Friday, February 7, 2014

Pumpkin Teff Porridge:
Bringing Warmth Within

And…….I'm back.

After weeks of newness taking over my life, ranging from beginning the New Year(s), moving into a new apartment, discovering new ways of getting everywhere, to beginning a new romantic relationship, I've been admittedly MIA.  But whereas I might have been stressed about it previously, preoccupied with the idea of disappointed readers and canceled subscriptions, I totally felt at peace with it this time around.  After the chaos and life-altering upheavals of 2013, life is so much more precious to me.  And rather than spend my life in the shadow of fear, cowering in the face of adversity, I realize the choice that I have to live it in happiness and hope, regardless of my circumstances, embracing the power of both living and learning fully in the moment.

Which brings us to today's recipe - a riff on one of my favorite comfort foods.

In Austin, Texas, we're currently experiencing what seems like the coldest Winter season since I moved here 12 years ago.  Snow, sleet, freezing rain, and days where the temperature stubbornly hovers in the high 20's.  Before it sounds like I'm complaining, allow me to say that I grew up in Michigan, where these conditions can seem positively Spring-like in comparison.  But whether it's 30 degrees outside or -10 with windchill with ice-crusted snow layering the landscape, it doesn't seem to change the foods that help me feel better and help me to heal.  

Foods that bring the warmth and strength within.

What is this strange white substance?  Could it really be….snow?

So glad I carry an ice scraper in my car.  Old habits die hard.

When I worked at Eastern Accents, a wonderful Mom and Pop owned Chinese bakery and Korean restaurant just off the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, Winter was a big time for us.  There was a daily rotation of soups, and Wednesday featured jook, a simple porridge of rice, chicken, and ginger.  That day, above every other, was especially popular, with people lining up at the counter and calling in frantically, hoping to reserve a bowl before it all sold out.  My grandmother would make a similar soup during the colder months, especially when we were feeling ill, which we called either arroz caldo or lugaw.  Just like me, her body seemed to run a few degrees colder than most, so when we felt cold, it was like we were shivering from the bones.  But warm porridge always made it better, protecting us from the cold, and loosening the grip of both sickness and stress.  

Over the last few years, I have discovered many different grains that can be used in place of rice for porridge, ranging from millet, to buckwheat, to quinoa.  And today's star, teff, originating in North Africa, is the tiniest of them all.  But big things can come in small packages, which is true of both this grain's flavor and nutritional punch.  Slightly malty and nutty, it can be perfect for breakfast, dessert, or as a snack to help counter the chill of the outdoors.  And with the addition of creamy pumpkin and star anise, the comfort factor just shoots through the roof for me.

It's the kind of food that makes me sigh, makes me smile, and helps me to remember.  Which is why, at the outset of a new year, as Winter lingers, but Spring simultaneously begins to stir, I choose to share this recipe with you.  So you can know that you also have a choice.

Star Anise Pumpkin Teff Porridge
Gluten-Free & Vegan

Active Prep Time:  less than 5 minutes
Inactive Prep Time:  none
Cooking Time:  20 minutes
Yield:  about 4 cups

1 c whole teff grains
4 teaspoons coconut oil
2 whole star anise

3 c warm water

1/2 c unsweetened pumpkin puree
1/4 c coconut sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

What you'll need:  medium sized saucepan

1.  Heat saucepan over medium-low heat.
2.  Add teff and toast dry for 1-2 minutes.  Keep the teff moving so as to avoid burning it.
3.  Add coconut oil and star anise and stir until oil is melted and all the grains are coated.  Add warm water, raise heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil.
4.  Once boiling, add pumpkin, sugar, and salt.  
5.  After combining, reduce to medium-low heat again to bring mixture to an active low simmer.  It will be very liquidy at this point, with the grains all appearing separate.  But as it cooks, the grains will expand and the mixture will begin to thicken, becoming silky and smooth.  
6.  Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until desired consistency has been reached.  Keep in mind that it will continue to thicken as it cools, so erring on the side of cooking less may be wise.

So tiny!

Toasting teff, melting coconut oil, and priming the spices.

Now, we wait...

The texture is nearly caramel-like.  

I hope you enjoy this beautifully simple dish as much as I do.  I hope it brings you peace and the same opportunity to not only nurture your own need for warmth, but the needs of those around you.  And I hope that in the midst of Winter, you find excitement for the harvest that awaits.

With both Hope and Happiness.


  1. it's crazy weather down in Austin, right now! I hear you about the need for warm food to soothe you. I love Teff. I've had fun making injera bread before but I've not used it for porridge. What a stroke of brilliance! I'm going to try this as soon as I can buy some. Stay warm, though I hear that today it is going to be warm, in the 70's. Which is great because I am flying in today. It warmed up for me!!

  2. Welcome to Austin, India! It was such a beautiful weekend - so glad it coincided with your trip. Yes, definitely give teff a try as a porridge - it is so good!


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