Now there aren’t many foods in this world that I take a sheer disliking to, but if you’d asked me last year for my opinion on congee (Asian rice porridge) it would definitely be difficult to hide my hatred for this dish. I know hate is such a strong word, but I think my initial experience of congee in Hong Kong was just so god awful that it stuck with me my whole life. Ok maybe the ‘whole life’ thing is a bit extreme, but it was a pretty long damn time! I just remember it was doused heavily with oil and random bits of deep-fried frog, with a few battered legs and webbed feet here and there- tempting right?!
What changed my opinion? My dearly beloved friend, ‘Party Pete’. AKA Pete Q, this hardcore party goer who has never cooked a day in his life (because getting take-away food every breakfast, lunch and dinner in Beijing is just the norm) finally stepped foot in the kitchen and cooked! What he created changed my life- and his too of course.
After a long day and night of extreme ktv (karaoke), alcohol-fuelled swing dancing and comedy club attending, we returned to Pete’s flat with an extreme case of the munchies. Ordering take out would take at least an hour from door to door which definitely made it the worst option, but what else did we have? Suddenly Pete remembered that he cooked yesterday. His slow cooker was still heating away (you can leave the food at 60C to keep warm for the rest of its shelf-life) and inside it was a vessel filled with mixed grain porridge. I immediately frowned, it was just my reflex reaction, I could respond no other way to the word ‘congee’. But in that moment of desperation, the need to get some food inside me as soon as possible outweighed my repellent nature toward it.
Pete ladled it out into bowls and topped it with some spicy chicken legs which he also forgot about, sitting in the oven all day in humid conditions, but hey, we didn’t give a shit, it didn’t kill us. I scooped up the first mouthful with chopsticks and was shocked- I actually like it. For the first time in my life, I ate congee and I liked it. But why?
It wasn’t just rice that took up the pot. Pete pimped it up with several types of grains such as millet and quinoa and also threw in some peanuts. There was no sugar or salt so that you could go either way, but the chicken was salty enough so we had to add nothing more. It was so moreish that I had another bowlful but this time with cinnamon and sugar and from that day forth I was a congee convert. I have tupperware containers full of different styles of congee sitting in my freezer for those days when I can’t be bothered to cook, both dessert and dinner! And if you don’t have the freezer room, stick a mixture of grains in the largest jar you can find and bung it in water and the slow cooker and that’s that.
- 50g brown rice
- 50g millet
- 50g quinoa
- 50g buckwheat
- 50g wild rice
- 50g mung beans
- 50g red beans
- 80g peanuts
- 3-4 litres water
- Pinch of salt
- Place all ingredients into a slow cooker and allow to cook for 2-4 hours.
Serve this creamy porridge hot, drizzled with soy sauce and poached eggs or cinnamon and maple syrup, or anything you fancy. I’m thinking even chocolate or toffee sauce could work, but if you try it first, let me know how it goes.