The Incredible & Edible: Rice Congee

Winter had almost rescinded its tight clutches.  Two days ago I was reclining on a warm, sunlit patio in Frederick, Maryland, sipping brew samples while soaking in much-needed rays of warmth. Suddenly, memories of sunshine and 70-degree weather became a reality.

In a mere 24 hours, temperatures plummeted. Winds picked up. Precipitation  accumulated, going from mist to freezing rain to snow in a blink of an eye. Not only was this a horrid “welcome back” from a trip, but along with it the cold-weather sniffles.

What is a girl to do when Old Man Winter breaks down her door?

As for me and my household, I answer with one short, sweet word:

Congee.

Its names are as various as the people who prepare it: juk in Korea, zhōu in China, cháo in Vietnam; the dish varies somewhat, but all center on one feature:

Rice porridge.

Brown Rice Congee

A fresh bowl… beautiful to behold!

This might be my most exciting culinary discovery since that delicious Lox sandwich at Nola’s Café… but that’s a different story.

Congee is like oatmeal, only with rice as the base grain. Congee can stretch a cup of rice to feed an entire family, making it a useful budget dish as well.

A steaming bowl of congee is also incredibly nurturing. This is no lily-livered bowl of Campbell’s. This tastes *real.*

Congee is a versatile dish as well – typically, it is served with a wide range of garnishes and meats. Scallions, green onions, herbs, eggs, fish… even some freshly-roasted peanuts makes a great addition.

Oh. And don’t forget the mushrooms.

Whether you feel under the weather or the weather is just getting to you, try a bowl of congee. It will be certain to perk you up!

Brown Rice Congee with Shiitake and Greens

Serves 4

1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 piece ginger, thinly sliced

1 cup sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms (if substituting dried, pre-soak in hot water for 20 minutes)

Sauté the above in a large, heavy pot until mushrooms are softened. Add to pot:

1 cup brown rice, rinsed and drained

9 cups water/stock

Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. Add to pot:

4 ounces greens, thinly sliced (Chinese broccoli, broccoli raab, broccolini, bok choy, mustard greens, kale, etc.)

Simmer for another 30 minutes. If you want thinner, soup-like congee, add more water.

If desired, add soy sauce, fish sauce, salt, white/black pepper or other seasonings. I personally like a liberal amount of fish sauce in my congee and a dash of coriander.

Now for the garnish! There are dozens of toppings awaiting your congee bowl, but here are some of my favorites:

Thinly sliced scallions/green onions
Chopped fresh cilantro
Roasted peanuts
Toasted sesame seeds
Soft-boiled or poached egg
Pickled mustard greens/Chinese cabbage
Fish sauce

Chile paste (definitely helps clear the sinuses!)

Congee leftovers keep very well; the porridge will thicken, so remember to add water or stock while reheating.
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