F or many Asian families, congee is the epitome of comfort food. Food is memories, food is medicine, food is a love language passed from generation to generation. In Taiwan, we eat congee on many occasions — when we get the flu, when the weather is cold, when we’re homesick or when we’re hungover. It’s available at most breakfast shops, topped with a stick of salty donut, pickled vegetables and green onions, served with a cup of fresh soy milk to wash it down. We even have designated restaurants for congee called “ ” meaning “light congee, little dishes.” Every Asian country has its own version — Japan, Korea, the Philippines — but the Cantonese shine with their creative versions of savoury and sweet congee. In Taiwan, root vegetables such as sweet potato and taro, and proteins such as century egg and pork are often added for taste. For those new to congee, it’s basically rice, boiled in stock or water many times its weight until the rice breaks down and becomes a thick, white porridge. It’s a dish consumed every day and during festivals by villagers and emperors alike. The ways to eat congee are endless. The common one is a bowl of unsalted rice porridge to go with any topping you have on hand. Popular toppings range from pickled vegetables, eggs (poached, fried, scrambled and preserved), chili oil, pork floss (dried and flaked pork), tofu braised in five-spice, soy sauce and brown sugar. The suggested health benefits of congee are numerous. It aids digestion and boosts one’s chi or “vital energy.” Depending on what base and toppings you use, there are combinations that, according to Chinese medicine and family wisdom passed on for generations, are used to cure ailments and keep you in good health. Millet is an ancient grain that aids digestion. Mung beans are said to detox and cool the body. Adzuki beans are particularly good for women — they warm the body and help replenish blood. Black beans are calming and nourish the kidney. Garlic and ginger aid digestion and support the gut. Red beans offer a warming winter soup and jujube dates are the most popular ingredient for those looking for general health benefits.
thing to remember is the 1:10 rice to water ratio. For a thicker consistency, use 8 cups of water. For runnier congee, use 12 cups. And if you're like me, make something in between.
1 cup white rice, rinsed until the water runs clear 10 cups water or stock of choice 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced 2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
To a large pot over medium heat , add stock, rice and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir occasionally so the rice doesn’t burn at the bottom. Simmer the congee for about 1 hour or until the congee is thickened and creamy. Add salt to taste. Serve straight from the pot. Cooking tips Choose starchy, short-grained rice. I like jasmine for the flavour; basmati will be on the dry side. It’s important to add all the water at the beginning, which will result in a smooth, creamy congee. Don’t throw out the rice gruel that rises to the top during the cooking process. It is said to be good for upset stomachs and the flu.
Congee thickens as it cools. If not consumed all at once, add stock or water to create the desired consistency.
Sweet potato congee Serves 2 to 3
This sweet potato congee is a classic recipe in Taiwan. The map of Taiwan is shaped like a sweet potato and the Taiwanese take pride in what we call our “sweet potato spirit,” meaning a spirit determined to take root and bear fruit wherever we are planted. The whole sweet potato plant is edible, from the roots to the shoots, and known to boast many nutritional benefits.
Here is a basic Chinese congee recipe to get you started.
This recipe is mild, and most commonly served with savoury items for breakfast.
Basic Chinese congee Serves 2 to 3
1 cup rice (short grain or jasmine) 10 cups water 1 medium-sized sweet potato
This is a simple stovetop recipe for Chinese congee. One
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