The Joy of Congee

Recovering from a bad cold or stomach bug?   Training for a marathon?  Multiple sleepless nights with your newborn baby or sick child?  Supporting an aging parent?  Working through a big life transition?  All these things can leave you feeling exhausted, whooped, beaten up or just simply empty.

What you need is a little infusion of Qi (pronounced CHEE).   Lucky for you, that is as simple as heading to the kitchen.  Qi, which loosely translates as energy or “that which animates life”, is made from the food we eat and the air we breathe.    That’s why Chinese medicine emphasizes the importance of eating on a regular schedule and not skipping meals.

That said, not all meals are created equal.  Some foods are better than others at helping us make Qi.  While calories are calories, the amount of Qi in food is not simply a matter of the calories.  Some foods that are high in calories are low in Qi.  That is because Qi comes from the “life energy” of the food.    Therfor, highly processed foods and foods loaded up artificial ingredients have little Qi whereas whole or minimally processed foods that are made from plants or animals tend to have much much more.

You can boost your Qi simply by eliminating or minimizing processed foods and but sometimes we need a little extra help.  Chinese medicine often looks at food as “medicine”.  That is we can heal ourselves by choosing certain kinds of foods that help bring us into balance or support our Qi.

When you are depleted—you can turn to Congee! Congee is a magical “Qi-building” porridge.  Its rich in nourishment and because it is so easy to digest, the body is able to maximize the amount of life giving “Qi” energy it can derive from the food.  Traditionally eaten at breakfast in Asia, congee can be eaten anytime. I recommend it as a healthy breakfast choice or a snack for athletes,  growing kids or anyone who could use an extra boost.

Congee is simple to make and easy to personalize.  There are thousands of kinds of congee!  Congee is even making a splash in trendy restaurants.  I recently saw congee on the menu of the acclaimed Volt restaurant in Frederick.

Its made from rice (any kind!), liquid (I recommend chicken, beef or any kind of bone broth but you can use veggie broth or even water) and then some kind of nourishing topping.  All you need is a slow cooker or a pot and a stove with a low setting.

Basic Congee Recipe

1 cup of rice (I like using “black” rice but you can use any kind of rice that you enjoy—white, jasmine, brown, wild etc)

6 cups of liquid (beef or chicken broth is best but you can use veggie broth or water)

If using a slow cooker, put the rice and liquid together in the cooker, cover and set it on a low or low-medium setting.  Let it cook together for 4-6 hours until the mixture resembles a thick porridge. 

If you are cooking on the stove, combine ingredients, cover, bring to a boil and then turn setting down to lowest setting.  Cook for several hours checking on it from time to time until the mixture resembles a thick porridge.

Top the congee with a little bit of shredded meat or fish, steamed, roasted or fresh veggies or some ginger, onions or crunchy bits.  A traditional topping might be some shredded pork, green onions, ginger and minced radish.  You can  experiment with different taste combos.  My favorite  congee topping include roasted sweet potatoes , crumbled bacon or shredded pork, and some caramelized onions.  I also like to use shredded chicken breast, sweet potatoes, pickled beets and some sliced almonds.   I have friends who top their congee with sliced eggs and pickled or preserved veggies.  Sometimes I stick to traditionally Asian flavor combinations but you don’t have to.  You can experiment.  The internet is full of different kinds of congee recipes--you can try them all!