Do you ever wonder what you should eat when you’re sick? Maybe you’re recovering from the flu, a bad cold, or just general stomach upset. You want to eat something to fuel your body, but are thinking that the leftover pizza in the refrigerator may not be the best idea. You know you need to start slowly and don’t want whatever you eat to make you feel worse. What’s your best choice?
One good answer is something called congee. It’s a thick rice soup or porridge that won’t upset your stomach and is a good place to start when you’re appetite is coming back online after an illness. Also called a Juk, Bai Zhou (white porridge) or just Zhou (porridge), congee is easy to digest and is unlikely to cause any kind of food allergy, stomach upset or other digestive problems. When I was doing my practicum in China the hospital served a simple congee to the patients to help them heal more quickly.
Congees are a common meal in most Asian countries. As a simple rice porridge, it can be eaten as a started, side dish, or with added protein, vegetables and seasoning, it can be a complete meal. You can also sweeten your congee and add dried fruit or nuts for a hearty breakfast. Depending on the country or region, congee may vary in ingredients and seasonings. While it’s traditionally made with white rice, in some regions where rice isn’t a staple, congee may be made with other grains, such as cornmeal, barley or millet.
In addition to being easily digestible, congee is super-simple to make. Here’s my recipe:
- Combine one part rice with seven parts water or stock.
- Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the rice is tender. It takes about an hour, it will be a soupy consistency.
- If you have a rice cooker, check to see if it has a congee setting; some cookers do. You can also use a pressure cooker or Instant Pot.
- You can use long or short grain and either brown or white rice. If you make your congee with brown rice, it will take a little longer to cook.
- For a complete meal, while your congee is cooking add broth or seasoning and protein (chicken, shrimp, tofu, pork or egg), vegetables, some sesame oil and herbs.
- Or if you want a sweet congee add raisins, dates or top with fresh fruit, chopped nuts and cinnamon.
The beauty of a congee is that you can also tailor your ingredients to your specific health needs. For example, if you feel like you’re coming down with a cold, add scallions and ginger to your congee. If your stomach is upset, grated ginger alone can help settle it down. If you’re running a fever, add mung beans or mung bean sprouts and a little mint to help cool you off. And if you’re recovering from a long illness or feeling depleted, add chicken or an egg to help rebuild your energy.
My favorite congee is one mixed with a splash of soy sauce (or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos which is like soy sauce), grated ginger, scallions, a dash of sesame oil and some chopped cilantro. For protein, I’ll add some pieces of chicken breast and/or cubed firm tofu if I have any, otherwise, I’ll add a beaten egg to the still simmering congee. It’s delicious, healthful and deeply satisfying—especially when my body’s in recovery mode.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.