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Modern is an unlikely tag for porridge. Solid, comforting and stalwart sustenance in hard times, it feels old-fashioned. Modernity is all about exploration, using the past as a touchstone but turning the familiar upside down — a reflection of current tastes, but with a stylish twist. That's a lot of pressure for a humble bowl of cooked grains.

Historically, porridge is most often thought of as Scottish, made from oats or barley. The name probably harks back to the French word "potage" (meaning soup, or possibly referring to the pot it's cooked in). But hot cooked cereals made from rice or quinoa go back as far as 12,000 years in Asia. And not just eaten as breakfast food — creamy cooked grains appear at any point in the day.

So, what's old is new again and porridge can be trend-forward, robust and boldly flavored. The seemingly ever-expanding interest in returning to heirloom seeds and grains — whether dabbling at a paleo-style diet, eating gluten-free or just upping fiber in your diet — amplifies the timeliness of experimenting with less familiar ingredients.

Porridge can be as simple as rewarming leftover rice with milk or broth, then topping it with just about anything — from a spoonful of jam or spiced sugar to last night's roasted vegetables with a dab of curry paste or some chopped kimchi. It is defined by its soft texture — grains simmered with more liquid than you might otherwise use to make salads or pilafs.

To be intentional about porridge-making, pick the type of grain based on whether you want something quick-cooking or you're planning and cooking ahead. Minimally processed whole grains, like farro, rye berries, steel-cut oats or brown rice, need time to cook and are great prepared in advance, leisurely simmered on the stovetop or overnight in a slow cooker. If you have the time, soak wheat, triticale or rye berries in water overnight before cooking. Or pull out your Instant Pot or pressure cooker to expedite things. These whole grains will by nature have more texture and bite.

To keep things simple, choose quicker-cooking grains, such as rolled oats, cracked bulgur wheat, kasha (roasted buckwheat) or quinoa. Mix and match as you like, just plan to use a higher ratio of grain to liquid so the cooked texture becomes creamy and spoonable (1 cup of grain to 4 cups liquid is a good estimate, whether using water, broth, juice or even brewed tea). Grains vary in their moisture needs, so know you have the power to play with the amount of liquid you use. In the wintertime, especially in our region, grains tend to be drier and thirstier.

Whichever way you go, there is always flexibility in the amount of porridge you make. A recipe for four servings (generally using 1 cup uncooked grains) can be served up at once or refrigerated to be doled out over the course of a week.

Porridges can offer something for everyone, with textures to cover every occasion — a blank canvas for adding splashes of color and seductive flavors, taking the sting out of stodgy old hot cereal. They can be just enough to get you to lunch, be your lunch or become a tempting base for savory bowl suppers. My favorite bowl is multigrain and garnished with chopped avocado, smoky tomato salsa, shredded Parmesan and a soft-cooked egg — with lots of freshly ground pepper and a sprinkle of toasted cumin seed.

And for reluctant morning eaters who can't face American-style sweet cereals, a bowl of porridge dressed up with a drizzle of good olive oil, a swirl of nut butter or a sprinkle of grated salty cheese is just the ticket.

Tried-and-true tips

Bulk up: Tapping into bulk food bins is both a cost- and time-efficient way to stock up on your favorite porridge grains and stir-ins (think dried fruit, nuts, chia, flaxseed or hemp hearts). I like to fill up my ever-expanding collection of empty canning jars, labeling them with masking tape. Don't forget to note the purchase date to keep track of freshness. Some items (nuts and seeds) are best stored in the fridge or freezer.

Reliable resources: Since the bulk aisle doesn't always offer up specific storage and cooking directions for unfamiliar ingredients, check out the Oldways Whole Grains Council (, the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council ( or, which covers whole grains and what are called pseudo-grains (like quinoa, buckwheat, fonio or amaranth — which are actually seeds).

Low and slow: Cook grains on low heat, tightly covered. Start them with boiling liquid, but then slow things down. If you see steam seeping out from under the lid, reduce the heat.

Be watchful: Peek inside the pot often to check on the thickness of the porridge and to give it a good stir. Add more liquid as needed to reach your preferred thickness and grain tenderness.

Let it rest: Allow the porridge to rest for about 5 minutes, covered, once you think you're happy with the consistency. The cereal will finish cooking and thicken up a little more, making it easier to spoon out.

Chill out: Make a big batch of porridge to keep in the fridge for up to 5 days. Depending on the grain, you can reheat portions with some water, milk or broth. Or slice up firm porridge to sauté (like cornmeal mush or polenta) in a skillet and top with a stir-fry or pasta sauce.

For those who don’t like sweet breakfasts, Winter Solstice Porridge is for you.
For those who don’t like sweet breakfasts, Winter Solstice Porridge is for you.

Photo by Dennis Becker, food styling by Lisa Golden Schroeder

Winter Solstice Porridge

Serves 4.

The savoriness of these bowls speaks loudly to haters of sweet breakfasts, offering bolder, more satisfying tastes. And teaming up bulgur with oats results in a creamy porridge that has more bite. From Lisa Golden Schroeder.

