I roasted and served a turkey. This left me with a carcass that was turned to a meaty broth. It smells wonderful, but I'm too tired to make a real soup. Sorting through the broth to take out all the bones. Cleaning and cutting the vegetables. Cooking a pot of noodles. I'm beyond tired. I'm limp with mental and physical exhaustion. And my throat hurts from talking too much and a little bit from a cold, I think.
I had so much fun in my weekend of debauchery and socializing, but I'm so wrung out that I'm not sure what to do with myself. It's taken me three days to clean the house, when it should have only taken me one. Particularly bad when you consider that noders are neat guests.
And, to make matters worse, I'm hungry and chilled and my leftovers consist mostly of an enormous quantity of hummus and babaganoush. Tasty but cold. I'm shivering just thinking about it.
And I've got this massive pot of broth. And some wilted asparagus. And some baby carrots. And some leftover turkey.
My god, I can make porridge.
You see, there's this thing called la ba zhou in Chinese cookery. It's a rice porridge, like congee or jook, which is made with meats and vegetables or fruits and nuts, and I talk about it a bit in eight treasure rice. Unlike European versions of rice porridge, Asian versions have no dairy in them. Jook would be lovely, but I don't want to fuss with chopsticks and the side dishes that go with plain porridge, and I haven't the inclination to thinly julienne ginger and dig up some chicken or pork and cut it small. I'm tired and I want to eat soon. The alternative? Who said it had to taste Chinese?
This is the ultimate comfort food. Easy to make and digest, warm, light but still filling, and savory enough to sooth an over-stimulated palate. I can, and have, eaten nothing but for days on end.
I scoop some of the jellied broth out of the giant pot of bones and meat. About a quart and a half of it goes into a 4 quart pot that's got a good thick bottom. Then, I add about a quart and a half of water, because the broth is rich enough to take thinning, and anyway the rice and other additions will balance it out in the end. Watery doesn't matter in this one whit. In fact, instead of broth, I could use water, and lots of leftover meat. But I want it light, and I don't want to pick through bones. So broth it is. Clearly, vegetable or mushroom stock would work just as well for the hungry vegetarian.
Turn the burner to medium-high, and add a scant cup of raw long grained rice. I prefer long grained rice as it is less starchy than sweet rice and the resultant porridge will have a thinner quality, less glutinous.
Cut the baby carrots in half or thirds (or, if lazy, leave them whole), and add them. Bring the whole thing to a boil and then lower to a simmer. Don't stir too much once the rice has softened or the individual grains will fall apart. It is inevitable, but better if it happens later rather than sooner as the porridge is less liable to stick and burn if the rice is relatively whole. Nonetheless, keep the temperature low enough so that it doesn't burn, and if it appears dry, add some water.
Simmer until the rice has swelled and is essentially done (about half an hour or so) and add the cut up asparagus. Don't bother cutting it small, this isn't about presentation or extra work. It's about what will fit in a soup spoon later. Cut in some turkey if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste, stir, and let it simmer until the asparagus is done (until it's bubbly again, or about five minutes).
Serve in bowls with a big spoon and, if desired, lashings of a not too spicy hot sauce. Some shredded cheese or sour cream can be nice too. Microwave leftovers (a lower power level for twice as long prevents rice explosions) rather than heating up the pot.
This can be done with any permutation of broth or soup and leftovers. My turkey was roasted with nothing but salt and a bunch of fresh thyme in the cavity. I threw the thyme into the broth pot with the carcass, so there's thyme throughout my porridge. It's very pleasant. Regular carrots are better than baby carrots, as they are more flavorful. But I hadn't any. And I hadn't the inclination to go out to get some or to clean them once gotten. Baby carrots were sufficient.
Onions, shallots, garlic; all of these are good thrown in early. Cut them up into largish pieces and add them with the carrots. Turnips, rutabaga, parsnips, etc. could also added at this point.
A few tomatoes can be good, cut into large chunks and thrown in after the carrots. Spinach is good, as is watercress. Tender vegetables such as spinach, watercress, fresh green beans, scallions, bok choy, and nappa cabbage should be added after the hearty ones are cooked through, so they don't overcook. Fresh mushrooms can be added at the same time.
Cooked meats, especially lean ones, should be added late so they don't dry out or lose all their flavor from the extra cooking. Crumbled sausage or bacon, cut up steak, the meat from a leftover chicken leg or pork chop. Anything with a complementary or neutral seasoning will work. Remember the song.
Other grains work as well, although they haven't quite the same effortless and soothing texture. Wild rice is particularly delicious cooked until it's almost indistinguishable in texture from the true rice. Wheat and barley, even rye berries can work. Throw whole grains, including brown rice, in before adding any polished white rice and let them cook for about ten minutes first. Cooked beans can be added at any time depending on how tender you like them, but don't add raw beans; they take too long.
If you haven't rice, or have a quantity of stale bread to eat up instead, do everything the same, but without the rice. A good, hearty bread with robust crusts is best, sesame is particularly nice this way. Cut the bread into 1-2 inch chunks and add it to the simmering soup at the same time as the tender vegetables. Add just enough bread to soak up the soup so that the bread is sopping rather than dry. It's better to underestimate what you will need. Turn down the heat and cook until the vegetables are done and the bread is completely soaked through. If the bread is extremely thick crusted, add it before the tender vegetables and simmer for about 10 minutes first. Serve with a drizzle of good olive oil if desired.
It's not very pretty. The vegetables tend to go khaki colored quickly, or at least during re-heating. But it tastes good and it's reasonably healthy, uses up leftovers, and most of all, it's easy.
And I'm going to have some more right now.