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Current food trends lead us to believe that we need to be getting concentrated nutrition with every meal, but sometimes simplicity is just the ticket to get your vitality back on track.
Congee is one such dish that unashamedly flaunts its simplicity in being nothing more than rice or grain cooked in a generous amount of water. Described as a ‘grain soup’ or ‘grain porridge’, congee takes pride of place in many Asian cooking traditions and boasts a rich history spanning thousands of years. It is a culinary staple that is regarded as both a primary healing food offering gentle nourishment in times of weakness, and as a blank canvas to create spectacular comforting feasts. With a selection of delectable toppings and a smattering of seasoning it is a revitalising dish that is not shy on flavour.
THE MAGIC OF SIMPLICITYDigestion uses an extraordinary amount of energy during the day to process the foods you ingest. Eating very simple foods from time to time frees up a whole lot of energy so that the body can direct its resources towards healing and restoration. The invigorating qualities of congee lie primarily in the fact that the grain is cooked very gently for a long amount of time to produce a warming meal that the body assimilates with ease. It is typically served as a light breakfast providing just the right amount of fuel to embrace the day without overloading digestion, but is equally happy served as a scrumptious supper too. Experiment with quantities of water to produce a consistency that is just right for you. As a general rule, I will add more water to make a soup-like savoury congee, and less liquid for a thicker breakfast porridge. Once you have the basic recipe prepared it is time to get busy choosing exquisite toppings.
A BLANK CANVASWhen making congee avoid the tendency to add every health-giving ingredient to the mix in order to make it more nourishing – it may actually be more beneficial to select just a handful of additional ingredients and keep your combinations simple. Remember that simplicity is the key. Mixing and matching just a few ingredients at a time will not only keep things interesting on the palate, but allow you to discover those unique flavour combinations that are born of bold experimentation. After all, once you add congee to the diet you may just find yourself eating it on a regular basis. It is that good. Consider adding any of the following to your congee once cooked:Sliced vegetables: baby marrows, carrot, green beans, mushrooms, spring onion; Spice: chilli flakes, Chinese five-spice powder, grated ginger, turmeric; Herbs: dhania (fresh coriander), mint, parsley;A cherry on top: bean sprouts, croutons, kimchi, marinated tofu, seaweed, toasted seeds.A drizzle of good quality soy sauce and a sprinkling of white pepper and you are ready to go!
A gruel by any other nameCongee is known by many names throughout Asia, but all refer to the same dish. The Chinese term ‘congee’ is a transliteration of Indian Kanji, and is also referred to as Jook in Korea and Kayu in Japan. The Portuguese chicken soup Canja is again derived from congee. Each regional version brings with it subtle variations in seasoning and consistency, but the basic ingredients remain the same.
Sweet CongeeAdd just a pinch of salt and a handful of raisins to your congee while cooking. Serve with a dash of coconut milk and sprinkle of cinnamon for a warming sweet breakfast bowl.
Egg drop soupTo boost the protein content of congee, a beaten egg can be whisked into the soup minutes before serving to make an authentic Chinese ‘Egg Drop Soup.’ Use only organic or free-range eggs whenever possible.
Basic Rice CongeeI usually use Bonnet rice for this recipe, as it cooks up quickly. Brown rice makes an excellent fibre-rich congee, but the cooking time will be dramatically increased. Once you have the hang of the basic recipe, experiment with grains like millet and quinoa to make equally satisfying congee. The possibilities are truly endless. Ingredients1 cup rice, rinsed6 to 8 cups waterSalt and white pepper to taste1 tsp sesame oilTo serve: Spring onion/vegetables/sprouts/soy sauce
Method1. Place the rice in a large pot with the water. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 1 to 2 hours until thick and creamy.2. Add salt and white pepper to taste and sesame oil before serving. 3. Serve with a selection of toppings and a drizzle of soy sauce.
He studied Holistic Nutrition in the UK, returning to South Africa in 2007. He was the resident cook at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo and created the recipes for the extremely popular book The Cake the Buddha Ate. His first solo book, Retreat – The Joy of Conscious Eating, was published in 2014 and has earned Daniel the affectionate title of ‘South Africa’s most beloved vegetarian chef’. He teaches popular cookery retreats around the country with a strong emphasis on seasonal eating.
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