Porridge has been around for thousands of years. Historically a dish enjoyed by the lower classes, porridge is a simple and inexpensive way to create a filling meal from very few ingredients. All porridges consist of grains, pulses, or vegetables cooked into a soft mush. Ancient Romans appreciated porridge because it allowed them to eat cereal grains like wheat without the need for grinding those grains. An early Roman recipe for porridge can be found in De Agricultura, or “On Agriculture,” a treatise on farm management written by by Cato the Elder (234-149 BCE):
Recipe for wheat pap: Pour 1/2 pound of clean wheat into a clean bowl, wash well, remove the husk thoroughly, and clean well. Pour into a pot with pure water and boil. When done, add milk slowly until it makes a thick cream.
During the Tang dynasty, the Northern Chinese survived on porridge made from millet and goat’s milk. In Central Europe during the 1800’s, porridge became popular with early vegetarians looking for nutritious meals without meat. In 17th century Romania, a porridge from cornmeal similar to polenta known as mamaliga became a staple in the Romanian Jewish diet. In the early 1900’s, the labouring classes of England called oat porridge “water pudding” and ate it for both breakfast and dinner. Countless other forms of porridge have surfaced throughout the centuries.
Today, we think of porridge as a hot breakfast dish made from oats, wheat, or ground corn. Modern oatmeal porridge is a descendant of the English dish called pottage, a simple meat stock thickened with oats and sometimes enriched with chunks of meat or vegetables. The Scottish enjoy their porridge oats unsweetened with salt, cream or buttermilk; the English started the tradition of sweetening porridge. Americans tend to like their porridge on the sweeter side.
The most common porridge in America is oatmeal, a family favorite in our home. My stepdaughter likes to eat oatmeal before bedtime, as a sort of late evening snack. She likes it the way her Abba (dad) makes it—sweetened with brown sugar and maple syrup. I developed this Quinoa Porridge with Maple and Brown Sugar as a more nutritious alternative to our usual oatmeal. Quinoa is a natural source of protein. Because it’s a seed and not a grain, it’s also completely gluten free, which is helpful to those who have trouble processing gluten. To make it dairy free/pareve, substitute a non-dairy milk; I’ve provided suggestions below. You can add raisins or fruit to the mix, if you’d like; dried fruits should be added 5 minutes before the end of cooking. Fresh fruit can be stirred in during the last minute of cooking till warmed through, or used as a topping. This is our new favorite porridge here on the homefront… it’s warm, creamy, comforting, and healthy. Enjoy!
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- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups milk, plus more for serving (pareve dairy-free milk subs below)
- 1/4 tsp salt (optional)
- 2 tbsp brown sugar, plus more for serving
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup chopped nuts (pecans, almonds, or walnuts - optional)
- Rinse the quinoa in a fine mesh sieve under running water for a few minutes. Shake gently to drain. Some brands of quinoa does not need this initial rinse-- the packaging should say if it is required or not. If you bought your quinoa from a bulk bin, go ahead and rinse to be safe. Rinsing gets rid of any residual natural bitterness on the quinoa seeds.
- In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, pour 2 cups of milk. Turn heat to medium. Stir constantly with a wooden spatula, wooden spoon, or whisk. Gently scrape the bottom of the pan periodically till the milk begins to bubble and simmer. This will take several minutes. Do not raise the temperature of the milk, and be patient-- trying to heat the milk too quickly will result in scorching.
- Once the milk simmers, pour in the drained quinoa and the salt; stir till combined with the milk. Allow the quinoa to come to a gentle boil. Cover the pan with the lid vented slightly and reduce heat to low. Let the quinoa cook at a low simmer for 10 minutes covered by the vented lid.
- Remove the lid of the pan. Stir in 2 tbsp brown sugar, maple syrup, and cinnamon.Recover the pan with the lid, vented again, and let the quinoa simmer on low for about 10 more minutes. Check and stir periodically till most of the liquid is absorbed and quinoa is tender. Reduce heat to low if quinoa appears to be simmering too quickly. Do not let the quinoa get overly dry or scorched; add additional milk if it becomes too dry before it's tender.
- When fully cooked, the porridge should have a consistency somewhere between oatmeal and cream of wheat. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
- Pour the cooked quinoa porridge into bowls; this recipe will make 4 small child servings or 2 large adult portions. Sprinkle on additional brown sugar, chopped nuts, and/or warm milk to taste.
Brears, Peter (1999). All The King’s Cooks – The Tudor Kitchens of King Henry VIII at Hampton Court Palace. Souvenir Press, London, England.
Davidson, Alan (1999). Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press, USA.
Meyer‐Renschhausen, Elisabeth (1991): The porridge debate: Grain, nutrition, and forgotten food preparation techniques, Food and Foodways: Explorations in the History and Culture of Human Nourishment, 5:1, 95-120
Trager, James (1995). The Food Chronology. Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York, NY.