What’s congee? It’s rice, rice baby. Rice porridge…cooked slowly for a long time or under pressure until the rice is completely broken down and soft. Rice gets a bad rap as a grain, but a staple of East Asian cultures. While white rice does not have much nutritional value, short grain brown rice has fiber, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6 and manganese. Magnesium is good for or regulating blood pressure and offsetting sodium in the body. When the rice is cooked down into a porridge, it is easy to digest. To give it even more nutrition, I included an seed and grain blend that included quinoa, hemp, chia, flax, amaranth, sprouted buckwheat, and sprouted millet. Topped with a Maitake mushroom breaded with a gluten-free nut breading, quick pickled radish, fermented carrots and ginger, avocado, sauteed asparagus, sunflower seeds and a soft boiled egg, this was a satisfying flavorful brunch.
Over the past few months, in addition to my day job as a Medical Director of a healthcare communications agency leading a scientific communication practice, as a side hustle I became a consultant for a skin care line, that has transformed my skin. It offered me a chance to blend several of my loves together – science, self care and connection with people. One of the best ways to connect is over a meal, so sometimes I invite people over for a meal I craft with some drinks I mix in my old lab ware. I held a brunch to talk about the products and this dish was born of my desire to create a filling, light, unique, flavorful meal. Nourish your body from inside and out.
Congee is from China and is simply rice cooked down to a thick porridge. Different Asian cultures have similar dishes. In India, where my family is from, rice and lentils are cooked under pressure in a pressure cooker until they form a easily digested porridge like mixture. The idea is to give the body warm easy to process food to stoke the fires of digestion without overwhelming the system. The grain is completely broken down in the cooking process your gut does not react like it normally would to grain (bloating, indigestion, inflammation etc).
As a breakfast, your meal should not be too heavy without something to activate the digestion. Congee lightly stimulates your digestive system which has slowed from sleep – easy to digest. Brunch or lunch should be your biggest meal because it is the time of day when your metabolic fire is the strongest. It should contain concentrated protein such as animal products, legumes, nuts, seeds. Which is where this dressed up congee fits in well. Dinner should not be too heavy – as energy should be spent on recovery and not digestion – and so once again, congee works well. I have made this as a smaller portion for dinner.
Congee is most often made with white rice and water, but to add more nutrition and flavor, I made it using a short grain brown rice as well as a mix of grains – sprouted buckwheat, sprouted millet, amaranth and a mix of seeds – quinoa, hemp, chia, and flax. You can easily sprout your own grains or buy them individually, or you can get a premixed blend at Trader Joe’s.
Also, to impart flavor, instead of water, I used a vegetable stock I made. You can always use store bought stock, but making your own is more nutritious and easy to do. I often make large batches and store it in the freezer.
Congee is simple to make but it requires a lot of liquid and a couple of hours, with stirring every 15-20 minutes so the rice does not burn at the bottom. Simply add the rice, seeds and grains to a large pot with the stock, bring to a boil partially covered, reduce until simmering and cook partially covered for about 1.5- 2 hours, stirring every so often until it forms a porridge.
No one believed me when I told them it was rice, grains and seeds – it is so soft, savory and melts in your mouth.
As a whole dish with the mushroom and veg, it is heavenly.
Eggs were specifically requested so I made some boiled eggs for some people, soft with a runny yolk for some (with eggs sourced from a small farm). However, since I was on a vegan challenge last month, I wanted to provide a plant based topping. I remembered my plant based “chicken” made from a pressed maitake mushroom, breaded with coconut, sriracha, gluten free flours and nuts.
Maitake are also called hen of the woods, king mushrooms, and sheep’s head and are most often found in the Northeast in America but are grown elsewhere. The key to making this “chicken” is seasoning and flattening the mushroom. The breaded mushroom can be baked or lightly pan fried. You can get the details for this plant based chicken in my previous post here.
Once again, people were surprised that this was made from a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg less breading and was a mushroom.
For the veg, I simply steamed some asparagus in a pan with some water and salt. The veg was pickled or fermented. Now this can be done two ways. You can make it or you can buy it.
Pickled vegetable can be found in almost any grocery now a days. The pickle veg is good to add some additional flavor and acid to cut through the richness of the savory dish. It also adds flavor, texture and nutrients. It punches up the flavor of a dish and is a great way to preserve veg. I had some watermelon radish, which I love to eat, but was going bad because we had too much, so I sliced it and pickled it – simply heated up water, apple cider vinegar, salt and spices and poured it over the sliced radish in a jar. Cover the jar, let cool to room temp and then place in the fridge for 1-2 days before eating but they can stay in the fridge for weeks.
I used a mandolin to thinly slice the radish, but you can use a knife carefully, or slice into sticks. Or you can use french radishes and pickle them whole.
