"Don't worry, I won't put quinoa in it this time." —Mom
The thing about basic congee is that it's usually made from leftover rice—and Mom and Dad have been on a real health kick lately, blending their rice with quinoa...which I hate (the quinoa, not the rice). Growing up, Saturday afternoons were spent eating basic congee (known in Cantonese as bok juk, or white congee), when Mom was short for time, made with yesterday's plain-Jane white rice. And that's how it should be. I mean if you're a health nut, feel free to add quinoa, use brown rice, add hemp or chia seed, etc., but if you want this dish in its truest form—in the same way that village peasants would eat it in China—simply add rice and water.
Mushy and bland, there's really no reason to love basic congee—but as a non-congee lover, I have a deep affection for this dish. Why? Because it's an AMAZING vehicle for pickled vegetables and fûrû, or fermented bean curd (a traditional Chinese condiment made from tofu soaked in brine that's similar to blue cheese in that it's a really wonderful kind of stinky and salty).
Usually #onthetable would be your bowl of basic congee and then a communal bowl of fûrû, and next to that the glorious Chinese Pickled Cucumbers. Exactly as they sound, they're cucumbers pickled in soy sauce and sugar. They come in a red can, one that brings me warm and fuzzy feelings every time I see it. The nostalgia runs deep. They have a satisfying crunch with a savory-sweet taste that goes perfectly with mushy white congee. I remember when we were visiting family in China, and basic congee was lunch one afternoon, I saw all the different pickled and fermented goods to pair with the congee. I threw a hissy fit because I didn't see THE Chinese Pickled Cucumbers. Ironically no one could find them, and I sulked the whole time, thinking how absurd it was that they didn't have my favorite addition—I mean the word "Chinese" was in the name!
During a trip home in October, I asked Mom for basic congee for lunch and she made it—but I was SO disappointed because there was quinoa in it and it didn't taste quite the same. So the following month, when I went home, we had basic congee redux sans quinoa. But we did have a few additions to the table—turns out Dad pickles veggies in his spare time (#retirement). Mom said she never tried any of his pickled goods, and it was just a corner of the fridge she never touched. Dad had pickled daikon, classic cucumbers, peanuts, red beans, and ginger. We took all of it out and tried it with the basic congee—and for once, the prized and beloved Chinese Pickled Cucumbers were left unfinished.
My love for Chinese Pickled Cucumbers will never go away, but I've learned to keep an open mind and make room for changes that may be even better. It's like an old boyfriend—you broke up somewhat amicably and you're always going to have a place for him in your heart, but you've moved on and realized you don't love or need him in the same way you thought.
Prep: 5 mins. | Cook: 15 mins.
INGREDIENTS (FOR 2)
|1 1/2 cup rice|
|2 cups water|
|+ anything pickled|
1. Wash and strain rice.
1. Toss rice and water in rice cooker. If you don't have a rice cooker, use a saucepan and cook rice as you normally would. Extra water creates the mushy texture, so if you like it softer, feel free to add more water.
*As noted above, feel free to make it your own and add quinoa, hemp, flax, or chia seeds, but I'm happiest with simple white rice.
Pair the basic congee with anything pickled. I bought a jar of Chinese pickled cucumbers (not the same brand I grew up with because I couldn't find it anywhere), but it's brined in chili oil, so naturally I was intrigued. If you want to experiment with various pickled goods from the Asian grocery store, you can find all your options in the sauce aisle. But you can also just pair with your favorite pickled goodies or whatever you have in the fridge. And if you want an added kick, try the basic congee with some fûrû.