Recipe: Finnish-Style Whole Grain Porridge

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Whole grain barley takes about 30 minutes to cook; whole rye can take upwards of two hours, since the grain is much tougher and absorbs more water. You can make a batch of the plain (dairyless) porridge a day or two before and store it covered in the fridge to heat each serving as you need it.

Serves 4 (makes about 3 cups)

    • 3 cups water for barley; 4 cups water for rye
    • 1 cup whole barley or rye
    • ¼ to ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
    • milk or half-and-half (figure ¼ cup per serving, 1 cup for a whole batch)
    • 2 to 3 teaspoons butter, or to taste
    • fruit preserves, maple syrup, or brown sugar (optional)

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Stir in the grain and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until it is tender and the liquid has evaporated, about 30 minutes for barley, about an hour and 45 minutes to two hours for rye, adding additional water as necessary. At this point, you can serve the grain as is, or with heavy cream, maple syrup, or honey—or butter, salt, and pepper.

Or, to make a creamy Finnish-style porridge, add milk or half-and-half. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and cook at a low boil, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is completely reduced and the grain looks very creamy, five to eight minutes. Stir in some butter and add salt, pepper and/or sweetener to taste.

To read Sally's post about how this porridge is characteristic of the unique flavors of Finnish cuisine, click here.

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Sally Schneider writes The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog about improvising as a daily practice. Her cookbook The Improvisational Cook is now out in paperback. More

Sally Schneider is the founder of The Improvised Life, a lifestyle blog that inspires you to devise, invent, create, make it up as you go along, from design and cooking to cultivating the creative spirit. It's been called a "zeitgeist-perfect website." She is a regular contributor to public radio's The Splendid Table and the author of the best-selling cookbooks The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook, which was recently named one of the best books of the decade by The Guardian. She has won numerous awards, including four James Beard awards, for her books and magazine writing.

Sally has worked as a journalist, editor, stylist, lecturer, restaurant chef, teacher, and small-space consultant, and once wrangled 600 live snails for the photographer Irving Penn. Her varied work has been the laboratory for the themes she writes and lectures about: improvising as an essential operating principle; cultivating resourcefulness and your inner artist; design, style, and food; and anything that is cost-effective, resourceful, and outside the box.
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