Recipes reimagine porridge, hearty breakfast of childhood

Julie Van Rosendaal discovers there's more than one way to make a bowl of oatmeal or other grains taste delicious and fill you up.

Sweet, savoury, crunchy and creamy, oatmeal and its iterations are flexible favourites

Porridge is the breakfast food of all our childhoods, according to Calgary Eyeopener food columnist Julie Van Rosendaal. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Porridge is the breakfast of so many childhoods. It's quick, hearty, inexpensive and a staple of kitchen tables around the world.

You may have grown up on old-old-fashioned, steel-cut oatmeal or those little packets of instant oats, congee, Cream of Wheat, Sunny Boy or Red River, which is a combination of wheat, rye and flax. A lot of us either love it or hate it now, as a result.

While the term porridge may conjure images of oatmeal, it can refer to any number of grains: wheat, rye, barley, millet, rice or buckwheat. It's simmered and served soft or firm, sweet or savoury.

Congee, an Asian dish of rice boiled in stock, is savoury and comforting, with added ingredients ranging from shredded chicken or ground pork to scallions or crispy onions, fish sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, chilies and the like.

Game-changing recipe

When it comes to oats, simmered on the stove with some cinnamon, I come from the camp that prefers a less stodgy bowl with more distinct, chewy grains.

Robin, a Calgary Eyeopener listener, recently enlightened me to his oatmeal-making process, which was a game-changer.

He starts by browning the grains, seeds and nuts in a saucepan. He uses a blend of rolled oats and rolled barley, which has the same texture and flavour as oats, and adds any combination of nuts and seeds. He typically uses walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.

When everything is sufficiently browned, he adds the water, a dab of butter, a little salt, spices. Robin suggests thinly sliced ginger and a cinnamon stick, chopped apple and/or raisins.

Browning oats in a cast iron pan with various nuts and seeds before boiling adds flavour and texture, says Calgary Eyeopener food columnist Julie van Rosendaal. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

Cover and simmer until it's done, about 10 minutes. Do this without stirring, just as you would a pot of rice.

It's done when the grains are soft and have absorbed all the water.

When I did mine, I made it in the cast iron skillet that lives on my stovetop. By the time the grains, nuts and seeds had browned, which was quick with the large surface area of a skillet versus a saucepan, the heat of the pan made the added water come to a rollicking boil immediately.

The oats cooked through quickly and wound up like a soft, not sweet, granola that was delicious with milk and a drizzle of maple syrup. Robin's daughter upped the ante with sautéed apples, added at the end.


To make a bowl of savoury congee, aim for about ½ cup of short or medium-short grained rice added to six to eight cups of chicken stock. Simmer them together for a good hour or so, stirring often.

Congee is a type of porridge typically prepared in an array of savoury flavours. (Julie Van Rosendaal/CBC)

It will thicken as the rice softens and starts to split and fall apart. The texture is even softer and soupier than risotto. It can be seasoned in much the same way you might spice up an Asian-flavoured chicken soup: with ginger, spring onion, chilies, cilantro, shredded chicken or cooked ground pork, fish sauce —​ anything goes.

Porridge in all its forms is a quick, affordable and comforting way to stay warm this winter.

Hear more from Julie Van Rosendaal and her adventures making porridge:

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


Julie Van Rosendaal

Calgary Eyeopener's food guide

Julie Van Rosendaal talks about food trends, recipes and cooking tips on the Calgary Eyeopener every Tuesday at 8:20 a.m. MT. The best-selling cookbook author is a contributing food editor for the Globe and Mail, and writes for other publications across Canada.


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