• 1/2 c. uncooked red bulgur or freekeh

• 1/2 c. uncooked old-fashioned rolled oats

• 4 c. vegetable or reduced-sodium chicken broth

• 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

• 1/2 tsp. ground coriander

• 1/4 tsp. coarse salt

• Red pepper flakes to taste

• 1 c. multicolor cherry tomatoes, quartered

• 1 large ripe avocado, pitted, chopped

• 1/2 c. chopped smoked almonds

• 1/2 c. crumbled salty cheese (feta, cotija or aged goat cheese) or chopped pitted briny olives

• 2 c. mixed baby greens (kale, sorrel, mizuna, arugula)

• 1/3 c. prepared chimichurri sauce or salsa verde

• 4 fried eggs, optional


Mix the bulgur, oats, broth, cumin, coriander and salt in a large saucepan. Heat to boiling; reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring often, 15 to 20 minutes or until thick.

Spoon the porridge into bowls. Top with the tomatoes, avocado, almonds, cheese and some greens. Drizzle with chimichurri sauce. Top each both with an egg, if desired.

Multigrain hot cereals are easy to find in stores, but are even better when you make your own.
Multigrain hot cereals are easy to find in stores, but are even better when you make your own.

Photo Dennis Becker, styling by Lisa Golden Schroeder

Homespun Multigrain Porridge with Pan-Roasted Fruit

Serves 4.

Multigrain hot cereals are easy to find on the grocery shelf but mixing up your own takes no time — and you'll have the individual grains in your pantry for other uses. Millet, quinoa and amaranth are small but mighty nutrition-wise, high in protein, fiber and an abundance of antioxidants and minerals. Stir in a spoonful of ground flaxseed, chia or oat bran for even more fiber. From Lisa Golden Schroeder.

For the porridge:

• 1/3 c. uncooked millet, rinsed, drained well

• 1/3 c. uncooked tri-color quinoa, rinsed, drained well

• 1/3 c. uncooked amaranth

• 1 tsp. fennel seed

• 4 to 5 c. water

• 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

• 1/2 tsp. coarse salt

For the toppings:

• 1 tbsp. olive oil

• 2 c. chopped fresh pineapple or firm pear

• 2 large oranges or tangerines, zested and juiced

• 1/4 c. white balsamic vinegar

• Chopped dried figs or apricots, pistachios and fresh cilantro leaves, to taste

• Freshly ground pepper, to taste

• Milk of choice, to taste


In a large, dry skillet, toast the millet, quinoa, amaranth and fennel seed over medium-low heat for about 4 minutes, shaking the pan frequently, or until fragrant and the grains start to pop/skitter in the pan.

Meanwhile, bring 4 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan. Stir in the toasted grain mixture, ginger and salt.

Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 35 to 40 minutes, or until grains are tender and creamy. Add more water if needed. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes.

While the cereal is cooking, prepare the topping. Heat the oil in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pineapple; sauté 5 to 6 minutes or until starting to brown. Stir in orange juice, zest and vinegar. Cook a few minutes longer, or until syrupy.

Spoon the porridge into bowls. Top with the sautéed pineapple, some figs, pistachios and cilantro. Finish with a generous grind of pepper and a little milk if desired.

Lake Country Rice Porridge

Serves 4 to 6.

Look for hand-harvested wild rice that's been parched over a wood fire (this is the good stuff; expensive but worth the investment). Make this ahead and refrigerate for meals on demand. Store the cooked bacon pieces an airtight container. Reheat servings with your preferred milk. To make this vegetarian, just toast the grains in some olive oil. Oven-roasted chunks of butternut squash, tossed with some maple syrup, partner well with this porridge if you choose to make it a base for a heartier bowl meal. Note: You could substitute or mix with red jasmine or sprouted brown rice for the wild rice. From Lisa Golden Schroeder.

• 2 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2-in. pieces

• 3/4 c. uncooked wild rice (see Note)

• 1/3 c. uncooked pearl barley

• 6 cups water

• 3/4 tsp. coarse salt

• 2 tbsp. sunflower butter or your favorite nut butter

• 1/3 c. dried blueberries

• 1/3 c. toasted pine nuts or roasted and salted pepitas

• Maple sugar or syrup, to taste

• Milk of choice, to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a heavy, 3-quart oven-safe pan, cook bacon over medium-high heat until crisp. Scoop out the bacon pieces and drain on paper towels; reserve.

Add the wild rice and barley to the bacon fat in the casserole; sauté over medium heat about 5 minutes or until the barley starts to brown. Carefully stir in the water and salt. Bring to a boil; cover tightly and place in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the grains are very tender.

Remove casserole from the oven; stir in the sunflower butter until melted into the porridge.

Spoon the porridge into bowls. Sprinkle with the blueberries, pine nuts, bacon pieces, sugar and a splash of milk.

Lisa Golden Schroeder is a Minnesota freelance writer and food stylist.