I looooooove congee! After learning about it through my studies of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I learned why this simple rice porridge is such an important staple in Chinese dietary therapy.
What is Congee?
Congee (con-jee), also called ‘jook’, is a type of rice porridge that is cooked over low heat for a an extended time. A variety of foods can be added to the base recipe and rice can also be subbed out for different grains. The mixtures of grain and other foods can provide you with different energetics depending on your health needs.
Classical Chinese texts refer to congee as the most medical meal, as it has been used for over 4,000 years. In another herbal classic book from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Compendium of Materia Medica, the great herbalist Li Shizhen recommends that congee be eaten during all seasons as it is the best breakfast!
I understand ‘rice porridge’ does not sound like the most appetizing meal, especially when we are flooded with other sweet cereals, lavish omelettes, and easy-frozen-prepared options available. In Chinese Medicine, the Earth element corresponds to the stomach and spleen (digestion) and grains are considered ‘Earth foods’. Weak digestion? Congee helps to tonify the digestive organs and keep them lubricated to continually nourish and fuel your organs for optimal function. GERD? Chronic dryness? IBS? These typically come about from some form or imbalance in the stomach/spleen and liver. Considered a ‘wet breakfast’, a lot of water is added during the cooking process making it easy to digest and be absorb by the body (it also helps keep you hydrated!) This makes the rest of your meals easier to process; when the Earth element is in harmony, nutrients (and emotions) can be transformed and transported without interruption.
For the classic base recipe, use high-quality (organic if possible) medium or long-grain white or sweet rice (this is for the serving size I use – I am 5’11” and about 165#, so you may need less or more depending on your size!):
1.) Boil 1/3 cup of rice in ~2 cups of water
2.) Turn to a slow simmer once water begins to boil
3.) Cook for at least 45 minutes, stirring as needed to avoid sticking to the bottom. I typically end up adding another 1-2 cups of water throughout the time it’s on my stove.
4.) That’s it!!! From here, you can add in whatever you like (ideas below). I typically toss them in to cook towards the end or cook them separately as the congee is cooking.
If you don’t have time to prepare this in the morning, you can do it overnight in a crockpot and still achieve the same energetics! Here’s how:
1.) Every crockpot is different, but start with 1/4 cup of rice to about 2.5 cups of water. If you are making it for the next couple days, you can double the recipe. It may take a few tries to get it how you want – remember, it should be a porridge consistency!
*if reheating the next day, it is ideal to warm up with more water over the stove*
2.) Set cooking temperature to LOW and it should be ready in the morning! (usually 6-8 hours)
3.) You can add your other foods in the morning or have them prepared from the night before… just warm them up or toss them in for 20 minutes before you are ready to eat! If it is too sticky to the bottom, add a small amount of oil to stir around.
Aduki beans- dry up phlegm, help with gout, good for urine retention and edema
Avocado- helps regulate bowel movements, anti-aging, cools the body, keeps the lungs from drying out (I usually use 1/4 to 1/2 avo on top of my congee after it’s done)
Black Sesame Seeds- great for constipation; also helps to strengthen and darken hair; good for arthritic joints
Carrots- helps with loose stools, strengthens digestion (especially chronic)
Cilantro- cools the liver, alleviates irritability, expels toxins (I use this as a topping)
Dates- help to build your natural energy; calms the mind out of a stressful state
Goji Berries- help with constipation, dryness, and blood circulation (PMS and cramps!)
Ginger- eases nausea, huge digestive helper, keeps the body warm (it’s like an internal sweater!), and reduces bloating
Fennel- stimulates appetite, digestion; harmonizes the stomach
Leeks- helps stop chronic diarrhea, warms the internal organs
Mushrooms- lubricates and nourishes the body, clears phlegm, improves circulation, boosts energy
Scallions- great to ward off colds; increases brain activity and overall energy
Seaweed- good for the skin, helps control cough, regulates body temperature and balances fluid levels
Radishes- good for digestion and relaxes the diaphragm; clears excess heat (i.e., GERD, allergies, stabbing stomach pains)
Taro Root- builds blood, improves circulation, also huge helper in boosting digestive functions
Don’t limit yourself just the ingredients above! I am a fan of intuitive eating – if a veggie or fruit is calling out to you at the store, try it and make a mental note how it makes you feel!
You can also rotate the grains between black rice, quinoa, millet, amaranth, and teff. They are all gluten-free and can be cooked with similar ingredients and the same portions as the rice.
Things to avoid
- Too many additions: clarity over complexity. I find that 3-4 additional ingredients works best for me.
- Using leftovers: the slow water absorption and cooking time is critical to making this dish such a potent digestive helper. The energetics of the food is lessened when it becomes cold and needs reheated. Leftover congee can be made into a good stir-fry!
- Overthinking: it took me a few times to start to truly enjoy this dish! Now I crave it in the mornings; other dishes just don’t make me feel as good! Don’t make it too complicated – it’s only rice and lots of water!