I once met a monk who regularly breaks his fast with porridge—from a Spartan wooden bowl, no less. He remarked, with rare insight, “If anyone tells you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, then watch out. He’s probably selling cereal.”
A little investigation revealed that he was spot on. The hype around breakfast actually did spring from a marketing campaign for a breakfast cereal.
So is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Turns out, it is.
Studies show those who skip breakfast are exhausted by noon and perform terribly on memory tests. Those who eat breakfast on the other hand, have better overall nutrient consumption and cognitive function.
Our nutritionist at Pristine agrees, “It doesn’t have to be a big breakfast,” says she, “but do eat something within a few hours of waking up.”
Research supports her point of view, corroborating that protein early in the day helps ward off midday snack cravings.
What then is the best thing to eat for breakfast?
I went back to our nutritionist, “A combination of protein, whole grain and fruit,” was her response. “Mornings are great for a heart-healthy diet. Fibre from whole grains like millet help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and fuels us with the energy needed to kick-start the day.”
Sure enough, this study found that those who ate porridge and milk in the morning digested, burned and metabolized carbohydrates better than those who skipped breakfast.
Porridge – through thick and thin
Porridge is perhaps one of the world’s earliest cooked foods. Commonly made by crushing or grinding whole grain and boiling it in milk or water, it can be made tastier or healthier by adding various ingredients, ranging from sweet to spicy, exotic or wholesome. These may include sweeteners, spices, fruits, nuts, or even vegetables if you prefer a savoury porridge.
Interestingly, everyone has some traditional form of porridge handed down in the family. Don’t you?
Here are five super healthy porridge recipes (with accompanying stories) for you:
Broken wheat (dalia) porridge
“I want porridge!” she said, exasperated. “That’s all. I want porridge. The way my aunts used to make it on cold mornings. Warm and buttery, with rich toasted acorns in it.”
She closed her eyes and cupped her hands. She prayed and wished and imagined and begged. She tried to call up the feel of the wooden bowl in her hands: it warmed almost like flesh where the wood was thin and the heat of her fingers and the hot porridge mingled. She summoned the smell, a mix of dairy and things of the earth and the tall green grass and the woods. Sometimes there was even a dollop of honey on top.
The smell in her head was giving to a real scent in her nose now…
She smiled and opened her eyes.
In her hands was a cracked wooden bowl full of porridge, just like she remembered.”
Liz Braswell, Once upon a dream
My grandmother used to make broken wheat (daliya) porridge for us on cold winter mornings up in the hills. It’s easy to make, delicious and healthy.
Broken wheat porridge recipe: Roast broken wheat (dalia), cardamom, black pepper (whole) in pure ghee till a lovely odour emanates. Add water and pressure cook till done. Add milk and dry fruit if desired. Sweeten with jaggery.
“Nothing in this world is at it seems. Except, possibly, porridge.” Stephen Fry
Finger millet (ragi, nachni) is the go-to millet of the South. It can be used as is, or for an extra healthy boost, sprouted, dried, ground and used. Ragi is often a baby’s first weaning food. It’s eaten during pregnancy, while recuperating from any illness, mild or serious, and of course, it makes a great breakfast. Here then is the humble ragi porridge.
How to make ragi porridge: Put water on to boil. Meanwhile mix 2-2.5 tbsp of ragi malt, or ragi powder into some cold water, to remove lumps. Pour gently into the boiling water, stirring continuously. Let it simmer for a few minutes. Add a pinch of cardamom, milk is optional (regular, coconut or almond) and jaggery, as desired.
If you want it savoury, instead of cardamom, milk and jaggery, add buttermilk and temper with mustard seeds, urad dal, red chilli, and curry leaves. Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
A sweet variation: Whizz together ragi (whole grain) and water in a mixie, strain the milk, add coconut milk and cardamom.Simmer 5-7 minutes till it thickens. Sweeten with jaggery. Serve hot or cold.
Rice porridge (variously known as kanji, congee, jook, okayu)
“The next morning, I invited Celia over for a breakfast of congee with pickled cucumbers and shredded pork. The dried scallop and duck wings added an extra dimension of flavors to the plainness of the rice porridge. Crowned with delicate rings of spring onion and golden bits of fried garlic, the bowls of steaming porridge were comfort food. Our toppings of choice were crunchy pickled cucumbers and sweet shredded pork floss.”
Roselle Lim, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortunes
Light, warm and comforting, rice porridge is an all-time favourite across Asia. A popular breakfast food, you can serve it with endless variations and toppings.
How to make rice porridge: Short grain, starchy rice is preferred because it is the starch content that gives the congee its smooth, silken texture. Boil (or pressure cook) rice and water in the ratio 1:7. This can vary: add more water for a thinner consistency, less if you like it thicker. Also keep in mind that the longer you boil it, or the longer it sits, the thicker it gets, as it continues to absorb water.
- Use veg or meat stock to add both flavor and nutrition to your conjee
- Cook with milk if you want it sweet
- Get creative with toppings, even the addition of a simple umeboshi, pickled plum, so favoured by the Japanese, elevates the porridge recipes to gastronomic heights
- Other popular toppings/garnishes include finely shredded ginger, scallions, sesame oil and light soya sauce
Foxtail Millet Porridge
As she drank, she closed her eyes and tried to imagine she was drinking her grandmother’s porridge. What she wouldn’t give for a hot bowl of fish congee, sprinkled with green scallions and topped with a dollop of sesame oil!
Elizabeth Lim, Reflection
Millets are amongst the oldest cultivated grains (they are actually seeds, and thus get the green light for those fasting too). Healthy and healing, millets are attracting a lot of attention from gluten-free foodies these days. A huge part of Chinese culture, foxtail millet porridge is served in many areas as part of breakfast or as a soupy side with dinner.
How to make foxtail millet porridge: Cooking millet porridge is a no-brainer. Just boil millet with water in the ratio of 1:10. This can vary: add more water for a thinner consistency, less if you like it thicker. Add salt. Serve plain as a soup, with toppings of your choice, or accompanying the main course of meat or veggies.
See rice porridge toppings for garnishing suggestions.
“If I’m playing in the morning, I’ll get some carbs early: porridge with chopped banana. If I’m playing in the afternoon, I’ll start with less carbs and have some eggs and fruit for breakfast, then a light lunch about 90 minutes before I play, so I don’t feel sluggish or full.”
Rich in protein, this porridge, often known simply as a health mix, is found in many parts of the world. The recipe is flexible, depending on what is grown locally, but they are all essentially made from a variety of grains and pulses.
How to make multigrain porridge: Roast rice, wheat, gram, jowhar, maize, millet, groundnuts, cashew nuts, barley, ragi individually in a pan. Grind together into a coarse powder and store. To make, simply dissolve in water till there are no lumps, bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes.
Optional: Add almonds, sesame or flax seeds to the powder. Serve with chopped dates, raisins or jaggery for sweetness.
“Porridge fills the Englishman up, and prunes clear him out.” E. M. Forster
“No oat porridge,” said my friend with the wooden bowl firmly. One, because you probably already know how to cook it. Two, it’s time to support our own farmers and our own local grains. For a healthier breakfast, a healthier environment, and a healthier bottom-line for our farmers.