar and tarragon in food processor and pulse until sugar turns green. Set aside.
- Cut strawberries into ¼” slices.
- Divide the porridge between four bowls. Top with strawberries and about 1 tablespoon of dried rhubarb per bowl (leftover rhubarb is delicious in muffins!).
- Sprinkle tarragon sugar over each bowl and serve immediately with a small pitcher of milk on the side.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Category: porridge
- Cuisine: Scandanavian
- Serving Size: 4