Brown rice porridge: one cup of rice, four sweet and savoury meals

Ready, set, porridge

Ready, set, porridge

Since I started experimenting with savoury porridge using oats, I knew at some point I was going to bother to try a proper, hearty rice porridge too. It is a little tiny bit of bother in the sense that it takes quite a long time to be ready; on the other hand, it needs relatively little intervention other than a quick stir every so often, so I popped it on while working from home and my husband (also working from home; he takes the kitchen while I commandeer the living room) kindly checked on it every so often while I tapped feverishly at my keyboard.

It’s tempting to whisper the word ‘congee’ here, and this take is certainly a closer relative than oats; however, as I used the only wholegrain rice I had to hand – which was basmati – it’s still not in the immediate family. Also, plenty of people make congee with white rice. Still, the principle is the same: a slow(ish) cooked rice porridge which swells the grains way past what’s desirable in a normal bowl of rice, and makes the starchy liquid a thick soupy sauce. How runny you want to go is entirely up to you.

Lining up the toppings

Lining up the toppings

The ratio I used was 1 UK cup of rice to 6 parts water, plus a dash of salt; I brought it to the boil and then simmered on a low heat for an hour or so. It was running a bit dry sooner than I wanted so I added another cup and continued for 10-15 minutes after that. You will find different ratios all over the internet, up to twice that water (and cooking time). You can only experiment with the time and patience you have. Also, yes, some sites suggest you can use your slow cooker, so do some digging.

I could have used stock or more elaborately flavoured the water, but I wanted to make both sweet and savoury dishes. I would definitely recommend using stock if you’re going for only savoury (it’s a richer flavour) but it will still be delicious without. For sweet you could include coconut or almond milk, but you don’t have to as brown rice has a natural sweetness (where do you think rice malt syrup comes from?).

So how four meals? Well, that one cup made four decent-sized individual servings of porridge, and as I’m not averse to reheating rice for the adults in the family (no, I don’t risk it with our daughter; yes, I know it’s not advisable but living on the edge here, obviously) my husband and I both had some for lunch and then I went on to have more for dinner – brinner, actually – and the last helping for lunch the next day.

Steamy goodness

Steamy goodness

Meals 1 & 2: Leftover chicken

My husband had roasted a chicken the day before, so I shredded 150g of cooked breast and stir fried this in a little coconut oil with fresh chilli, smoked garlic, mushrooms, spinach and courgettes.

To finish, I added some toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of ketjap manis, and fed us each a gloriously filling and warming dish that took less than fifteen minutes of prep and cooking time to assemble.

Who doesn't love breakfast as dinner?

Who doesn’t love breakfast as dinner?

Meal 3: Fruity brinner

I fancied something sweeter and brought the rice back to the boil on the hob with a splash of almond milk. I sliced a small apricot, a pair of strawberries and a couple of raspberries and added them to the now-sweet porridge along with a dollop of crunchy peanut butter and a little under a teaspoon of chia seeds (they add texture and tend to absorb liquid, making them quite filling).

Meal 4: Holy mackerel

I had some mackerel fillets in the fridge looking a little desperate, so while the porridge got nuked I quickly fried one in coconut oil, then used the same pan to toss around a hodge-podge of the tail ends of some 4-for-£4 packs of veggies that were going bendy in the fridge (in this case broccoli, sugar snap peas, spinach and samphire). While this tasted delicious it turned out less than beautiful, so you’re denied photographic evidence!

A 1kg bag of the rice I used costs £4.95 in my local supermarket. A cup being about a fifth of  a bag, each one of these meals cost a base of just 25p and if you use plain water it can become both main meal and a rice pudding-y, porridge-y dessert. Then it’s a question of using up anything in the fridge – poached eggs would be amazing – to go on top, and you can put as much or as little effort as you like or have time for.  Also, they’re all suitable for gluten free diets, and even the one including three types of whole fruit was still remarkably low fructose.

The next taste test will be my daughter – she’s very, very specific about porridge, which she usually likes super plain, so I’ll have to just let her taste mine and see how we go – but since it’s essentially more of a texture than a flavour I have hopes of winning her over.

Clearly I’m not breaking any new ground here – rice and oat porridges have been staple foods since these forms of agriculture was developed and continue to be eaten very widely globally – but as they’re often sidelined to very specific uses in UK households I’m enjoying playing around with flavours and textures I’ve basically ignored for years. And given the reactions of some people I’ve talked about this with, I don’t think I’m the only one. Time to bring back appreciation for some classics, I reckon.

I Quit Sugar: Eating out and on the go

I wasn’t intending to write much more about IQS; I’d shared my initial thoughts, addressed misconceptions, voiced my post-blip considerations and come to my end-of-programme conclusions and I’ve just kind of quietly been living a mostly IQS-friendly life ever since. I do occasionally splurge, but mostly I keep my fructose levels pretty low, and I’ve not regretted it. My skin has stayed clearer and my ability to resist an OMGSNACKBINGE is at its best for years (not infallible, and now I have an even bigger obsession with cheese, so…) and though it wasn’t my intention particularly to lose weight, it has stabilised at about 20lbs lower than it was.

Of course, I should have anticipated that come January lots of people would be embarking on various versions of their own reduced-, low- or no-sugar journey – most of them, in fact, focussed on reducing fructose, not sugar in general, although some just focus on so-called ‘refined’ sugars, preferring honey, maple syrup and drief fruit (I don’t really get the point of that, but to each their own). Naturally, I’ve thus been thinking about it more, and been asked questions by various friends and family. I’ve also observed a number of people on social media suddenly interested in ‘detoxing’ (meaningless) or ‘clean eating’ (even more meaningless and offensive to boot).

