I never was a cornflake girl, and as a kid I wasn’t a hot cereal girl. I blame my dad: To this day, he calls his porridge “mush.” (If you want to get little girls excited about eating hot breakfast cereal, I highly suggest a different name.) Beyond the name, I disliked the taste and texture—or rather, the lack of both. Dad’s porridge was always bland oats or wheat, ground finely enough or cooked long enough that “mush” was an appropriate title.
It wasn’t until I lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, that hot breakfast cereals became comfort food. Part of it was stepping off the train in early January into –23°F—weather that will make anyone eat anything hot. But mostly it was because Russians know how to make simple porridge taste good. It starts with a mix of grains, improving both flavor and texture. Adding butter to the saucepan before the grains lets them toast slightly. I then take the un-Russian step of adding spices.
1 cup rye flakes
1/2 cup thick-cut rolled oats
1/4 cup rolled wheat
1/4 cup barley flakes
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or Sweet Spice Mix
2 tablespoons honey or other sweetener to taste (optional)
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, swirling the pan to coat the bottom. Stir in the grains, letting them toast in the butter for about a minute before pouring in the milk and water. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 15–20 minutes, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the flakes are tender. Season with salt and spices. Divide into bowls; add 1/2 tablespoon of sweetener to each bowl, or to taste. Serves 4.
Tips & Tricks
- Although in English “kasha” is defined as “buckwheat,” the Russians I know use the word каша to describe porridge made from any, and usually a blend of, grains. They couldn’t imagine making it without butter, which I like for the toasty flavor, but it’s better to leave it out than use a butter substitute.
- Even though it takes little work to measure each type of grain into a pot of kasha, I keep a 10 times batch of blended grains in a large, airtight container to simplify the meal. I might use this blend for everything from granola to Rhubarb Crisp topping.
- You can swap out any of the listed grains for ones you prefer—including buckwheat flakes. If you’re gluten intolerant or celiac, try a blend of certified gluten-free rolled oats, buckwheat flakes, and rice flakes. Different grains cook at different speeds, so you may need to alter the cooking time to fit your chosen grains.
- I could never list all the options for sweetening kasha or any other hot cereal (see below). By changing it up, you can create a different bowl for every eater at every sitting. I usually spoon in fruit syrups, jam, and other sweet spreads. I’ll even stir in Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce and frozen or fresh fruit.
Twice as Tasty
A few years back, I needed to cook a hot cereal in advance for a crowd. I knew kasha would be less appealing the longer it sat, so I began researching other options and stumbled upon pearl barley. Although the bran has been removed, it still looks like a whole grain and holds its texture well for days after it’s been cooked.
I turn pearl barley into a simple single-grain porridge, so I prefer to spruce it up with other flavors and textures. This makes it ideal for a breakfast bar: set out a pot of plain pearl barley cereal, line up toppings, and let people build their own bowls. Sweetened nuts and dried fruit are my wintertime go-tos, but fresh fruit, fruit syrups and butters, and chia and flax seeds are ideal for the spread. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days and reheated.
Pearl Barley Cereal with Honeyed Nuts
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon honey (optional)
1 cup walnuts, pecans, and/or other nuts, chopped
2 tablespoons maple syrup (optional)
1/2 cup currants and/or dried cranberries
Rinse and drain the pearl barley. In a medium saucepan, bring the water to a boil, and then add the grain to the pan. Turn the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook for 45 minutes.
Spread the nuts on a baking tray; drizzle them with honey if desired, stirring to coat. Toast at 350°F for up to 10 minutes, until lightly brown. Remove the nuts from the oven and allow them to cool.
When barley is cooked, stir in the maple syrup, if desired, and dried fruit. Divide among bowls and top each with the sweetened nuts. Serves 4.
Tips & Tricks
- As with Russian Kasha, you’ll never run short of topping and sweetener options. With the softness of the pearled barley, I like the crunchiness and treat factor of honeyed nuts. Store extra sweetened nuts in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
- Presweetening the nuts is optional but delicious, and I rarely add other sweetener when I use this technique. If your honey is too thick, you can heat it slightly until it runs and easily coats the nuts. Sweetened or not, keep an eye on the nuts while toasting; they can burn quickly.
- When cooking for one, this cereal can be made ahead and stored in the fridge for about 3 days. To reheat, simply add a cup of cereal and 1/4 cup of milk to a saucepan; heat, stirring regularly, over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until hot.
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