The Ultimate Comfort Soup: Congee

| November 29, 2010 | 17 Comments
  • 17 Comments

CongeeNow that cold and flu season has set in, it’s time to start hunting down comforting soup recipes. Besides the requisite chicken soup that we all need in our cooking arsenal, there’s another kind of dish that will cure what ails you when you’ve contracted the creeping crud: congee. For those not in the know, congee, also known as jook, is a creamy rice porridge that’s a staple in Asian cultures. Consisting of rice that’s been slowly cooked down to the point that the starches disintegrate into a bowl creamy goodness — think risotto, only cooked longer — congee is warm and easy to digest. Plus it’s gluten free by default, can be make either vegan or vegetarian, and keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days.

Congee can be eaten sweet for breakfast, but more traditional recipes add in any number of savory ingredients, such as chicken, mushrooms, onions, and egg. Simpler, blander congee recipes can be fed to infants, used as a cold/curative curative, and won’t upset your stomach further when you’ve eaten something that doesn’t agree with you. Overall, congee might be the perfect food when you need a comforting dish that’s easy on your digestive system.

If you’re looking for wonderful congee restaurants in the Bay Area, you’ve got several options:

Congee is also easy to make at home. I like adding a tablespoon of butter or olive oil with just a sprinkling of curry powder, or else I make a more elaborate chicken jook for those days when I want something meaty. The recipe below is perfect for when you’re not feeling well and find yourself craving a dish that’s warm, nourishing, and easy to prepare.

Simple Vegetarian Congee

Makes: 6 servings

Ingredients:
6 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup short-grain or glutinous rice (which is gluten-free, by the way)

4 cups vegetable stock

4-8 cups water

1 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and diced

1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 small head of bok choy, chopped

1 teaspoon salt + more to taste

4 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped

Preparation:
1. Soak mushrooms in enough hot water to cover them. Once they are soft, discard water, drain mushrooms and remove the stems. Chop coarsely and set aside.

2. Rinse rice once and set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, bring stock to a boil over high heat. Once the stock is boiling, add rice and 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil again, then reduce heat to very low, allowing to gently simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary to create a creamy consistency.

4. After 30 minutes, add mushrooms, ginger, carrots, and bok choy. Let cook for another 60 minutes, continuing to add water and stir occasionally. You’ll need to stir and scrape the bottom of the pot every few minutes to keep from burning.

5. Once you’ve got a nice, creamy consistency and most of the rice grains have melted away into the stock, salt to taste. Serve hot in individual bowls and garnish with minced scallions.

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Category: asian food and drink, bay area, health and nutrition, holidays and traditions, local food businesses, recipes, vegetarian and vegan

About the Author ()

Stephanie is a writer and cookbook author recovering from her former tech-startup life. On the side she's also a media consultant, specializing in all forms of digital goodness: audio, video, print, design, and social media. After leaving the tech world nearly a decade ago, Stephanie made a career jump to her lifetime love, writing. She currently writes for the Huffington Post, KQED's Bay Area Bites, NPR, and other select media outlets. Her first cookbook,Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese, is due out in fall 2013 on Little, Brown with coauthor Garrett McCord. Being a recovering techy leaves an indelible mark, and everything Stephanie does is infused with her deep fascination with digital technology. She has been blogging since 1999, before blog engines even existed and a great readership consisted of a handful of friends who occasionally thought to check out your site. In 2005 she started her first food blog, which she repurposed in 2007 to become The Culinary Life. Stephanie can be called many things: food writer, essayist, professional recipe developer, cookbook author, social media consultant, videographer, documentary maker, website developer, archivist of life. Despite all of these titles, she most commonly responds to Steph.
  • http://jobostonisafoodie.blogspot.com Jo Boston

    In the Philippines, we have something similar called “arroz caldo” – we cooked it with chicken and top with with fried garlic, lemon, fish sauce, and scallions. My favorite dish to eat in the winter, most definitely.

    The chicken porridge at Out the Door, though Vietnamese, comes darn close to arroz caldo.

  • jmansor

    I cook this all the time and I use broken rice. You can find them at the rice section of asian markets like 99 Ranch Market. If you use Broken Rice, your cooking time will cut into half! Also, if you do not want your vegetables too mushy, just add them as topping before you serve.

