Many Asian countries have variations of rice porridge — there’s okayu in Japan, juk in Korea, jok in Thailand, and lugao from the Philippines. In China, this staple dish is called congee, and it’s standard fare for breakfast, lunch and even dinner. The Chinese start young with congee, since it’s often the first food served to children after a mother’s milk.
Congee is a perfect dish for patients going through treatment or recuperating on a bland diet or are having diarrhea. It’s gentle on the stomach and thought to improve the appetite. If you make congee with brown rice, you get the benefits of additional fiber, which will help you maintain regular digestion. While brown rice congee is high in fiber, use white rice when following a bland diet. Congee also helps keep you hydrated, as there is so much water in the dish, making it a great meal to turn to when you might be feeling nauseated or just sapped of energy.
A terrifically flexible dish that can be part of a larger meal or served on its own, congee can be made with homemade chicken broth for a richer soup, and with fish or diced chicken for extra protein. To add oomph, flavor the soup with scallions, shitake mushrooms, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil and pepper. Adding any vegetables you might have in the fridge boosts the nutritional value significantly, since congee itself is not vitamin packed. The soothing dish is very low in all fats, carbs and sugars.
This recipe is a good starting point for whatever improvisations you want to make. Although it takes time to make, it keeps well in the fridge for several days, or can be frozen in portion sizes. If you opt to use stock over water, choose a high-quality, low-sodium chicken stock (or make your own as below) and serve the stew topped with diced chicken, marinated tofu, a poached egg or vegetables. The addition of ginger adds warmth to the broth and makes it particularly soothing on the stomach — feel free to add as much as you like.