Cold-Weather Congee

This dish ain’t pretty but it’s delicious comfort food on a cold day.  Congee is a rice or grain-based gruel that’s served for breakfast throughout Asia and in parts of India under a few different names.  It’s also often used as a convalescent food or a vehicle for medicinal herbs (food therapy).  When you want to rest the digestive tract but aren’t so much into fasting (I’m not), this (or kitchari – but that’s another conversation) is the way to go.  Congee is also incredibly simple to make and if you have a slow cooker, it will virtually make itself while you go about knitting and watching movies or sitting in front of a roaring fire, which is what cold days should be about.

While this particular version of the dish calls for a mixture of grains, you can use just rice – or just any of the other grains – depending on what you feel for and what’s available in the pantry.  The tonic herbs and entirely optional, in case you do want to turn your food into medicine, and happen to have an apothecary in the cupboard.  If you do use the herbs, also make sure you’re healthy – since the point is to strengthen the body – not give a hand to an illness.

Yield: 2 servings

What you need:

  • 2 tablespoons rice
  • 2 tablespoons whole buckwheat groats (not kasha)
  • 2 tablespoons millet
  • 2 tablespoons quinoa
  • 6 cups water
  • 3 dried Jujube (Red) Dates (otional)
  • 1 small stick Astragalus Root (optional)
  • 1 small slice of Reishi Mushroom (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon Lotus Seed (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon Euryale Seed (optional)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil (to serve)
  • 2 teaspoons tamari (to serve)
  • 3 cups of freshly steamed broccoli florets (optional, to serve)

What you do:

  1. Put the rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, water and herbs – if using – into a slow cooker or large pot.
  2. If slow cooking, time will depend on the heat setting and the individual unit.  For mine it’s four hours on the regular setting (not low).  What you’re aiming for is a porridge-like consistency with all the water absorbed and no discernible grains of anything.
  3. If stove-top cooking, bring it all to a simmer, cover the pot, and then turn the heat to very low and cook a couple of hours stirring every once in a while and making sure things don’t stick.  Same note for texture as in step 2.
  4. Remove from heat and take out the Reishi and Astragalus if using.  The rest of the herbs can be eaten along with the porridge.  Mix in the tamari and toasted sesame oil.
  5. Divide the congee between two serving dishes and top with a generous helping of steamed broccoli florets.

Variation:

For a sweet rather than savory version, omit the veggies, oil and tamari.  Instead, add about 2 tablespoons of maple syrup to the congee once it’s ready.  Serve with a sprinkling of ground flax seed or toasted pumpkin seeds.

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