Porridge – a word that conjures up visions of Oliver Twist’s gruel plopped into a bowl, fodder for the ailing or merely memories of steaming sticky slop your gran made with water and salt, which I have learnt is a usual Scottish memory (mine is very different, of course).

Either way, we probably do not give this humble bowl of comfort its due place. I have wonderful memories growing awaking to hot bowls of freshly made ‘dalia’ porridge (bulgar/broken wheat) topped with seasonal fruits either mango or guava in the summer or pomegranate in the winter – so far removed from the simple salted oat based porridge of Scotland.

It is surprising that people don’t realise that this high-fibre cereal can be used for so much more than just your quintessential breakfast offering. Its economical, said to be healthy and quick to cook (if using the rolled variety). I use it as a coating on homemade chicken nuggets for my daughter, to thicken up soups and stews, in baking and meatballs to help bind. There are so many options to enjoy oats now, granola, muesli and a myriad of toppings.

I personally favour organic oats/porridge, simply because this process is closer to the wild generic roots of growing oats, without the help of artificial farming methods, and most of all they are said to be resistant to common grain diseases.

Since late medieval times, oats have been a staple grain of Scotland, but their existence goes back many centuries, found mainly in Africa and the Middle East originally. Oats have been used for many hundreds of years as porridge in our country, but while thinking of porridge is merely the oat variety, there are many alternatives, and international ways people enjoy this cheap yet filling dish. Porridge isn’t always just made of oats, but can be made with millet, maize, sorghum, wheat, rice, barley and many other grains are used around the world to make porridge like dishes.

For example in Eastern Europe and Russia, Kasha is a delicious wholegrain buckwheat groats porridge that is eaten either savoury or sweet. Many South East Asian countries, especially China and Vietnam, love a piping hot bowl of savoury Congee which is a rice porridge in the morning, with added eggs, pork and sometimes seafood. Millet porridge is popular in the Middle East made with cumin and honey and Atole is a Mexian style corn based porridge. I grew up with the Quaker brand or merely the big bag we used to buy from the Army ration stores in Pakistan, which branded ‘Porridge Oats’, rather simply.

During research for my second cookbook, I was reminded of a local dessert, that was made in Pakistan called the Memons, and indeed here the humble oats were used to make a spiced sweet offering for wedding guests which I found rather appealing. Memon lappi is a great breakfast as well as a dessert and is made best using jaggery (sugar cane molasses) and spiced gently, giant rolled oats look best, and it’s a great one with summer berries.

Try it now, chilled, while the sun is still out.

Asian Image:

  • Memon lappi

Crunchy oats with jaggery, cinnamon and fennel seeds

225g/8 oz/1. cups jaggery or muscovado sugar, grated or cut into small pieces
400ml/14 fl oz/1 cups water
2 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter
2.5cm/1-inch cinnamon stick
3 cardamom pods, seeds removed
50g/1. oz/. cup jumbo oats
3 tsp fennel seeds, roughly crushed 
1 tsp slivered pistachios or flaked (slivered) almonds, to decorate
Preparation 10 minutes | Cooking 15 minutes | Serves 2

1 Begin by making the jaggery syrup. Heat the jaggery and water in a heavy-based saucepan until the jaggery is completely dissolved, then cook over a low heat for about 4–5 minutes until it is a slightly thick syrup. Turn off the heat and set aside.
2 Heat the ghee or butter in another saucepan over a medium heat, add the cinnamon stick and cardamom seeds, and when they start to sizzle, add the oats. Stir for about 1–2 minutes until the oats are coated with the ghee and there is a slight nutty smell.
3 Now add the jaggery syrup, stir and turn the heat down to its lowest setting. Cover the pan and leave to cook in its own steam for 2–4 minutes. Check to see if the jaggery syrup has been absorbed.
Once the jaggery syrup has been absorbed, add the crushed fennel seeds and stir. Cover and leave for 1 minute.
Serve warm with slivered pistachios or almonds and a sprinkle of fennel seeds.