Congee Porridge: An Asian Staple

Americans are reading and learning more and more about China these days. So I thought you might enjoy knowing about, and tasting, the historic Chinese delight called congee or jook, which dates from 221 BC. Like a porridge or soup, congee is considered a one-dish meal that’s easy to consume and digest. The dish consists of thick boiled rice soup or other grains cooked with plenty of water or broth, rather than fat, and flavored with an assortment of meats, vegetables and aromatics.

Congee is one of the most popular and delicious foods among all classes of people. It’s eaten during religious ceremonies and festivals and is used as a therapeutic treatment as well. For example, when eaten with asparagus, congee is believed to be a diuretic and to reduce cholesterol. When eaten with ginger it settles the stomach, reduces nausea and cures indigestion. Pear congee is the recommended medicine for respiratory ailments and fever. Imagine if Big Pharma was replaced by congee. Achieving good health might be a natural thing.

Congee goes by different names in other parts of Asia—it’s Gour Bah in Taiwan and Chao Bo in Vietnam. In South India it’s called kanji, which sounds like congee, although spelled differently. But whatever the name given to the dish, for many years it has retained similar basic ingredients and cooking methods with many variations in flavor.

In fact there seems to be no limit to what can be added to congee to make it savory or sweet—both styles are enjoyed throughout the Pacific Rim, including in China. The Cantonese like it sweet with rock sugar. Natives of Shanghai like theirs prepared with cabbage and rice wine. Hong Kong eats the dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The middle-aged and elderly enjoy the simplicity of the meal. It’s easily made in one dish and is not difficult to eat.. Sounds like the ideal food for finicky eaters or for those who are pressed for time.

Here’s a savory congee recipe I really enjoy that combines brown rice, millet and asparagus for spring. The brown rice is highly nutritious, as is the millet. Asparagus, one of my favorite vegetables, signals the beginning of spring. It’s flavorful and delicious and some hold that it reduces cholesterol. Just don’t overcook it.

Chinese Congee with Asparagus, Brown Rice and Millet 

Serves 4–6

1 cup brown rice with 3 cups of water; simmer until sl dente (about 45 minutes)
1 cup millet, add 2 cups water; simmer for 20minutes until smooth.
1 cup asparagus, washed and grilled until blackened  under broiler or on outdoor grill. Cut into 1” pieces
2 garlic cloves, diced
1/4 cup Crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1” of ginger, peeled and diced
1 1/2 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon light soy
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons scallions, washed and chopped
sea salt and white pepper to taste

Equipment: two medium-size soup pans; one 8” sauté pan; one large soup pot.

1. Pour 3 cups of water into medium size soup pan. Add 1 cup of brown rice and cook at a simmer until most of the water has been absorbed and brown rice is smooth—about 45 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. In a separate medium size pot, pour 2 cups of water and 1 cup of millet and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 1/2 cup water if too dry.

3. Sauté the garlic, ginger and mushrooms until crisp with 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, about 2 minutes.

4. Combine rice and millet, garlic, ginger, mushrooms and butter in a medium pot. Add 1/2 cup of water and 2 tablespoons unsalted butter. Bring to a boil and simmer until water has
been absorbed.

5. Add sea salt and white pepper to taste

6. Add 1 tablespoon sesame oil, chopped scallions and lightly blackened asparagus to garnish.

Serve and enjoy!

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