(or, as Monty Python gang used to say, “And Now for Something Completely Different” — a minor break from my usual CS/Java writing)
Background: dissing my ethnic food roots
Over time, a few colleagues and friends in US have asked me about Finnish cuisine: what is it like, what are the good dishes etc. I have tended to answer along the lines of the (in)famous Churchill’s quote on Royal Navy (“rum and sodomy”), suggesting that Finnish food tradition consists mostly of variations meat and potatoes with a strong undercurrent of underseasoning.
While there is some truth to that quip, I have grown to realize over time that there are many things from my heritage that I do appreciate, like, and pine for. Even the ascetic, bare nature of many dishes — due to lack of natural riches in the northern latitudes; mostly having time for slow bake — feels like a good counterbalance for sometimes overbearing complexity of other dishes.
Over time I have slowly started expanding my cooking repertoire to contain more traditional Finnish cooking: both for my own sake, and to help my children learn bit more about their heritage, above and beyond what they get to observe on our biennial trips to visit grandparents (besides, one quirk of Finnish hospitality is that there is the tendency to offer latest fashionable new things [generally from Mediterranean cuisine] as delicacies — and not so much traditional domestic fare).
Good stuff from Finnish Kitchen
Now, while there are many categories of food items that I would consider quintessentially Finnish, I feel that grain/cereal groups — baked goods (in particular breads) and porridges — are probably the biggest thing I actually miss.
While I really miss the sour rye bread (see, f.ex this post or this) — as well as all lighter varieties of oat and barley-flour based breads! (believe it or not but oat/carrot bread is delicious) — those are not necessarily easy things to start with, so I have not experimented that much with bread making (my wife has, with reasonably results… but she can write her own blogs if she so chooses :) ).
But porridges are dead easy to prepare. They are also cheap to make; very few, inexpensive ingredients. And if that wasn’t enough, they are quite healthy (unless you have specific health problems with cereals included) — typically considered an essential part of classic Finnish breakfast.
And, once you acquire the taste, they are even tasty.
So, let’s have a look at one easy, healthy, tasty — but for some reason, somewhat forgotten even in Finland — porridge: Uuniohrapuuro (literally “Ovenbarleyporridge” but probably idiomatically “Baked Barley Porridge”).
This is the thing I most often make for Sunday morning family breakfasts.
Uuniohrapuuro a la Cowtowncoder
Ok, first the disclaimer: you can find the recipe for “uuniohrapuuro” easily (f.ex, here, in Finnish, or here in English [but this one has timing kind of off[)— there are 2 basic variants depending on baking time — and this is not really “my” recipe in that sense. But of ones I have tried, this seems to work well and so I can vouch for it at least. :)
When I say that the ingredient list is simple, I mean it. Minimally, you need:
- Pearl Barley (I use Bob’s Pearl Barley)
- Salt to taste
although even more fundamentally, it’s just pearl barley and liquid that is absolutely required: fat and salt are for additional flavor. :)
- 2 dl (bit over 3/4 cups) of Pearl Barley
- 1 liter (about 1 quart) of Full-fat Milk (may use fat-free, or replace half with water; and non-fairy alternatives work as well)
- 3 tablespoons of butter (1 for greasing the oven pan; 2 [optional] for porridge) — salted or unsalted
- (optional) half (0.5) teaspoon of salt (or omit if you used 2 tbsp of salted butter) — start with this, may reduce/increase based on personal taste preferences
With these ingredients, surely the steps must be complicated and demanding?
No such luck. Here is the most complicated version I can think of:
- (optional) Soak pearl barely in cold water for up to 1 hour
- Grease an oven container (usually a round glass or ceramic oven pan, but anything works: shape and material changes baking time and consistency slightly) with 2 tbsp of butter
- Pour in the milk, pearl barley
- Put in oven for desired time (surprise! there are 2 variants here!)
- Once done, serve as is or — more commonly — with jam (raspberry works well) or sugar (cinnamon/sugar is our children’s favorite) or with a bit of butter on top
On step (4), we have two basic options: overnight or “fast food”. Since porridges are traditional breakfast dishes in Finland, overnight variant is my favorite, but both work. So, either:
- Bake overnight (8 hours) at 100 degrees Celsius (210–220F)
- Bake for 2 hours at 175C (350F)
And either way, it should “Just Work”.
More Porridges From Finland
Any cereal there is can probably be made into a porridge. Some more noteworthy ones that I might write about are:
- Riisipuuro (rice porridge): traditional Christmas-time treat — milk-based, eaten with sugar/cinnamon.
- Mannapuuro (cream of wheat): if made on condensed milk, the absolute favorite of my children — but can be sickly sweet
- Kaurapuuro (oatmeal): healthy with tons of fiber but while easy to make in some form, is unfortunately quite easy to make into inedible glue/gruel form — but when done right, delicious with bit of butter (for example) or any fruit/berry jam
- Tattaripuuro (buckwheat porridge): similar to pearl barley, buckwheat has slightly nutty taste. I have yet to master this one but intend to
- Puolukkavispipuuro (whipped Lingonberry porridge): !!! Yes, kid you not. Actually a sort of cross between Cream of Wheat and lingonberry jam. See this recipe, for example. Many variations to use, f.ex, redcurrant, or any other berry common to Finland (a detour: Lingonberry, along with blueberry, can be considered super food and is highly valued in Finland, despite its highly acidic/sour taste)
… and there is even a whole another category of porridge-like, more liquidy “velli” alternatives (for which I could not find english translation).
But enough for today.