I’ve recently been on a rice porridge mission.
Congee is an ancient food with an expansive history. All variations are rice and water porridges eaten in many Asian countries as a breakfast, lunch or dinner staple. It is also served to those who are ill as well as to babies and the elderly because it is healing, easy to digest and full of energy. Rice is treated as a precious healing staple in Traditional Chinese Medicine as its digestion is neutral and promotes the upward flow of the chi (energy) in the body.
Typically, all congee is intended to be cooked plain and then other ingredients are added afterwards. It varies around the world. Also, it ranges from being a very watery soup to a thick creamy porridge. A Korean or Cantonese Jook uses a water to rice ratio of 12:1 and boils for about an hour or more and a Japanese Okayu is more like a 5:1 ratio boiled for 30 minutes, making it thicker and creamier.
A little history… Congee was served in times of drought and famine where food was hard to come by. Legend has it that during the rule of Emperor Yong Zheng of the Qing dynasty, a famine broke out. He ordered his officials to make rice porridge and distribute to the starving people. Corrupt officials would skimp on the rice and distribute very watery versions. When the Emperor heard about this, he set a standard that the porridge must be so thick that when a pair of chopsticks were inserted, they would stand upright. Any officials who failed to meet this standard were beheaded.
Recipes also vary from using long grain to arborio rice, some even use millet, lentils or tapioca. So, the evolution of rice porridge or congee has been vast and at this point anything goes as long as it’s overcooked rice in water it seems. Even the name Jook is used as a general name for rice porridge.
The one I make is quite thick – thicker than risotto – which is how I like it. If you’d prefer it less thick, then add more water, or cook it a little less.
So there you have it. A brief tour of rice porridges. I’ve seen many images and recipes for Jook on this soupy sojourn, but what I didn’t see, was a bright pink one. I am sure someone, somewhere has made it, but Google did not detect them. More about Congee from the experts here.
BEETROOT & GINGER JOOK WITH PEAS AND BASIL
- 1 cup long grain brown or white rice (preferably washed and soaked for an hour)
- 8 cups water
- 8 fresh bay leaves
- Fresh ginger, thumb size
- 3 beetroot
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp mirin
- 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 15 leaves fresh basil
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 tsp harissa (optional)
- Himalayan salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1 cup fresh peas
In a deep, thick-bottomed pot bring the rice, bay leaves, grated ginger and water to the boil then drop to a simmer and cook out for 45 minutes or until the consistency is as thick or thin as you like it. The rice should still be individual pieces, but broken and becoming creamy with the water. I stirred the pot often while it was still watery and then consistently as it began to thicken like risotto. When it was thick and soft I removed it from the heat while I made the beetroot.
Boil the beetroot and drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the red water. Peel and dice your beetroot and add it to a frying pan along with the oil, some salt and ground ginger. Cook for a few minutes then add the reserved water, mirin, vinegar, syrup and harissa. Cook for another few minutes then taste – adjust if you need to then add it to the rice. Add the black pepper, lemon, torn basil, and salt to taste. Boil your peas and spinach, drain and add to your jook.