The Great Oatmeal Debate

The Latvian vs the American Way, vs?

Some call it porridge, some call it gruel, some call it blah.

Until I stayed with relatives, I thought there was only one way to eat oatmeal: cooked in water, served with milk and sugar, maybe with sliced bananas on top. At the rellies house, we mostly had the usual things for breakfast, eggs, bacon, pancakes that sort of thing. But one morning my aunt cooked oatmeal. I stared in amazement as my uncle started eating his portion without pouring milk on top. He stared in amazement as I poured milk on my porridge. It was a long time before I tried eating oatmeal without milk.

Sometimes I really hate grocery shopping. I won’t go to the supermarket until my cupboards are almost in Mother Hubbard territory. Of course, my stomach doesn’t care that I don’t want to go shopping. It wants food now, not tomorrow, not next week, NOW. So, one time when I was out of milk but had rolled oats at home, I remembered my uncle eating his oatmeal without milk. Rather than go buy milk, I tried his way. To my surprise, it was good. After that, my oatmeal no longer sees milk. I eat it with blueberries, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Sometimes with raisins or craisins, sometimes with sliced strawberries or bananas on top.

That’s better.

Because my uncle was born and grew up in Latvia, I assumed that all Latvians eat milkless porridge, but I like evidence, so I posted the question in a social media group devoted to Latvian foods. No, eating porridge without milk wasn’t just my uncle’s eccentric preference. The majority of Latvians eat the hot breakfast cereal the same way. One woman even said that until she’d traveled outside Latvia, she’d never heard of eating oatmeal with milk. Another woman thought it’s yucky.

I learned of a variety of ways to fix and serve oatmeal. Not everyone cooks it with water. Many people cook oats in milk, then serve it with a pat of butter or with salt and/or cinnamon. One man cooks his with bananas and pours browned butter on top. Several people stir jam or jelly into their cereal.

In most cultures, only very young children drink milk. Sixty percent of adults around the world can’t digest milk. The rest, mostly Americans and Europeans still produce the enzyme that helps their bodies digest milk. Naturally, of the ones who can drink milk, some simply don’t like it or they like it with some foods, but not others. Being able to drink milk, or put it on their oatmeal, is what’s weird, not being able to is the norm. If you’re an adult who still wants wet oats, but can’t tolerate milk or want to save calories, and fat, you can wet your cereal with soy milk, coconut milk, or oat milk. Twice the oats.

I think there’s porridge under there. I’ll have to try this sometime.

Latvian Summer Salad

Simple salad

Summer doesn’t officially start for another five weeks when the solstice arrives, but warm weather is here already. It’s time for something cool and refreshing to eat that’s also simple to make.

This salad probably isn’t unique to Latvians. The people of the other countries bordering the Baltic Sea no doubt also enjoy this salad. There are many variations.

There’s not much to it. Under that pile of veggies is a mound of small curd cottage cheese. Thinly slice cucumbers and radishes. Chop scallions. Sprinkle fresh dill on top. For us Latvians there’s no such thing as too much dill. Add salt and pepper to taste. No other dressing is necessary–that would make the salad too goopy.

Variations of this salad are cukes with scallions. Or radishes with scallions. You can also skip the cottage cheese and mix the various veggies in any combination with sour cream. If you like, you can serve this salad on a bed of lettuce of your choice. It looks like that’s what I’ve done here, but it’s just a pile of chopped green onions.

You can also do sandwiches. Black rye bread would be the Latvian choice. Top it with butter, the cottage cheese, put sliced radishes or cukes or both on top, sprinkle with salt, pepper and dill. You can also finely dice the cuke, grate the radishes and mix them with sour cream for a refreshing sandwich spread. And dill, always dill. Actually, dill is not mandatory. If you don’t like it, you can leave it out or substitute minced cilantro or parsley–but then your spread won’t be authentically Latvian.

Labu apetīti!  Bon apetit. Good appetite!