As such I wanted to touch on an issue that I think rears its head for anyone practising a dietary restriction, whether for health, medical, preference or religious reasons: eating out, and eating on the go.

Now, most of us are broke at the moment, and making our own lunches to bring to work, but at some point That Week happens when you seem to be buying an extortionately priced sandwich every day; also the drive to reconnect with friends inevitably seems to result in everyone being free over the same three days at the end of January and you leave a succession of restaurants considerably lighter of pocket and possibly of spirit, but with the nagging feeling you’ve done something wrong.

Well, rid yourself of that feeling immediately. Feeling guilty about food is never a good idea. If you have over-sugared, you’ll probably know (I get actual sugar munchies and sometimes nausea; a friend tends towards stomach upsets and headaches) and really what is there to do but drink water, eat your veggies, chow down on some yummy fat and move on? No-one made you sign your name in blood to pledge to give up sugar for ever and ever, and if you decided you wanted the damned piece of cake (or accidentally had something you didn’t realise contained added sweet stuff), then who cares? There is no place where lists are kept, and red marks are added by your name. It is, in the end, only food and not a moral decision that will haunt your every step until you turn into some sort of cursed Miss Havisham, forever condemned to chow down the neverending yet crumbling remains of a wedding feast made entirely of sugar and marzipan. Chill.

Still, I can understand wanting to feel like you have a go-to – restaurants and cafes you feel you can safely order a few things from without feeling ill or uncomfortable or, yes, guilty afterwards. Or you’d at least like some guidance in good choices to make if you’re going somewhere you have no say in. To that end, I’ve gathered together a few tips that have helped me navigate these waters without getting too bogged down in Super Special Snowflake Rules, and would appreciate any of your own you have to share.

  • Certain cuisines are a bit of a sugar minefield. Thai and Chinese cuisines – at least in the form that tends to appear on the British high street – do tend towards added sugar (that is a massive generalisation though; there’s almost always likely to be something you can have and both have plenty of protein, nut and legume-filled dishes). I prefer to avoid them unless I have a specific craving for them – then I’ll just have what I’m after and move on. There are also a few things that have ‘hidden’ sugar – for example, Japanese sushi rice is partly made sticky by the addition of sugar. It’s not really a big deal and you’re eating it with lovely fatty fish like salmon, so meh, but just so you know.
  • Cheese makes an excellent starter and dessert. I have before managed to have three courses that all involve cheese and I’m pretty proud of that. I tend to sidestep the inevitable fruit and chutneys on cheese boards, which can help.
  • ‘Health food shops’ are tricksy buggers. Whole Foods is often where I pick up some of the more expensive hard to find ingredients for various low-sugar dishes, but it also has plenty of healthy-looking pre-packaged foods that are heaving with the stuff. Be wary of ‘no added sugar’ signs that have the caveat that it’s ‘pure fruit sugar’ – that’s fructose, so… if you really want a fructose load, just eat the piece of fruit. You’ll get the fibre and goodness too.
  • Some fruits make better snacks than others from a low-fructose perspective. Strawberries, raspberries and apricots are my go-to and all travel well in a tub. Try having them with fat – a piece of cheese, some full-fat yogurt – if you’re prone to sugar munchies like me, as it helps you feel more sated and less snacky.
  • In terms of high street lunch chains, Pret a Manger, Pure (Made for You) and Itsu all have nutritional info on the website; Itsu, however, does not list sugar. From the carb count, you can usually make an educated guess (and it looks more than 6g sugars – not carbs! – per 100g, I tend to avoid) and there are some lovely coconutty, avocado-y, chicken-y choices. It’s often quite a nice way to have a little sweet touch (like a sprinkle of pomegranate) mixed in with a delightfully fatty main. At Pure I often go for the Falafalo Soldier – not exactly low sugar, but not high either (and yes, all their product names are that bad).
  • If I’m out and about with the Kid, she will generally request a trip to Wagamama. I’m happy to oblige because, despite the website being more fancy than easily navigable, if I have any doubts about what i’m going to order the info is all there. I particularly ❤ the Coconut Seafood Broth.
  • If you want something sweet, dark chocolate is never not marvellous, and the higher the cocoa percentage the lower the sugar. My current faves are Lindt 90%, Hotel Chocolat Dominican Republic 90% (and 100%) and Tesco Swiss 85%.
  • I’m a bit obsessed with tea-with-everything but if that’s not an option and you don’t want still / tap water, then ask about soda water; it’s rarely on the menu, but any place with a bar should have it as a mixer.
  • You know when you’re on a diet and it’s all “don’t choose the creamy dishes as they’re full of fat, choose tomato sauces”? Flip it. Cooked tomato is great stuff but in large amounts does boost the sugar level. Cheeeeeeese.
  • Consider alternatives for treats; for example, if you’re a massive afternoon tea fan like me, go for one that has good savouries as well as pastries, as after a while sugar-free you’ll be far more interested in those anyway. I’m dying to try Fortnum & Mason’s entirely savoury tea… you know, when I win big on the lottery that I never play.
  • Eat, enjoy and feel well. Whether that includes sugar or not.

My apologies if you were hoping for more strict rules and regulations than that, but I’ve had a disordered relationship with food for so long that I am all about the freedom now. The entire reason I tried sugar-free living was to fight off cravings and the feeling that I had to try and control everything – so I’m not about to undo all that work liberating myself just to obsess over every mouthful, or encourage anyone reading this to do the same.

That said, if you have a failsafe idea you’d like to share in the comments, go to it!