Congee II: Squash

Sunday, September 28, 2008

In the mornings street vendors stand with huge pots full of different kinds of congee. You grab a cup (that doubles as a hand warmer) equipped with a big straw for your morning commute, and it is the perfect thing on a cool day.

Nan gua is usually translated into English as 'pumpkin' but they are enormous, sweet, orange fleshed squash (they look most like big Hubbard squash to me) with a flavour very similar to butternut. Squash congee is one of the more common types and is often sweetened. I like it most for breakfast. This one has about eight times as much pumpkin as local nan gua congee, which is often watery rice with a few chunks of cooked nan gua.

To make, heat together 2 cups congee mix (see inaugural Congee post for mix method) , 1 cup cooked squash, and a few cubes rock sugar to sweeten if desired.

Congee I : Pepper Beef and Bean Sprout

Friday, September 26, 2008

Congee is something I used to see as bland and boring, but now see as a kind of miracle food - simple and comforting but infinitely variable and nourishing. It can be as simple as rice and water or it can showcase luxury ingredients. I've wanted to post about congee for a long, long time but my attempts to make it never turned out right - no matter how long I cooked the rice, it just got soggy instead of breaking down and getting creamy. I wasted a lot of good chicken stock one time, and got discouraged.

After a little research (and a lot of leftover rice after a dinner) I tried again by boiling about half and half cooked rice and water, then bringing to a simmer and adding water til it was a little thicker than congee. This worked great and made a congee base which I am keeping in the fridge, and using for a few different experiments.

The easiest kind of congee to make is just by heating the base, then chopping a few things and throwing them in and simmering long enough for the additions to cook or the flavours to blend. It's a pain if you have to cook things before adding.

The pepper beef is like deli roast beef, but a little spicy and the bean sprouts are not the baby ones that you buy in the west, but overgrown enough to have lots of little green leaves. You can use any cured meat and delicate green that is available - watercress or even lettuce would be fine.

For two small bowls: Heat 2 cups congee base and prepare 1 cup chopped greens, 2 tbs diced pepper beef. Stir in the pepper beef right away and simmer for a few minutes, then add the greens. Simmer for about ten minutes and taste for salt.

Chinese Breakfast

Thursday, September 25, 2008
Most people when travelling like to eat a familiar breakfast, but breakfast food everywhere is basic, comforting, and economical.

Brunch for less than a dollar: soymilk, vegetable dumplings, an over-easy egg, and pao cai (pickles).

The mighty you tiao (long doughnut, not sweet). Dip it into your warm soy milk or congee. Twenty cents for you tiao and soy milk at this place.

A plate of yumi dou bing (corn and bean cakes, dipped in egg and fried) to dip into a bowl of congee.

Earlier this week I asked a class of Basic English students how they would save money on food. I got some of the expected replies, like eat vegetables instead of meat and cook at home instead of eating out, but they had several more interesting suggestions:

Go on a diet.
Eat other people's food.
Look at pictures of food instead of eating.
Sleep later in the morning so that you end up eating fewer meals.