Congee, jook, okayu. Asian-style rice porridge has many names and countless variations, but in every instance it is a simple, comforting dish for breakfast or any time of day. This extra nutritious version includes brown rice, shiitake mushrooms, handfuls of greens, and warming ginger.
I grew up with the Vietnamese version, called cháo, which my parents made using white rice and lots of water in a big, simmering pot. (It can also be made in a rice cooker or slow cooker.) Sometimes the porridge was thick and creamy, other times more soupy, but it was always a welcome meal, especially if we were sick or the weather was chilly.
Nowadays I make cháo when I feel the need for comfort, only I use brown rice instead of white (more nutrients!). Congee is often a frugal food, and you can make it plain or add meat or vegetables. I like a vegetarian version with a couple of savory shiitake mushrooms and Asian greens or whatever veg I have on hand, whether it's bok choy or kale. Sliced ginger is also a must for me; I love its subtle spice and circulation-stimulating properties.
Then come the garnishes and condiments. Congee is often very mild on its own, and garnishes are what make it more flavorful and fun. I like to add color and texture with toppings like eggs, peanuts, scallions, fried shallots, and fresh herbs, although it's also possible to keep things simple with just a drizzle of soy sauce or sesame oil. When serving others, it's nice to put the garnishes out in little dishes and let each person customize her or her bowl.
Brown Rice Congee with Shiitake Mushrooms and GreensServes 4
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1-inch piece ginger, thinly sliced
1 cup sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms (if substituting dried, pre-soak in hot water for 20 minutes)
1 cup long-grain brown rice, rinsed and drained
9 cups water or vegetable stock
4 ounces greens, thinly sliced (can use Chinese broccoli, broccoli raab, broccolini, bok choy, mustard greens, kale, etc.)
Salt or soy sauce
White or black pepper
Garnishes and condiments (choose some or all)
Thinly sliced scallions
Chopped fresh cilantro
Roasted or fried peanuts
Toasted sesame seeds
Boiled egg or century egg
Pickled mustard greens or Chinese cabbage
Soy sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, chile paste
Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. Sauté the garlic, ginger, and mushrooms until the mushrooms are softened.
Add the rice and water or stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom. After 1 hour, stir in the greens.
Continue simmering for another 30 minutes or so until it reaches the consistency of porridge. Cook to your own preference; some people prefer it more soupy, others more thick. If a thinner consistency is desired, you can add more boiling water or stock during cooking.
Season to taste with salt or soy sauce and pepper. Serve hot with the garnishes and condiments of your choice.
Congee may be refrigerated for a few days, but the consistency will become thicker. Add more water or stock when reheating.
(Images: Emily Ho)