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Porridge brings to mind images of nursery and boarding school stodge: glutinous oats, either too lumpy or too watery, with little seasoning barring salt or sugar. But thankfully that’s not the case anymore.
Porridge is now a versatile vehicle for a riot of flavours, colours and textures; and oats are no more the standard. Quinoa, barley and ancient grains now prop up steaming bowlfuls that are topped with stewed fruit, roasted and pickled vegetables and dollops of Greek yogurt.
There’s also a food movement that’s embracing millets, especially Indian varieties like ragi and bajra. Naturally gluten-free and low on the Glycemic Index (a measure of how slowly or quickly a food spikes blood sugar levels), millets are great for diabetics and the gluten-sensitive. Plus, they’re a great source of fibre, protein and minerals; great for our immunity, something we can’t afford to take for granted during a pandemic.
Our contributors—with different cooking styles and dietary requirements—share porridge recipes that are perfect for the monsoon, when mornings swing from damp and grey to sunny and bright.
Barnyard ambali tadka by Chef Anjali Ramaswamy
Gurgaon-based Anjali Ramaswamy is a chef, food stylist, food consultant and researcher. She started out working in commercial kitchens with the Taj Group and went on to run her own restaurants before pivoting to TV. (She was on 3 seasons of MasterChef India as their food head and judged a Malayalam cooking reality show called Dhe Chef.) And now, she’s working on a book.
Anjali’s food philosophy is low-key: keep it simple, fresh and local. After being diagnosed as diabetic, Anjali had to make lifestyle changes and was introduced to millets by her mother, Lata. Now, it’s a staple on her plate. She’s reversed her diabetes and helped dozens of other diabetics with her millet-centric recipes.
“Ambali is a gluten-free, probiotic fermented porridge that is an excellent breakfast option. In fact, I believe it's better than overnight oats. It's brilliant for diabetics, weight loss, gut health, hormonal balance and what not. It can be made with any of the millets available to us—foxtail, barnyard, kodo, browntop, ragi. I have made it with millet grains, you may even make it with rava (semolina),” says Chef Anjali.
• 25 g Barnyard millet
• 250 ml water
• 2 tbsp thick yoghurt from A2 cow’s milk
• 2 green chillies
• 1/2 tsp roasted garlic
• 4 pieces walnuts
• 1 stem curry leaves
• Salt to taste
• A pinch red chilli powder
• A pinch roasted cumin powder
• A pinch asafoetida
• 1 tsp coconut oil
Preparing the Ambali:
Assembling the Ambali tadka bowl:
Chef Anjali says: “Remember never to add anything hot to the Ambali. By doing so, you will kill the good bacteria created due to fermentation."
Fermented millet porridge with vegan caramel by Simy Matthew
Simy is a self-taught cook whose love for food is truly international: she grew up in Dubai, has travelled the world, and now calls Belgrade home, where she is the CXO of an international relocations company.
The move to the Serbian capital was a challenge since many Indian spices aren’t available—so she started making authentic Indian food with locally available produce and meat. She began cooking for Indian expats and word spread. Now, in addition to her full-time job, Simy curates Indian menus, trains chefs in Indian cuisine and holds pop-ups in Belgrade, under Simy’s Curry Tales.
She’s also appeared on multiple television shows. A season on Dhe Chef—the same cooking show Chef Anjali judged—helped Simy hone her culinary skills. A diabetic, she was introduced to millets by Chef Anjali and now eats them regularly to keep sugar levels in check.
“My philosophy is: everything in moderation. I cook almost on a daily basis with millets as I am diabetic and have switched from rice and roti to millets during the week—and on the weekend I indulge, in moderation of course!” says Simy.
Ingredients: Fermented millet
Simy says: “Do not use the microwave to reheat or you will lose the nutrients, just take it out of the fridge and bring to room temperature.”
• Heat the coconut milk.
• Add fermented millet and mix till both are combined.
• Add honey to taste and a pinch of salt.
• Cool to room temperature and store in the fridge.
Ingredients: Vegan Caramel
• 1/2 cup coconut sugar or jaggery
• 3/4 cup coconut milk
• 1 tsp vanilla essence
• A pinch salt
• Melt coconut sugar or jaggery in a pan. Keep stirring and ensure it does not burn.
• Add coconut milk and mix until well combined and a sauce is formed.
• Add vanilla essence and salt.
• Take off the flame. Store in glass jars in the fridge. It will thicken as it cools. If it is too runny, add a small teaspoon of cornstarch.
Put the fermented millet into a bowl. Pour spoonfuls of caramel over the millet porridge, garnish with nuts or fruits of choice and enjoy as a delicious healthy breakfast or even dessert!
Sweet ragi kanji by Sumi Subbu
Sumi Subbu is a YouTuber based out of Toronto and shares Indian recipes that are naturally vegan and gluten-free. She draws inspiration from her mother and grandmother—women who have cooked for and fed thousands of people at spiritual events and charities and continue to do so. The aesthetic of her videos matches the food she prepares: simple and soothing with bold colours and flavours!
She started cooking at 17 when she moved to Toronto from Bahrain, which is also when she developed food sensitivities. Born and raised vegetarian, she embraced veganism to take care of her gut. She experienced the power of native vegan and gluten-free foods from her childhood that took care of her health and helped the planet—and there’s been no looking back.
Ragi porridge is a popular weaning food for babies, especially in South India but here, Sumi alters it for the adult palate with warming spices and a variety of garnishes.
“Ragi by itself does not look very inviting but this recipe goes to show you can brighten up anything with a little extra effort. This dish can also be viewed as the monsoon/winter alternative to a smoothie bowl using traditional Indian ingredients— the ragi bowl!” says Sumi.
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