My acupuncturist recommended Congee as a healing remedy to tame inflammation and ease digestion. The cooking process breaks down the rice grain in a way that is easiest for the body to digest and absorb the nutrients.
Congee is a staple of Chinese cooking. It is a traditional, comfort food and is served either savory or sweet. It is first referenced in writing in 1000 BCE in the Book of Zhou during the Zhou Dynasty. There are many different styles that have developed throughout the years, like Jook, from southern China. There is a version of this porridge in most regions of the world. It is a reflection of the region’s food traditions and flavors.
Congee and Eastern Medicine
Medicinally, it forms a solid base for the body to receive the nutrients it needs from the rice and other ingredients enhance the therapeutic benefits. For example, ginger congee helps to settle nausea, soothe indigestion and ease inflammation and menstrual cramps. The rice serves as a way to transport the elements the body needs.
It is also believed that warmth from the congee supports the spleen and the stomach’s functions.
Typically the kidney supplies heat and warms the spleen, which in turn supports the stomach’s processes. If the kidney is weakened, for any reason, then the congee and the spices can help to ‘jumpstart’ the digestive fires in the kidney to help the spleen and stomach break down the food more efficiently. This can be helpful when a person’s energy reserves are low.
The most important elements to consider when making congee are the liquid to rice ratio and time (see below for my recommendations). Ideally, the rice will absorb the majority of the liquid and the Congee will become thick and creamy, similar to porridge.
Therapeutic Benefits of Congee
- Congee warms the body → In Traditional Chinese Medicine, foods that are warm, easily digestible, and moistening help nourish and soothe a weakened or inflamed digestive tract.
- Improves regularity, loose stools or irregular bowel movements, constipation, gas.
- Nourishes stomach and spleen meridians to improve bloating, sinus drainage and congestion, water retention, heavy-bodied sensation, frontal headaches, feeling groggy in the mornings, brain fog, and easy bruising
- Enhances milk production for mothers who are breastfeeding.
- Tonifies Qi and Blood. This translates to increased strength and energy for those with fatigue and weakness.
- Quickens recovery from the flu, viruses, and food poisoning.
How to Make Congee
- Grate a small amount of ginger, 1/2-1tsp
- Add 1 cup of rice, water, 1/4tsp of salt, and grated ginger to the pot
- Instant Pot: add short-grain white or brown rice and vegetable broth, coconut milk, or water in a 6/1 liquid to rice ratio. Cook on porridge setting for 30 minutes.
- Thick-bottomed Stovetop Pot: 10/1 liquid to rice ratio and cook until soft and silky. 8-10 hours.
- Slow Cooker: low for 6-8 hours.
If you are using congee while experiencing an illness or if you have a compromised digestive tract I would recommend skipping adding anything and keep it simple with extra stock, rice, maybe a veggie or two, and minimal spices.
Each of these ingredients have a variety of therapeutic properties of their own...
- Add spices: Garlic, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, etc. all go nicely in congee. You can flavor it savory or sweet depending on how you are feeling at the time or on what you are planning to treat.
- Add veggies: Baby spinach, shallots, leeks, thinly sliced cabbage mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, green onion, steamed, or sauteed.
- Add protein: Tofu or a fried, poached, or soft boiled egg, shrimp, smoked salmon.
- Add fat: Coconut milk, oil, ghee, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, pecans.
- Add umami: tamari, coconut aminos, miso, bonito flakes.
My current go-to combination is coconut aminos, a soft-boiled egg and chives.
Sources and Further Reading:
Photo from One Lovely Life