A silky rice soup made from leftover Japanese short-grain white rice. Congee absorbs water and expands as it cooks, so don’t use too much rice unless you intend to eat nothing but congee for a while. For 6 cups of soup, start with perhaps one cup of cooked rice, five cups of water. Put the rice in a heavy pot, cover with cold water and use your hands to mix the rice into the water, breaking up any lumps. Bring it to a boil and then turn it down to a medium heat, stirring frequently. It should be cooked until the grains begin to disintegrate making the broth distinctly silky in texture which may take about 45 minutes. You can make it as thick as you would like, or thin it with more water to achieve the desired consistency. With the addition of a little salt at this point, it would be a familiar and very acceptable breakfast dish to a Zen monk…..but you can add an unlimited number of ingredients and make it as wild as you’d like. Taste it as is first to acquaint yourself with the simplicity of the basic flavour and see what ideas strike you.
For example, peel a piece of ginger, cut it into thin, thin matchsticks and add it to the congee. Stir and taste to see what direction the ginger takes it. Okay, so now look in your cupboards to see what you have on hand that could be added: A drop of shoyu (soy sauce)? Sure. How about a few dried garlic chips? Sure. A few drops of sesame oil? Absolutely. Continue to taste as you add and beware of adding too much of any one ingredient, thus overpowering the soup.
If you have any greens, they could be cut into small pieces and added towards the end of the cooking so that they don’t lose all of their texture. Even sautéed cabbage works well in congee (but don’t add red cabbage while it is cooking or you’ll end up with purple congee.) You can add tofu, beans, nuts or seeds to complete the protein.
I like to make a plain congee and prepare many small dishes of ingredients which people can add to their own bowls at the table. For example: Chilie oil, shoyu, sesame oil, kimchee (Korean pickled cabbage), cubed silken tofu, several kinds of cut uncooked Chinese greens, or perhaps some seared baby bok choy, slivered green onions, peanuts, sunflower seeds, togarashi (Japanese red pepper mixed with sesame seeds), gomasio (toasted white sesame seeds ground with coarse salt), cut nori (toasted seaweed). Each person ladles soup into their own bowl and then adds whatever ingredients they wish, tasting after each addition to see how it changes the soup – it’s a good way to introduce ingredients which might not be familiar.
Congee will store well, refrigerated, for several days. With little effort it can be made up in advance to have on hand to microwave for a fast meal. And it is always very kind to the stomach, especially when you’re not feeling well.