From Scratch: Hot Cereals

October 27, 2011

blueberry almond breakfast polenta sarah shatz
Photo by Sarah Shatz

Not just for the three bears, "porridge" is the generic name given to cereal grains cooked in water (or milk) to produce a warming, nourishing breakfast. While oatmeal is the most common hot breakfast grain, we love to experiment with the other grains in our pantry.

"Just Right"

As temperatures drop, a warm breakfast is what our bodies crave, but an elaborate, multi-pronged meal may not be in the cards.

  • All of our favorite porridges can be ready to eat in less than 40 minutes, all but a few of which are hands free. 
  • Hot cereals are made from whole grains, which are naturally more nutrient-dense and fiber-rich than foods made with refined grains.
  • Hot cereals are inexpensive, especially when you buy from the bulk bins.
  • So many of our favorite grains work for porridge: stone-ground cornmeal, pearled barley, amaranth, millet, and even rice.
  • Plus, cooking hot cereal in the morning gives us time to have our first cup of coffee.

The Game Plan

Make a big batch over the weekend and enjoy it all week. 

  • During the week, scoop out a portion, add a little water to the cooked grains, and gently reheat on low, stirring as needed. (You can also microwave it in a pinch.)

Soak hardier grains overnight.

  • Pre-soaked grains cook more quickly, are ultra creamy and easier to digest.
  • Add your grains to a saucepan and cover with cool water. The cereal can hang out on the stove at room temperature until morning. 
  • At breakfast time, add more water if needed (if the grains have absorbed all the water), and simmer until tender.

Try it toasted!


  • For a nuttier flavor, toast grains in a dry skillet over medium heat for a few minutes before adding water and simmering (this works especially well with millet).


Mix It Up

Making your own hot cereal means you are totally in charge -- no unpronounceable ingredients or brightly colored dinosaur eggs. Have fun experimenting with your favorite flavor combinations. Here some ideas for mix-ins:

  • Roasted apples or pears 
  • Sliced dried apricots or a speckling of currants
  • A splash of cream
  • A Greek yogurt swirl
  • Almond or soy milk
  • A sprinkling of cinnamon or grated nutmeg
  • A spoonful of homemade jam
  • Toasted pecans or walnuts
  • Maple syrup, agave, or honey
  • Peanut, almond, or cashew butter

The Porridge Ratio

Use these ratios for a perfect porridge every time -- just add a pinch of salt to the water before cooking.

Cereal Soaking Required?   Water   Cook Time  
1 cup rolled oats   No 2 cups 10 min
1/2 cup steel-cut oats (Irish oats)   Yes, overnight 2 cups 30 min
1/2 cup corn grits No 2 cups 5 min
1/2 cup amaranth No 1 1/2 cups   20-25 min  
1 cup pearled barley  No 2 1/2 cups 35-40 min
1/2 cup brown rice flour  No 2 cups 5 min
1 cup millet No 2 1/2 cups 30 min

Overnight Steel-Cut Oats with Almond Butter & Honey Overnight Miso Porridge
Photos by Sarah Shatz

Some of our favorite hot cereals and toppings:

Overnight Steel-Cut Oats with Almond Butter & Honey (pictured above, left)
Blueberry Almond Breakfast Polenta
Quinoa Porridge with Stewed Cinnamon Apples
Overnight Miso Porridge (pictured above, right)
Apple-Scented Breakfast Oatmeal and Buckwheat
Ginger Applesauce
Strawberry Riesling Jam

We'd love to see your cooking tips and serving suggestions for hot cereal -- add them in the comments section below or upload a recipe.

Like this post? Check out last week's From Scratch topic: Za'atar.

4 Comments Add a Comment
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    Kim of Mo'Betta says: I add pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg and walnuts to my oatmeal - it's delicious!

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    DebbieD says: I have a bowl of oatmeal every morning. I top it with a tablespoon each of ground flaxseed, wheat germ, and bee pollen, some cinnamon and a few drops of blue agave. I eat it with an egg white and spinach and or mushroom omlet and some berries.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    brooklynsabra says: I like adding a teaspoon or so of blackstrap molasses, which is full of iron and other important minerals. It sweetens things up, but is also healthy.

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »
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    KellyNormand says: I love hot oatmeal for breakfast and I used to buy the Instant Quaker Oatmeal in packets. That is until I started reading labels a few years ago. They are full of added sugar and salt. I read an article about how to create your own instant oatmeal packets and that’s how I started making my own. Over the years I have experimented with some different ingredients and flavors and this version is the very best I’ve found. My favorite way to eat it is with some sliced fresh banana … mmmmmmmm! It’s nutritious and delicious, it costs a fraction of what the individual packets costs, and it takes about 5 minutes to make enough for about a month! Check out the recipe on my blog:

    over 2 years ago Reply to this »

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