Friday, April 23, 2010

#CAFB Food Blogger Project Day 1: Congee

So as Han wrote about earlier, we are participating in a food blogger project with the Capital Area Food Bank. The idea is to spread awareness of hunger issues by experiencing some of the same issues first hand.

At the kickoff meeting we talked about some of the options that are available for those who are in need of food assistance. Families can receive one bag per month, filled largely with unperishable or canned foods, such as canned vegetables, dry carbs, cereals, etc. And families can also receive food stamps that can help supplement their pantries as well.

This week we will be eating meals prepared largely with ingredients that families would receive in a monthly bag, with a few additions that could be purchased rather inexpensively with food stamps.

When we first decided to sign up for this project, we pretty knew one of the first dishes we would prepare is congee. Congee is known by a lot of different names, depending the ethnicity of restaurant or household, jook or xi fan just to name a few, but the dish is almost always the same: rice porridge.

Now, if you've never had it before, it probably sounds strange or maybe a little disgusting. But if you grew up in an Asian household it probably evokes warm feelings of breakfast nostalgia.

There are a number of reasons why I thought this would make a perfect dish to start off the project:
  1. It's a very authentic dish. Some of the other stuff we will try to make later on this week will no doubt need some artistic licensing due to the available ingredients, but this is a long-standing tried and true recipe.
  2. It's very inexpensive. Just one cup of dry white rice can make as many as 8 servings. And it's very filling to boot.
  3. It's easy! Seriously, no Chinese cooking experience is needed. I guarantee.
As I stated, the main ingredient in this dish is rice, which is a common item that families can receive as part of their monthly bag. In addition, we also add some fresh ginger and green onions, both of which total to about a dollar.

The first step to preparing congee is to soak the rice. In a big pot (bigger than you think you might need) put 1 cup of white rice and 10 cups of cold water. Let that soak for about 30 minutes with no heat.

Next turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. Once the water is boiling turn the heat down to low, slice the ginger (about a thumb) with a vegetable peeler and add it to the water. You can also just leave the ginger in bigger chunks if you don't want to actually eat the ginger and just want some for flavor.

Now another reason why this ended up being a pretty good dish for this project: At the food bank we also learned that families will sometimes also receive portions of meat. This can vary from month to month from whole chickens to ham hocks. Part of the beauty of congee is that it goes well with almost any type of ingredient. If you would like to add in some fresh uncooked chicken, beef, or pork, go ahead and add it in now so that the meat will cook and the flavors will soak into the rice.

Once the water is at a low simmer, let it cook for 90 minutes, stirring regularly. Be sure to monitor the consistency after about 60 minutes: if it seems too thick, go ahead and add more water.

With about 10 minutes to go, if you have either already cooked meats, like leftover chicken, or maybe some fish, go ahead and add it now. When the meat is hot and cooked, the dish is ready to be served. Top with some chopped green onions for added flavor.

We ended up making a big pot of this a few days ago and have been eating it for breakfast every day. As I said earlier, this is a great dish for families because just one cup of rice makes several servings. Han and I are just two people, and so while it certainly has been cost effective to eat like this, I'm a man who really likes to have a lot of variety, especially for breakfast.

I think in the short time that we've participated in this project so far, this is the first lesson I've learned: variety is a luxury that I have taken for granted. I love congee, but it's been harder getting up in the morning knowing that I'm going to be eating the same old stuff I ate yesterday.

Seems like a silly thing to whine about, right? People who are truly hungry are probably just happy to get anything at all. As much as I grumbled about having to eat congee again for breakfast, I got to go to Wahoo's for lunch today, but at least this time I got to appreciate being able to make that choice.

P. S. Be sure to check out the other bloggers participating in this project:


Anonymous said...

Great post! A fine way to feed a family--deliciously, nutritiously, and differently from our typical fare.

Cameron said...

I used to love ordering duck and preserved egg congee at one of my favorite spots in New York (and dumping several spoonfuls of chili oil over it). This has me craving it all over again!