Making Rice Congee
Congee is the most popular form of medicinal food in Chinese Food Therapy. In Neijing or The Yellow Emperor's Classics of Internal Medicine, the Yellow Emperor praised congee as "the most nourishing food on earth" because it has all the nutrients from rice grain and is most easy for the digestive system to digest and absorb. It is best for people with weak digestion or indigestion, lack of appetite, stomach pain or diarrhea.
Congee is like rice soup or rice porridge. It is prepared by cooking rice with adequate amount of water which will then turn into semi-solid form in about 30 minutes. When it is prepared plain without any other ingredient added, it has both cleansing and astringent effects. Taking just the rice water without the rice is the best food cure for treating diarrhea for all ages. For cleansing purposes, you can put one cup of rice to about 15 cups of water and cook for one hour. It will turn into a thin rice soup. You can take the soup with rice, and with or without other food. It can help to move and clean congested intestines, promote digestion and soothe stomach pain due to indigestion. Thick plain congee is the common alternative to rice for eating with meal. It is most suitable for people with weak digestion, for young children and seniors who cannot chew well. It is prepared by putting one cup of rice to about 5 cups of water and cook rice to desired softness, in about 20 to 30 minutes.
Gourmet congee is congee cooked with other food ingredients such as herbs, meat and vegetables. They can be most delicious and are usually eaten as main course of meals. For ingredients that may need longer cooking time, they should be cooked first and then add rice later. For ingredients that are not supposed to be eaten with the congee such as herbs, they should be cooked separately into herbal tea first, strain and then add to cook with rice. For ingredients that can be cooked faster than rice and you don’t want them to be overcooked such as leafy vegetables, you will add them to the cooking towards the end.
A few tips for making congee:
1. Always start the cooking with bringing water to a fast rolling boil first before adding rice to the cooking. When boil again, it is crucial to maintain a medium rolling boil throughout the cooking. It is for preventing rice from sitting and sticking to the bottom of the pot and getting burned. Frequent stirring is also necessary if you are cooking a big pot of congee with other food ingredients.
2. Never cook congee with a tight lid on because it will cause water to boil over, unless you are using a big tall pot with less than half full of water. The best nutrients are in the white foamy water and don’t waste them by letting water boil over.
3. If you want your congee to be very soft and the rice to be very mushy, you can season the rice with a tea spoon of salt and oil for about 30 minutes before cooking.
4. Ginger, green onion and citrus peel are all commonly use to enhance flavor and give extra health benefits (move qi and energy) to congee. Slice them all thinly, ginger and citrus peel to be added to the cooking at the beginning and green onion at the end when serve.
5. You can make congee quickly by using already cooked rice and cook it with more water. This can shorten the cooking time by half but the quality is not exactly the same as when cooking from scratch.