Congee/Jook/Rice Porridge

February 4, 2014

One of the reasons I like to travel to Asian countries is the food.  It took me about 5 days to actually find rice porridge in Thailand thanks to an included breakfast buffet at my first hotel, but it was well worth the wait.  My first variety had rice, fish (white, mild), parsley, spices, and a side dish of oil and spices.  Other varieties I found had vegetables, chicken, and pork.  The basic method of preparing any congee variation is to boil rice in a lot (6-12 times the amount of rice) of water, until the rice has softened and broken down.

Traditional Chinese Medicine suggests congee to those with a weakened digestive system or who are recovering from illness, but it’s also eaten daily by the general public in Asia.  The dish is warm and the grains are cooked for a long time making the dish easy to digest.  It can be eaten sweet or savory, and eaten simply or used as a template for other added ingredients or medicinal herbs.  Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen offers several congee recipes with corresponding suggestions of ingredients for particular patterns and symptoms.

Chinese Medicine recommends a warm breakfast to ignite your digestive system in the morning, gently getting it primed for the rest of the day’s eating and activities.  The rice in congee is cooked for a long time making it easy to digest, thus leaving your body with energy to do things other than digest your breakfast.   It’s also a great medium for adding vegetables, and you know how I feel about eating more vegetables!  While you can really use any grain, white rice is typically used.  I know a lot is written about whole grains verses their “white counterparts,” but there is a lot of literature and research to support the inclusion of white rice into a healthy diet.  Paul Jiminet goes into detail in the Perfect Health Diet.  The texture of congee is really smooth and creamy like a true comfort food, another reason I love it so much!

But don’t be fooled – although it is a rice-based dish, a bowl of congee is not necessarily high in carbohydrate load due to the high water ratio, especially compared to modern American breakfast fare.  Add in some meat, eggs, vegetables, etc., and carbohydrates take a back seat to protein, fiber, and some fat.  Depending on your constitution, health status, and activity levels, you can tailor your congee to match your current patterns and dietary needs.

Google “congee recipes” and you will find a ton of ideas.  My colleague Lorelle Saxena is eating congee for a whole year and blogging about it.  My current working recipe that I love includes carrots, celery, onions, and mushrooms in the initial, big batch.  When I reheat servings during the week on the stove top, I add in some homemade bone broth (you can also use water) to thin it out (congee thickens up when stored), kale or frozen green beans, cut up chicken, and an egg .  The egg is my favorite addition.  I crack it on top of the congee, do a few things around the kitchen, and after I come back and stir it, the congee becomes extra creamy and rich.  I like to top my breakfast with a little parsley.

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Oddly, I’ve known about congee’s health benefits for many years, and while I have eaten rice or oats for breakfast on a majority of occasions in the last decade, I had yet to make a congee.  I’m not sure why, since it’s so easy.  I got home from 44 hours of travel at 6pm on a Tuesday.  Thanks to jetlag from a 12-hour time difference, my first congee was ready by 6am Wednesday morning.

Here’s my working recipe.  I love it.  If you try it, I hope you love it too!  There are so many variations for making this dish, that I trust you can find one that you find satisfying and nourishing.

Congee:

1 cup white jasmine rice

7-8 cups water

3 carrots, chopped

3 celery stalks, chopped

medium onion, chopped

Dried mushrooms – I use an Asian mix of shiitakes, maitakes, oyster, and reishi, but pick your favorite.  Soak in water about 10 minutes before adding them to congee.  I use 1-2 handfuls.

Salt, pepper

Bring rice and water to a boil.  Then add rest of the ingredients.  Bring to a boil again, and then reduce to a simmer.  Leave uncovered.  Stir often so mixture does not stick.  Be careful to monitor so congee does not overflow.  Cook for 1 – 1 ½ hours, until rice has fully broken down and congee appears thick, like a porridge.

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I would love to hear if you have a favorite rice soup or rice porridge recipe.  Please share in the comments or send me an email.

You are what you eat.

In good health,

Molly

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One Response to “Congee/Jook/Rice Porridge”

  1. lorellesaxena Says:

    Such a great post. Thank you for explaining the benefits–and the appeal!–of congee so clearly. I’m going to have some for lunch right now!


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