Congee III: Turkey, Pressed Tofu, and Shiitake

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A search for congee recipes yielded many versions, from single ingredient to head-scratching combinations like watermelon rind and dried shrimp to sweet and savoury versions of the famous Eight Treasure (ba bao) congee. (Though 'Eight Treasure' anything on a Chinese menu is often whatever eight things happen to be lying around the kitchen.) I noticed that dried seafood, dried fruit, and dried mushrooms showed up a lot.

Wanting more hands-on research, I tried fresh mushrooms, even cooking them first. I think their flavour must be fat soluble though, because the congee smothered it. I also tried adding any fresh green thing I had on hand - delicate greens that cook quickly worked, things like broccoli didn't. Eventually I settled on three elements: something to give the congee flavour (like dried mushrooms), something to break up the texture (pressed tofu and the tendony parts of turkey), and chopped up green stuff to give it some colour and make it healthy.

For this version I used two cups of congee mix (see first congee post for details) and added two tablespoons of diced pressed tofu, two tablespoons of diced turkey, a couple handfuls of chopped greens, and three diced reconstituted shiitake mushrooms. I had to add a little more water and salt, and simmered everything just for about five minutes until it was ready. Made two big bowls.

Roasted Squash and Mushrooms

I've been going a little crazy making this lately; you can get nan gua (pumpkin) all year here but it feels so appropriate to eat it as the fall weather comes and south China is one of the most amazing places in the world to eat mushrooms. Shiitake, 'chicken leg' mushrooms, and the big ones with caps like inside-out umbrellas (shown) are readily available and very inexpensive here. I love them grilled or broiled, and found that cooking a layer of sliced mushrooms under a layer of sliced squash protects the mushrooms and keeps them from burning. The flavours are perfect together.

Oil a baking sheet and arrange a single layer of sliced mushrooms and a little salt. Slice pumpkin or squash thinly as well and spread over the mushrooms, trying to cover them in a single layer. Drizzle a bit more oil and salt over the top and put in a very hot oven for ten minutes or so until squash is tender and starts to char and mushrooms are cooked. Eat as is, or with whatever you want. Makes as much or as little as you want.