  • http://marcsala.blogspot.com Marc

    The recipe looks great, something to try on cold winter mornings or nights, perhaps even going in a different direction with basmati rice and Indian spices. However, I don’t understand why you discard the water in step 1. By doing that, you’re discarding mushroom flavor! A better approach would be to pour the soaking water through a very fine strainer (like a coffee filter) to remove any sediment from the mushrooms, then using that “mushroom stock” as part of the vegetable stock, or as an addition at the end.

  • http://frugalkiwi.co.nz Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi

    I’ve had creamed rice, but never Congee. I’ll have to give it a go.

  • http://www.nopotcooking.com NoPotCoooking

    This is fascinating. I’ve read about congee but never knew exactly how to make it. It’s something that certainly doesn’t get much play here. Thanks for sharing this!

  • http://chezsven.blogspot.com Alexandra

    I had never heard of congee. Does it taste anything like risotto? I had risotto in a local restaurant a couple weeks ago and expected to be sick, as it was so creamy, but I digested perfectly. Guess congee is similar that way.

  • http://myitchytravelfeet.com Donna Hull

    I’ve never tried congee but after reading your post, I can see why it would be a good dish during flue and cold season, or any other time of the year. I’ll be adding this to my recipe files. Thanks.

  • http://www.myKidseatsquid.com MyKidsEatSquid

    This does sound so soothing. I’m making potato leek soup this week (my mom’s recipe). I’m wondering what you’d suggest to add if you want a little heat? Serrano maybe?

  • Susan

    This does sound like a good comfort food! Thanks for the recipe.

  • http://www.healthywomen.org/womentalk/blog/midlife-matters Sheryl

    As I sit here fighting the sniffles and a sore throat, this sounds like the perfect treatment. Thanks for the recipe~can’t wait to try it!

  • http://www.geezersisters.com/ Ruth Pennebaker

    I’ve seen this on menus before, but have never ordered it; I’m in a rut, I guess. Next time, I’m definitely trying it.

  • http://atravelerslibrary.com Vera Marie Badertscher

    I first met congee in Singapore at a street market, and had it for breakfast. I liked the fact that I could add what I wanted to it (to avoid my onion allergy) similar to an omelet table at a western buffet breakfast. It is the ultimate comfort food, isn’t it?

  • Diane

    Love congee – it’s total comfort food. Also good for the sickly. I was staying with a sick relative two weeks ago and made tons of congee, which was all she could stomach for a few days.

  • http://mothering.com/jennifermargulis/ Jennifer Margulis

    I’ve never made this before but I am eager to try after reading this cool recipe!

  • http://www.goodfoodstories.com Casey@Good. Food. Stories.

    Oooh, it’s so cold in my house right now that I can imagine a big bowl of congee warming me up as I slurp it. It’s mentally soothing, even if I can’t make it this evening.

  • Judy

    THE ABOVE METHOD IS TOO MUCH WORK! No stirring or scraping with a crockpot … 1 cup rice to 1 gallon of homemade chicken broth. Boil the broth first in a pot, add with rinsed rice to crockpot and cook on high for 3-4 hours … Stir until smooth right before serving. If you prefer a thicker jook, add more rice.

    A quick method for someone under the weather is to bake the jook in a covered casserole. Put 1/3 cup rinsed rice and 3 cups hot broth in a 2 qt glass casserole, cover and bake in a preheated 400 degrees oven for 30 minutes, stir until smooth right before serving … Again, no stirring or scraping during the cooking process!

  • Judy

    THE ABOVE METHOD IS TOO MUCH WORK! No stirring or scraping with a crockpot … 1 cup rice to 1 gallon of homemade chicken broth. Boil the broth first in a pot, add with rinsed rice to crockpot and cook on high for 3-4 hours … Stir until smooth right before serving. If you prefer a thicker jook, add more rice.

    A quick method for someone under the weather is to bake the jook in a covered casserole. Put 1/3 cup rinsed rice and 3 cups hot broth in a 2 qt glass casserole, cover and bake in a preheated 400 degrees oven for 30 minutes, stir until smooth right before serving … Again, no stirring or scraping during the cooking process!