Le Gruau

What the hell is gruel doing here? Well, the reality is that is nutritious and, as I have recently discovered with the right spices, it can actually be quite tasty, as impossible as it may seem.

So, what is this stuff? The word is from the Middle English (gruel, gruwel, greuel, growel), referring to flour meal itself from Old French gruel, then the Medieval Latin grutellum, and from the Germanic grout, grūz, grütze and related also to English groats, or grit. Pure coincidence, I am sure, with Middle Dutch gruwel, gruel, meaning "horror, something that is abhorrent", right?

The food, as we shall call it, is a mixture of cereal (e.g., oats, wheat, rice) boiled in water or milk, with vegetables added. A fine staple of European peasants in the middle ages and in fact dating back to the Ancient Greek and Roman world because bread was relatively expensive.

The wealthy will look down on it as peasant food, unless of course it is given a new lease of life and presented in a particularly aesthetic manner (c.f., ratatouille). Famously, gruel was an important food in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist where the orphans are "issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll on Sundays."

Because of the glory of the Internet it is possible to recreate Dickensian-style gruel recipes, courtesy of the Royal Society of Chemistry, although these are without the nutritional bonus of added vegetables, apart from an onion. All of which, I must add, it's plenty distasteful in the European style; the Asian equivalent of congee is a much tastier dish.

But what if European-style gruel is provided some spice to it? It turns out that this is an excellent idea. With the emphasis on British-style gruel, perhaps it is appropriate to incorporate some of the spices of the Indian subcontinent; garam masala, tumeric, madras curry powder - that sort of thing. Add some unsalted cottage cheese (the equivalent of paneer cheese) and suddenly gruel is actually palatable.

Really, it's just a cup of oats, a cup of mixed European vegetables, a handful of textured-vegetable protein, add some of the above spices, bring it all to a cooked consistency to the level of thickness desired and add the cheese. Delicious, nutritious, and inexpensive.