I am currently reading “In Defense Of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” by Michael Pollan – a fascinating and insightful read about how we should “eat food, not too much. Mostly plants.” Its all about how we have become obsessed with “nutritionism” (a term Pollan uses to describe the ideology of the Western diet and how that has harmed its eating habits) and “healthy” “low-fat” fads instead of just buying and simply cooking and eating real (non processed) food. I am gripped as I was with “Cooked” by the same award winning author. I have always believed in cooking and eating real food and un-admire the “healthy” joyless “super-foods” thats meant to be so good for you.
Anyway, I was reluctant to even read The Observer on this relaxed Sunday with an extra hour to hand until I went through the food supplement and saw one of my own recipes in there! Congee (cháo) is a favourite of mine and is one of those recipes that’s quick, easy and IS so healthy to those who are counting their intake and need something warmer than a kale juice in the mornings.
Congee is a rice soup, generally made with left over rice (we always tend to make more rice than we need). It is a simple and really really delicious meal for breakfast (or anytime of the day). You can add anything you want to it. Use water or vegetable, pork, chicken or fish stock. Then adding a little bit of meat or fish (which is generally our left overs as well), chopped into fine little pieces then an array of green leaves and herbs. It is such a fantastic way of using up ingredients in the fridge and not wasting rice or left overs – yet it can be the most tasty thing you get to eat that day.
Congee is a favourite in my Vietnamese cooking classes, people are always so surprised how utterly amazing it tastes and how quick it is to create. Adding ginger gives it the cleansing kick as well as being easy to digest and wets the appetite – making you want it more, thus eating more goodness from the stock and consuming the vegetable intake.
When someone is ill, congee is what you’re given as it is light and full of the good stuff from real ingredients made from scratch. You’d want your body to concentrate on healing and not digesting – so these congees will have less fibrous content and may just be ginger and chicken or pork and a little sprinkling of herbs – even when you’re poorly there is no compromise on flavour. Vietnamese people never ever compromise on flavour!
Here is my recipe of sea bass, kale, ginger and dill in The Observer Food Monthly (with other recipes from my food heroes: Nigel Slater, Angela Hartnett, Tom Kerridge, Ottolenghi…). You can also find some other congee recipes in my book, My Vietnamese Kitchen.