Fermenting veg is a method to preserve foods with enhanced nutrient content. The bacteria makes the minerals in the preserved cultured veg more readily available to the body and they also produce vitamins and enzymes that are beneficial for digestion. The process is more involved than a quick pickle. It also requires more equipment, but I made my own using a recipe from Stupid Easy Paleo that very smartly uses different size mason jars. It takes 7-10 days to ferment, provides more probiotics to the diet and again, gives the dish a nice flavorful punch with the ginger.
If you don’t want to make it, you can buy it at most health food stores.
After that just assemble. Avocado, pickled veg, fermented carrot, mushroom.
I garnished with scallion, cilantro and sunflower seeds.
And added an egg for some.
Dig in. Light. Nourishing. Full of flavor. A nice brightness from the pickled and fermented veg. The sauteed asparagus adds a freshness. the mushroom gives it a “filling” feel. The sunflower seeds add texture.
Savory Brown Rice, Grain and Seed Congee
- 1 cup short grain brown rice
- 1/2 cup seed and grain mix
- 3 quarts vegetable stock
- Salt to taste
Mix the rice, seeds, grains, and vegetable stock into a large pot, over medium to high heat. Stir and partially cover. Bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and keep covered. Stir every 15-20 minutes so rice does not stick to the bottom and burn. Cook for 1.5-2 hours until liquid cooks down.
- 1 bunch asparagus, ends trimmed and chopped into quarters
- 1/4 cup water
- pinch of salt
Place the water into a pan over low to medium heat. Add asparagus. Cover the pan and allow the asparagus to steam for 5-7 minutes until the asparagus is cooked but still firm for a crunchy bite. Remove from pan and sprinkle with salt.
- 1 bunch radishes, trimmed and sliced thinly.
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorn
- 1 tsp whole cumin
- 1 tsp whole fennel seeds
- 1 tsp whole mustard seeds
- 1 tsp whole coriander
- 1 tsp anise
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 Tbs maple syrup
- 2 Tbs salt
Pack the radishes into a small jar, preferably pint size canning jar, but int a pinch use anything. Fill with the spices and seeds
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, maple syrup and salt and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve salt and syrup. Pour the mixture over the radishes and cover the jar. Let it cool to room temperature. They can be eaten once cool or refrigerate for use later. They retain crispness for about 5 days but can be eaten beyond that.
- 1 Tbs pink Himalayan salt
- 1 Tbs Herbs de Provence (or rosemary, thyme, basil, tarragon, savory, lavender mixture)
- 1 Tbs black pepper
- Coconut oil or olive oil
- 3 large maitake mushroom clusters
- 2 cups light coconut milk, mixed
- 1/3 cup hot sauce (add more if you prefer spicy)
- 1 + 1 cup coconut flour
- 1/2 cup tapioca flour
- 1/2 cup raw almonds
- 1/2 cup raw pecans
- 1.5 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp pink Himalayan salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne (add more if prefer spicy)
- 1 cup oil for frying
In a small bowl, combine, salt, herbs de Provence and black pepper. Set aside.
Heat cast iron skillet or heavy duty sauce pan to med heat. Lay out mushrooms on a sheet pan and spray or dab a small amount of oil all over the mushrooms and into the skillet. Sprinkle some of the salt, pepper, herb mixture on the mushrooms. Place a mushroom into the heated pan and place a second cast iron pan – or something heavy to create a press, on top of the mushroom. Cook for 2 -3 minutes then flip over carefully as the mushrooms break easily. Sprinkle a bit more of seasoning and then press with pan again. Repeat so each side is cooked at least 2 times but at least until mushrooms are pressed flat into light golden brown patty with no liquid in the pan. Remove mushrooms from heat and cool.
In a small bowl, mix coconut milk with hot sauce. Soak mushrooms in coconut milk hot sauce for at least 10 minutes – but can be kept in liquid mixture until ready to bread and cook.
In a food processor, chop pecans and almonds until forms a meal with no large chunks. Place into a bowl and whisk together with 1 cup coconut flour, tapioca flour, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne.
In a separate bowl, place 1 cup of coconut flour.
Lightly dredge the mushroom patty in coconut flour, dip back into coconut milk mixture, and then in nut mixture until fully coated.
These can be fried or baked. Baking will result in a softer crust.
To fry, heat a cast iron pan with oil so it is 1/4 to 1/2 deep with a temperature about 375 degrees F. Test the oil with a small bit of the flour – it should bubble up immediately, but should not be smoking. Fry each piece for several minutes on each side until golden brown, when done let sit on paper towels or paper bag to drain excess oil.
To bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray or brush top of breaded shroom patties with coconut oil. Bake for 30-35 min until crusty. Check after about 25 min to be careful to not overcook.