Congee, or an Asian comfort food
Last week I made Congee, a meal that I had never even heard of until I saw the recipe for the first time. Usually when I try a new recipe I have at least some idea of what the final product should be, but this time I was embarking on a true food adventure. I read a post and saw a picture, and immediately pulled out the saucepan. The recipe called for 2 cups of rice to 18 cups of water. I had no pots that would hold that much water, so I split it between the only large pot I have and my crock-pot. The idea of congee seems to be that you cook the rice until it is nearly disintegrated. It is considered a perfect meal for the sick, or women who just gave birth. It seems to have been created for times of famine, or when a small amount of food has to be spread out among many people.
When the rice water had cooked for the correct amount of time, I had two rice gruels, enough food for an entire basketball team. My husband was out of town and I only needed to feed my teenage daughter and I. To the first pot of rice gruel I added cooked chicken and kale. To the second pot I added cinnamon sugar and some milk. I preferred the chicken version and my daughter loved the cinnamon sugar version. We ate that one for breakfast, and my chicken kale version for supper. These two meals were so good, but the next time I try to fix this I plan on waiting until I have a house full of people.
I have been enjoying collecting recipes, and one thing that interests me is that almost every culture has different takes on similar food styles. In Costa Rica I discovered empañadas, in West Virginia I ate pepperoni rolls. In Montana pasties are the meat bread mixture. In the Orient people eat meat dumplings, and then in the south we love chicken potpie. These meals are very different, yet the general idea is bread and meat and sometimes veggies in one serving.
Rice pudding, rice gruel, congee, arroz con leche, these are some of the many versions of the same idea. Can you think of other examples? I think it would be interesting to put together a cookbook of international recipes that showcase different versions of the same thing. Maybe someday I will do this, if it has not already been done.
Anyway, here is the congee recipe borrowed from a favorite blog, http://www.eatingfromthegroundup.com
Adapted from Eating from the ground up
2 cups rice, basmati or jasmine
1 can coconut milk
18 cups water
5 tsp salt
2 Tbs cornstarch
Combine the rice, water, and coconut milk in a very large pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 1-½ hours, stirring every so often. When the mixture thickens add 4 tsp of the salt.
If you are making the chicken version cut up a chicken breast into thin slices or small chunks. Mix the rest of the salt and the cornstarch and mix with the chicken. Add the chicken to the rice and cook until the chicken is done. (When I made this, I had already cooked chicken). Add greens and stir until warm and the greens are soft. (I used Kale, but you could also use spinach). Top with whatever you like.
If you are making the cinnamon version, I added cinnamon sugar, (7 parts sugar to 1 part cinnamon) and milk to the rice, and served this for breakfast.