All over Asia, rice is not just a foodstuff but it has also its fixed place in religious symbolism and rituals, festivals, weddings etc. Rice is perceived as a gift of the gods and a meal without rice is not considered a full meal. Rice is not considered to be just an ingredient or a side dish. There are various one-dish meals of rice soup or porridge cooked with plenty of water or broth (roughly 6 cups of water per 1 cup of rice), called congee. Congee or in mandarin zhōu (jook in Cantonese) is proof that some of the best-tasting things in life are at the same time the simplest. It is easy to prepare and we can enjoy it at any time of day and in any season. It is ideal for babies, old people and chronically ill patients for its nutritional value and ease of digestion. Congee strengthens blood and energy, harmonizes, nourishes and refreshes. Moreover, if we cook rice with vegetables, herbs, meat or other cereals, we add additional curative effects to the porridge. It is possible to use a strained liquid as a substitute for breast milk for babies living in poverty. For infants, we can add fresh soya milk or sesame paste and cook it together with rice.
The history of this simple food probably goes back to the period of a thousand years BC. There is a funny story about its origin:
“Once upon a time, one poor man expected guests. Unfortunately, he had enough rice for only two or three people, but the guests were ten. He instructed his son who was in charge of the kitchen to stretch the rice by adding more water. He told him that every time he calls his name he must pour more water into the pot. However, the man was old and forgetful and called his son many times without realizing what he had previously commanded. Every time his son heard his name, he poured a ladle of water into the pot. The result was a porridge, which guests were given instead of rice.”
The preparation of congee is really very simple:
Cook the rice with the lid on for 4-6 hours on a very mild fire. In earlier times, wood-heated stoves were used but nowadays I recommend using the crockpot so there is no need to worry about burning it. I personally use the Ninja Instant Cooker. It is programmable, multifunctional, safe and most importantly has an inner container with a ceramic surface. Some of the ingredients, in contact with metal, change properties in an undesirable manner. I use this pot, even a slightly older model, for a few years and I am very satisfied. It is definitely worth trying.
Congee is not just food but also a great base for therapeutic concoctions. Although rice itself benefits the spleen and stomach, we can enrich it with other ingredients, which we choose according to the patient’s needs.
Here are just a few examples:
Adzuki beans – diuretic properties, heal swelling and gout
Apricot kernels – cough and asthma
Carrot – supports digestion, eliminates flatulence
Mungo beans – cool, suited to summer heat, reduce fever, suppress thirst
Poppy – is a much better and more digestible source of calcium than milk, it benefits the colon
Chicken broth – exhaustion, convalescence after injuries
Fennel – prevents flatulence, harmonizes the stomach, cures a hernia
Yoghurt and honey – good for the heart and lungs
Spinach – harmonizes and soothes
Sesame – treats rheumatism
Radish – supports digestion
Pink peppercorn – the fruit of Schinus molle (Peruvian pepper tree) – hypothermia and malaria prevention
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) – prevents flatulence and treats intestinal pain
Wheat – for its cooling effect it is used in fevers, cleans the digestive tract, soothes, alternatively, it can be used for cardiac insufficiency
Garlic – chronic diarrhoea in the elderly
Mustard – eliminates mucus, cleanses stomach overloaded with an inappropriate diet
Poultry liver – liver disease (it is a must to use organically processed offal from animals from organic farms)
There is a never-ending list of rice-based healing porridges. You can find them literally in each and every corner of Asia. For example in Japan, they call it okayu and often serve it with umeboshi plums, eggs, mushrooms or shoyu. I would like to encourage you to make your own research in this field. Let your imagination flow and follow your needs and tastes. You can use the food properties chart here or for further study, I warmly recommend:
The Book of Jook: Chinese Medicinal Porridges–A Healthy Alternative to the Typical Western Breakfast by Bob Flaws.
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