Food can take on many different personalities. Everyday Food. Celebration Food. Breakfast food. And sadly but necessary “Sick Food”. Growing up in the Caribbean there is one food that seemed to capture almost all of the above qualities– a good, hot, steaming, bowl of Porridge. I remember a fellow Caribbean friend using the word “Porridge” instead of cereal, and an American friend of her’s laughed at the foreignness of the sound. She said, “Porridge? What are you in an orphanage!” I guess (hilariously) the word for her conjured images of gruel and desperation!
But to a sick, hungry, or even an everyday healthy Caribbean person, this word is synonymous with comfort, care, and nourishment. Every morning, my mother would encourage us to “eat something hot in the morning.” It was important to her that we started our day with something warm and sustaining. Soda or juices never began the day. A cup of tea and a bowl of porridge began many childhood mornings.
This week, I was excruciatingly reminded of how much I needed this kind of strength building after saying goodbye to my last set of wisdom teeth. Somehow the body knows when even those parts of us that are considered “unnecessary” are missing. The aching and throbbing of those lost teeth were only semi-retired after eating a soft, welcoming bowl of porridge. Spiced with my favorite familiar flavors, vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and simmered in a luscious homemade coconut milk. I also added one bay leaf for its grassy and almost medicinal undertones. This mourning/morning food easily became my go-to recuperation meal.
On the island, there are many variations of a good bowl of porridge. It can be made from a variety of grains or root vegetables including cassava, tapioca, cornmeal, farina, or oatmeal. For this recipe, I chose to use my favorite– Semolina. It is similar in taste and texture to the better known version Cream of Wheat (which is also made from a type of semolina).
This recipe yields a thinner porridge. If you like your porridge thicker you can always decrease some of the liquid to your taste. Also, these flavorings are easily adapted to the use of the more common cornmeal porridge or “cornmeal pop” as we grew up calling it. Either way, it is a great way to start a power day!
1/4 Cup Finely Ground Semolina
1 1/2 Cup Water (Divided)
1/2 Cup Coconut Milk (See: Coconut Milk)
Pinch of Salt
Sugar or Honey to Taste
1 Bay Leaf
1/8 teaspoon of Cinnamon
A Few Dashes of freshly grated Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon of Almond Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla
In a small container place the semolina and 1/2 cup of the water and mix to ensure that there are no lumps.
Boil the remaining water with the salt, sugar, bay leaf, nutmeg, cinnamon, and spices until the sugar is dissolved. I always prefer to add the extracts at the end, to keep as much of its flavor as possible especially since I only use real extracts. Imitation extracts may be cheaper to buy but you always know that you are eating something synthesized. Use the real stuff!
Pour the semolina and water mixture into the boiling water, and whisk vigorously to ensure there are no lumps.
Simmer it for about 10 minutes, whisking and stirring frequently.
Add the coconut milk and continue whisking for about another two minutes or so.
Adjust the sweetness to taste at this point. I usually just swirl a bit of honey or black strap molasses.
Grab a spoon. Feel the healing. And Enjoy!