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Perfect porridge: Four easy steps to nutritious and frugal oat porridge

With a little preparation (and fermentation if you are game) - a bowl of nutritious porridge can be made in minutes. Little eco footprints

A hint of cool weather has me enjoying a bowl of porridge most mornings. Porridge may seem a time consuming everyday breakfast choice. But with a little preparation (and fermentation if you are game) - a bowl of nutritious porridge can be made in minutes.

Choosing your oats can be confusing.

Oat groats 9on the left) and rolled oats (right). Little eco footprints

There's groats, steel cut, rolled, quick – and I hesitate to even mention them – quick sachets or instant.

Oat groats. Little eco footprints

All these options start out as groats – the least processed option.

  • Oat groats are whole oat grains that have had their husk removed and are typically lightly steamed to increase shelf life.
  • Steel cut oats are made by cutting groats into pieces. 
  • Rolled oats are made by rolling groats flat. They are also steamed, unless you roll your own.
  • Quick oats are similar to rolled oats – but have been rolled thinly.
  • Quick sachets or instant oats have been chopped fine, flattened, pre-cooked, and dehydrated.

So which to choose?

Stick to groats, steel-cut or rolled – and you'll have yourself a hearty, satisfying and nutritious bowl of porridge.

There's no need for the quick oats – as regular rolled oats cook just as quickly if you soak them overnight. 

Buy in bulk to save money and reduce packaging

I save money by buying our oats in bulk. I buy Australian-grown organic groats and rolled oats in 5kg bags. It sounds like a lot of oats – but they keep in the pantry well and it means I need to buy breakfast cereal only every few months.

At around 45 g of oats per serve, a bowl of organic oat porridge can cost as little as 20 cents. Or even less if you buy through a bulk-buying co-op.

Here's four steps to a perfect porridge

Step 1. Soak or ferment.

Soaking oats overnight. Little eco footprints

The night before, or a day or two before for a fully fermented porridge, measure out your oats and water. Combine in a thick based saucepan if only soaking overnight or a glass bowl or jar if fermenting for longer.

For groats and steel cut oats, add ¼ cup of oats and 1 cup of water per person.

For rolled oats, add ½ cup oats and 1 cup of water per person.

The longer you soak or ferment – the quicker your oats will cook and the creamier and more nutritious your porridge will be.

You can speed up fermentation by adding a dash of whey, spoonful of sourdough starter or milk kefir. But it works just fine without adding these cultures. 

Cover loosely with a clean tea-towel and leave at room temperature at least overnight and up to two days (or alternatively you can try the perpetual soured porridge pot method). 

Step 2. Add spices, dried fruit, nuts or seeds

My favourite mix is (per person) around 1\4 teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and ginger, one cardamom pod and a tablespoon each of sultanas and almonds.

The options are almost unlimited.

Add your favourite dried fruits (figs, dates, apricots, or apple), nuts (walnuts, hazel nuts, or bunya nuts) and seeds (sunflower, pepitas).

I add these extras prior to soaking/fermentation to soften the dried fruits, activate the nuts and seeds, and sweeten the cooking liquid – but they can also be added just before cooking. 

Fermenting rolled oars by soaking for a day or two. Little eco footprints.

Bubbling fermenting rolled oats. Little eco footprints.
Bubbling fermented oats and sultanas ready to be cooked into creamy porridge. 

Step 3. Cook.

Add more water if needed, and simmer on low heat, stirring regularly.

Duration depends on the type of oats you are using and duration of soaking.

Rolled oats will cook in a couple of minutes. Steel cut take around 10 minutes, and groats take up to 20-30 minutes. Their chewy wholesome texture is worth the wait. Steel cut oats and groats will benefit from a few minutes sitting on the bench before serving. 

Another option is to thermal cook your porridge overnight. This works particular well for groats. The night before, bring oats to the boil and then place in a thermal cooker (effectively a big insulated pot). They will be warm and cooked in the morning.

Insulated food jar porridge. Little eco footprints

Alternatively, you can do something similar for a single-serve of porridge using an insulated food jar. This is a great option if you have to race out the door to work. In the morning, bring your oats to a boil and then place in the insulated food jar. An hour or so later, your porridge will be warm and perfectly cooked. 

Step 4. Add toppings.

Nourishing oat porridge made with rolled oats soaked overnight and topped with tahini, yoghurt and honey. Little eco footprints

I top my porridge with tahini, yoghurt and honey.

Other healthy options include fresh fruit, stewed fruit, butter, ghee, cream, dairy or nut milks, molasses, maple syrup, or coconut flakes.

No two bowls of porridge ever need to be the same.

Originally published in the Newcastle Herald Monday 20th April 2015.

If you are interested in learning more about soaking or fermenting your grains, I highly recommend Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Wild Fermentation or the Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

Rhonda from Down to Earth recently wrote about soaking oats - and shared childhood recolections of soaking being common practice. Somewhere along the way we got impatient and decided to skip this important step.