Congee is the ultimate comfort food in the Chinese kitchen but it is not uniquely Chinese. Although its origin is attributed to the ancient Emperor who, legend had it, founded Traditional Chinese Medicine, it can be found in over 15 different countries around the globe. Served in households all across the Asian diaspora it is the stuff of home, health and comfort. Some think of it as a ‘rice porridge’ or a thick and viscous soup. It can be either sweet or savory, served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, there are hundreds of interpretations. Congee can be made with different types of rice, beans, corn meal, and common to Norther Chinese cuisines, with millet. Congee is a blank slate that begs for flavor enhancement. And like all good home style recipes it benefits a lot from the hand of the home cook and improvisation. But more than anything congee congers up warmth and health; childhood nursery food or like western chicken soup, food for nurturing the sick. This recipe for millet, kumquat and yam congee is a literal ‘spring tonic’.
Brightly coloured, delectably sweet and sour, this thick millet congee with yam and fragrant kumquat is more than comforting. Its a concoction that works to kick start your system for spring. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine there is no distinct difference between food and medicine and this recipe packs a punch with each ingredient playing its part in strengthen and invigorate the body. Millet is a good appetite stimulate that also has properties to strengthen the liver and spleen. And, with an immune and mood booster this dish is easy to digest, perfect for the body’s Spring awakening. This combination of ingredients frees yang qi (chi) from the spleen’s winter reserves, activating the liver’s functions helping to balance the life force.
Congee has been used for centuries to promote health and digestion and adding Kumquats has a beneficial effect on qi (life force). Yams also have well known properties in TCM, improving eyesight and hearing and even prolonging life. So, shake off the winter doldrums and dig into this restorative millet congee, we’re sure it will become a staple in your repertoire of comfort food recipes.
Millet Congee with Kumquat and Yam (serves 4)
3-4 whole kumquats
One average sized fresh yam (yam is added to taste so use as much or as little as you like in your congee)
1/2 cup yellow or foxtail millet (95g) (Available at Asian grocery stores)
½ cup goji berries (2 ½ oz or 75g)
2 tbsp sugar (25g)
2 – 4 cups water (457- 950 ml) see note below for amount of water to achieve desired texture
Clean, and slice kumquats removing seeds if any, set aside
Peel and dice yam to desired size (think smaller than a golf ball and bigger than a dice cube)
Rinse goji berries and set to soak in clean cool water while cooking the millet
Rinse the millet thoroughly in a colander
Place millet in a pot with 2 -4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally to prevent millet from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Keep your eye on the texture, you may need to add more water. Remember this is all to achieve your preference for texture, for a thicker mixture use less water, if in doubt use less water to start as you can always add more.
After 30 minutes add sliced kumquat and yam cubes and cook until yam is fork tender but not falling apart (about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of your yam cubes). Again, keep your eye on the texture. Test by tasting the millet, it should be tender and just starting to breakdown. Add more water if needed.
When yam is almost the desired texture stir in the sugar and the goji berries. Do not let mixture come to a boil, much of the nutrition from the goji berries is lost if you overcooked them.
After 5 minutes remove pot from heat and cover the pot for approximately 5 minutes. This millet mixture, like all good congee, should be served warm, not hot.
To add a cornbread like flavor and give the congee a yellow hue, you can replace 3 tablespoons millet with 3 tablespoons corn meal.
The amount of water can be adjusted to your preference. If you prefer a waterier porridge, add up to 2 additional cups of water.
This article not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.