Just as Americans love chicken soup, Asians crave Congee. Easy to make and light on the digestion, Congee is a beloved comfort food from Shanghai to Manila. Ridiculously simple to prepare overnight in a slow-cooker, your breakfast will be soft, hot, and ready to eat in the morning. Also known as jook, kanji, hsi-fan, or zhou, it is basically rice porridge with a lot of water and a few other ingredients. There are thousands of variations, and congee can also be medicinal food. For example, your Chinese doctor may suggest you add lily bulbs, goji berries, or mung beans to treat specific health tendencies. Congee is not a Paleo recipe, but it’s as ancient as the hills and truly nutritious, especially if you use germinated brown rice. Check it out below. When we all learn to make congee the old-fashioned way, chronic disease will disappear!
Congee has a fascinating history. According to Chinese Legend, it was invented by Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, in 2,500 BCE. That sounds easy, but it wasn’t quite that simple. First he had to show people how to cook food! The invention of the cooking pot was another huge breakthrough. Soon 3-legged cauldrons made of pottery and bronze were designed to cook rice for many hours over a fire without burning. Think about it – 4,500 years ago this was a big deal!
Then you need some salt. Chinese cuisine was forever changed when the Yellow Emperor recognized salt as a precious ingredient and symbol of fine cooking. However it was critical to secure the source of the salt. In the northern province of Shanxi there was a strange salt lake. Once a year the lake’s waters evaporated, leaving salt crystals to be gathered on the surface. Many wars were fought to control the lake. Legend says that Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor, had the distinction of winning an important battle to control the salt lake.
Huangdi fought many battles to unify China under one rule, and his inventions proved extremely critical. In one battle Huangdi’s most challenging rival, Chi You, conjured up a thick fog so that his warriors began to lose their way. However Huangdi had invented a strange chariot with a magnetic lodestone center and gear mechanism so that the pointer always faced south no matter which way the cart turned. Using the south-pointing chariot they found their way through the fog. Huangdi also had his men create noise-makers out of animal horns that sounded like mythical dragons in the dense fog. Chi You’s warriors fled in terror, and the battle was won!
In the Yellow Emperor’s time, people ate whole grains, soaked before cooking. Smart! However since 1,700 CE, rice has been milled and polished perfectly white. Wealthy families ate white rice. Brown rice was considered “poor man’s food”, as it was cheaper, heavier, takes longer to cook, and is harder to digest. However milling and polishing brown rice removes most of its vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Unfortunately nowadays with a steady diet of white rice and its high glycemic index, type 2 diabetes is like a runaway train in Asia. From India through China to Southeast Asia, blood sugar is on the rise, and diets are sorely lacking in beneficial fiber. Fiber helps to slow down the glycemic response, and allows one to feel “fuller” without consuming so many calories.
A team of Japanese scientists recently discovered a vast superiority in germinated brown rice! They found that germinating brown rice greatly enhances its already high nutritional value. Sprouted (germinated) brown rice has more fiber, higher essential amino acid lysine, ten times the GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which is known to improve kidney function, and it contains protylendopetidase enzyme – a potent inhibitor in fighting Alzheimer’s disease. Read the report here.
Sprouted brown rice is sweeter and softer than regular brown rice. I buy pre-sprouted brown rice inexpensively in the bulk bins at my local coop. You can also find it at Whole Foods Markets in the aisle with the grains and lentils. Look for TruRoots brand. If you don’t find it, you can germinate it yourself easily. How? Just soak brown rice for 8 – 12 hours at room temperature, rinse well, and then cook. This softens the indigestible outer bran layer so it cooks much faster. It also has a sweeter flavor, not that heavy dull taste we associate with brown rice. Of course, you can always make congee with white rice. However especially if you’re diabetic or sensitive to sugars, I’d stay far away from that. Whole food nutrition is always preferable, especially when you can soak and germinate to make it soft, sweet, and digestible. Congee makes a truly delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner. So it is a real comfort food much like chicken soup. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Or freeze leftovers in serving-size containers for a rainy day! This recipe serves 4.
- 1 cup uncooked rice, preferably sprouted brown rice. Any rice will do.
- 7 cups water (that's right!) If you're using cooked rice, you'll need a bit less water.
- 1 cup homemade Bone Broth (I keep it frozen)
- 2 bone-in chicken or duck thighs
- 3 slices of fresh ginger root, 1/4-inch-thick
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1/2 teaspoon unprocessed salt
- 4 green onions, chopped
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) sliced shiitake mushrooms, or 4 dried mushrooms soaked overnight, sliced
- 2 tablespoons liquid coconut aminos (alternative to soya sauce)
- Optional garnishes: chopped hard boiled egg, cooked salmon, chopped ham, chopped herbs, bean sprouts, nuts, pre-cooked meat or fish
- In a slow cooker, add rice, water, broth, chicken or duck, ginger, garlic, and salt. Bring it to a boil on high, then turn down low and cook for 8 -10 hours or overnight. Go to sleep.
- In the morning, the porridge will be thick like oatmeal. Turn the heat up to high, add the vegetables, and cook for another 30 minutes. (It would be more convenient to add veggies in the evening, but I find they get limp and lifeless cooked all night, so I add them in the morning. This is your choice.)
- Remove the meat from bones. If congee is too thick, add more hot water. If it’s too thin, cook uncovered it until it reaches your desired smoothness and thickness.
- Garnish with liquid coconut aminos, sesame oil, more shredded meat, chopped green onions, and anything else you desire.