The Healing Power of Congee {With Recipe}

Last June I started attending acupuncture for my severe digestion issues. They were so pervasive that they were bleeding into my mental health, and if that sounds dramatic, I swear, it doesn't do the situation justice. Now, I could write an entire series on how much I LOVE acupuncture and all the amazing things it has done for me personally, but today I want to talk about the first, best, easiest thing you can do for your body, digestion problems or not.

And that is to make and eat congee every. Damn. Day. 

Now, I don't want to front or anything. I am no expert on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), or even on congee itself, but I have been a years-long sufferer of ill digestion, and I'm nearly a year in on my acupuncture and TCM diet regimen, so I have picked up a thing or two along the way. I've also read The Book of Jook, which is an amazing foundational book on TCM's eating philosophy, which I highly recommend if this interests you beyond your breakfast plate.

Let's start with the basics. What the heck is congee and why should you be eating it? 
Congee is a slow-cooked, broken rice porridge, not unlike a cream of wheat or cream of rice hot cereal you might get at an American grocery store. It's essentially one part rice to 8 parts water, and during the cooking process the water swells the rice so exquisitely that it bursts, turning into a creamy, slightly sweet, porridge. When cold, it congeals, but when heated, it becomes nice and creamy.

It is a staple food in China, and one eaten by the peasants, who incidentally, live longer than their wealthier counterparts who do not eat congee. It is also a foundational food in the TCM philosophy of eating because of its constitution (rice and water), its versatility in being paired with ingredients (and healing herbs), and its ability to slowly awaken digestion in a soothing manner, and therefore be a good breakfast food that promotes the positive movement of Qi--the energy life source, the gooooood stuff.


The idea, distilled, is this: raw food is hard to digest. We have to work really hard to break down food that isn't already what the principles would dub "the 100 degree soup." So, if you're throwing an apple in your gob first thing in the morning, well, you're working overtime. And in TCM, that is no way to gently awake the system.

Another way to think of this is to consider the stomach like a fire. Hot foods help stoke the fire, while cold foods are like throwing a damp towel on your digestive fires.

Congee is a terrific candidate for the job of digestive wake up because it's full of water (hydrating), rice is easy to digest, it's warm (no extra work on the stomach's part), and you can add lots of healing herbs and spices to make it even more beneficial. It stokes the fire. Also, if I've had any upset from the night before, this generally quells the beast, and gets me back where I need to be, digestively speaking.

Let's talk versatility
Congee is a great "base" food. Which is probably why it's so favored in TCM. As you can probably imagine, there are as many maladies as there are people in the world. While congee benefits everyone and anyone, if you are trying to heal, your protocol is likely to be more individualized. Luckily, congee pairs well with everything from sweet to savory. I enjoy mine with a variety of fruits, like blueberries, dried cherries, pineapple, or mango and I like adding a bit of raw honey and ginger and cinnamon.

But there have also been times when I have found I skipped breakfast. One reason I do this is if I am not hungry. My acupuncturist encouraged me to stop eating when I wasn't hungry (even if it's mealtime.) It's too taxing on the digestion, who is not signaling a need for food. There are times when I skip breakfast and instead enjoy congee for lunch with savory items, such as Irish beef stew, or my favorite, Beef Bourginon. It is SO delicious ramped up with some salt and lots of gravy!

Will it keep me full? 
The goal of congee is not so much to keep you full as it is to get your system started in the morning. It's a complex carbohydrate, so it breaks down a bit more slowly than others, so it is a great breakfast food for this reason. I'll also tell you a secret: for a person who has had digestive issues (and anxiety issues), feeling hungry is the best feeling EVER because it means 1) I'm not anxious, and 2) everything is working properly!

So the short answer is that unless you pair your congee with a protein, you'll probably be hungry again in about 2 hours. For me, this works because I have my congee about 10am, and then I eat lunch about 12:30PM or so. According to my friend, in school for Acupuncture, the optimal time to jumpstart your system is between 7AM to 9AM...but we aren't the breakfast police, so you do you.

So, is this easy? 
Is congee easy to make? The answer is YES, but for ease, it does require a crockpot. If you don't have a crockpot, you could use the stovetop, but it would require some babysitting, and I honestly have't tried it. However, it you do use a crockpot, it is so simple and easy that you can cook it while you are at work during the day, or while you are sleeping at night, as it has an 8 hour cook time on low. One pot is enough to last me a little over a week, and even share some with my mom. So make it on a Sunday and have breakfast all week long!

Ready for the recipe? Here she blows....

Simple Congee Recipe 

Time: 8 (inactive) hours | Makes: 1 large pot | Difficulty: SO EASY! 

You Will Need:

1 cup of white rice (I use organic white or jasmine, both are great!) 
8 cups water 

Special equipment- Crockpot 

Method

Add rice and water to crockpot. Turn on low and cook for 8 hours. If you are able, give it a stir a couple of times throughout the cooking process. If not, no worries. 

Cool and store in the refrigerator, and reheat for breakfast or whatever meal you fancy! 

Serve with your choice of sweet or savory toppings (see above suggestions). 

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