Congee, or rice water, is a thin porridge traditionally eaten as a breakfast food throughout Asia. It is made by boiling a handful of rice in 6-8 cups of water for several hours on low heat. It is said to be easily digested, nourishing, and strengthening to the blood. Congee can be made with just rice and water, or can be made with vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, and herbs. When adding other foods, congee is transformed from a thin porridge into a light soup - the base still consisting of grains.
Though it is known to be an Asian tradition, one can argue that variations of Congee can be found throughout the world amongst all plant-based cultures. Asians use rice, Africans use corn, Indians use cracked wheat, and most Europeans use oats. Still, the thinness of the porridge is what really makes it Congee - as well as using rice.
I recently came down with food poisoning and, after a Yarrow fast, I nourished my digestion and body back to health by eating nothing but Congee for two days, along with some dry toast and jam or baked apples when I was in need of more calories. Though my recipe for Congee differs from the Asian tradition, it bears close resemblance in its intentions, properties, and healing powers. The secret is in the grain and how long you boil it. The longer it is boiled, the stronger its properties become.
When a small amount of grain boils in a large amount of water, the grain breaks open and is transformed into the water. It changes the water into a thick, milky broth that is rich in minerals and nutrients. You can change the grain based on what properties you require. Below is a list of grains, along with their properties, that I've compiled with the help of Paul Pitchford's brilliant book "Healing With Whole Foods".
Amaranth: high protein/amino complex, high in calcium, cooling, dries dampness (yeasts and fungus).
Barley: cooling, strengthens spleen-pancreas, builds the blood and moistens dryness (constipation).
Buckwheat: neutral thermal nature, cleans intestines, strengthens capillaries and blood vessels due to high Rutin content.
Corn: neutral thermal nature, diuretic, improves appetite, tonifies kidneys.
Millet: cooling, diuretic, moistens dryness, alkalizing, balances acidity, high amino acid profile, high in silicon (collagen generator - good for growing skin, hair, nails, and bones).
Oats: warming, restores nervous and reproductive system, removes cholesterol from digestive tract and arteries.
Rice: neural thermal nature, soothes the stomach, expels toxins, concentrated source of B vitamins (restores nervous system), depression relief, helpful in nausea.
As you can see, each grain comes with a very special healing property that one can benefit from. Here is my recipe that nourished me back to life:
A small handful of millet
A small handful of rolled oats
8 cups water
3 bunches of kale, hand torn into desirable sizes (compost the stems, do not include)
3 shiitake mushrooms, cut into small pieces
1 carrot, cut into thin medalions
1 foot of burdock root, cut into thin medallions
1 inch of ginger, cut into thin medallions
1 sheet of kelp, torn into pieces
1 pinch of freshly ground Hawaiian black salt/grey sea salt/himalayan pink salt (optional)
1) Throw grains, water, and kelp into a pot and bring to a boil.
Millet and oatmeal boiling with kelp.
2) Skim off any foam, then reduce to a low simmer and cook for 1-4 hours. The longer you cook this, the stronger it will be. I cooked mine for, about, 2 hours.
3) After cooking the grains, add carrots, burdock, and ginger. Cook for another 20 minutes.
4) Add mushrooms and salt, cook for another 15 minutes.
5) Finally, turn off the heat and add kale and allow to sit covered for 10-15 minutes.
6) Makes 4-6 servings, depending on size.
7) Sip off the hot liquid first, until it there is mostly solid material at the bottom of your bowl, then eat the rest with a spoon or chopsticks.
8) Chew well and feel nourishing energy entering your body.
I find it works best when eaten in nature, beneath the morning, or early afternoon Sun. If it is too cold, sit by a window and look out into the land. If you live in the city look out into the sky, nearby mountains, rivers, or houseplants. Feasting on a bowl of Earth works best when looking at the Earth itself. Understanding the connectivity of the two are at the very foundations of a healing diet. We eat ours on our back porch with the cats, before the magical Plattekill Creek (now full and rushing from a day's worth of rain).