Search This Blog

Sunday, January 26, 2014

White rice, rampant omnivorism, and how to enjoy both of those things and good health at the same time

So here I am, this integrative healthcare provider, counseling you to eat a breakfast composed largely of white rice. What's up with that? 

chicken rendang congee with sweet-sour cucumber carrot pickle (recipes coming soon to this blog!)

If you're wondering, "But isn't white rice bad for me? Isn't it totally devoid of nutrients? Won't it make me gain weight at warp speed? And what about my blood sugar?" you're not alone, and kudos on paying attention to what goes into your body. The answers to these questions aren't particularly simple or straightforward, and they require your open-mindedness in considering both Eastern and Western nutritional philosophies. 

plain congee (bai zhou) with sauteed beet greens, homemade sriracha, and homemade goma furikake

Let's look at the Western component first. White rice is just brown rice with the hull taken off. But the hull is where most of the nutrients--including thiamine, a crucial B-vitamin--and the fiber are. Without the hull, white rice is a refined carbohydrate, and one that converts quickly to sugar during the digestive process, which is why it's a concern for diabetics and anyone else monitoring their blood glucose levels. 

Now the Eastern perspective: Nothing wrong with brown rice--it's absolutely a healthful grain choice. That being said, white rice has value as well. For one thing, the insoluble fiber and minerals in the hull of brown rice (as well as other whole grains) can actually cause harm to people with certain health conditions, such as ulcerative colitis or renal dysfunction. White rice digests more quickly because it's easier to digest, and when you give your digestive system food that's easy to digest--especially first thing in the morning, when it and you are still waking up--it can focus its energies away from the grind of digestion and towards distributing nutrition to the body. The entire body is thereby allowed to process, heal, and generally move through whatever stages it needs to move through for you to feel well. 

chicken rendang congee with minced fresh kaffir lime leaves, soft-boiled egg, and cucumber-carrot pickle; rooibos chai tea to drink

Being gentle with your digestive system, instead of putting it through its paces by throwing fiber at it, actually allows it to more effectively perform all of its necessary roles. It's the difference between starting the day with military-style boot camp cardio class and starting the day with a meditative yoga session: both are valid choices, but each exercise has different goals. Most traditional Chinese medical practitioners, me included, would recommend the meditative yoga session--because we put a lot of stock in moderation, including a moderate, moderated transition from sleep to wakefulness. Congee, particularly congee made with white rice, is a way to allow your digestive system the same gentle, easy waking-up process. 

bai zhou with fresh spinach and egg cooked in coconut oil

It helps to remember that there's really not a lot of white rice in even a big bowl of congee. The eight to one water to congee ratio and the way rice absorbs water and releases starch as it cooks ensures that your breakfast bowl probably contains less rice than it would take to make a quarter cup of white rice. Adding protein--in the form of a tea egg, say, or chicken, or tofu, or peanuts, or mung bean sprouts, or sesame seeds--and fiber in the form of vegetables will help to keep its impact on your blood glucose levels negligible.

chicken rendang congee, spinach, chicken leg, hard boiled egg

Of course, if you're still concerned, you can certainly make congee out of brown rice. If you do, you should increase the water ratio--maybe 10 to 12 parts water to one part rice--and be prepared to let it simmer for up to an hour or so longer than white rice congee. I'd recommend one of the more fragrant brown rice varieties, such as brown basmati, or else one of the shorter-grain rices, such as brown sushi rice--but any brown rice will work. You can even make congee out of quinoa or amaranth or farro or any grain that you'd like; each grain will produce its own distinctly flavored and textured congee.

But if you love your white rice congee, like I do? Enjoy in good health, without guilt, and with a variety of additions and toppings. As always, "all things in moderation" is the simplest and best path to health.

bai zhou, sauteed greens, roasted black sesame seeds

I'd love to hear about your congee-making experiments with brown rice or other grains. And I'd also love to answer any other questions that come up around the health benefits, preparation or enjoyment of congee--just shoot me an email at

bai zhou, poached egg, spinach, shiitake mushrooms and homemade sriracha

Friday, January 17, 2014

All aboard the congee train: Guest post from Anne!

Yay! The very gifted Anne Convery blogs at, and kindly shares her congee-making experience here in our very first guest post. Her congee sounds absolutely delicious. Like, I'm drooling a little right now.

Tried congee and want to share about it here? I'd love that! Shoot me an email at

Here's Anne!

I go in and out of eating healthily, or at least of having the sense I’m eating healthily.  I don’t think this is so uncommon, and I think a lot of us are still coming down from our holiday high – which may feel more like clawing our way back up from a holiday low, into the light and our “lighter” selves, depending.

I try not to put undue pressure on myself and make a bunch of resolutions out the gate at the start of the new year because I don’t like creating a set-up for failure or beginning any enterprise with the undue stress of announcing it to the world or burdening it with fifty pounds of self-help books or cluttering it with fad exercise equipment.  I like to go small.  Test stuff out, see what I like, and then maybe share the ideas that pass the picky, picky “Will Anne do this/eat this/stick with this for more than 48 hours? Test” with friends and like-minded folk.  Something it is not hard at all to get me to stick with is eating, especially if it tastes good.

And I do think that incorporating a nourishing breakfast into a daily routine is one of the simplest and most comforting ways to have a big positive impact on how you feel physically and mentally each day.  

Emphasizing the importance of breakfast has become a cliché, something I remember as far back as this PSA from in between my Saturday morning cartoons: 

But just because it’s cliché doesn’t make it any less true.  And the times I’ve felt my best – most consistently energetic throughout the day as well as most inclined to make nourishing food choices from morning into the evening – are the times in my life I’ve chosen to start with a warm, healthy(ish) breakfast.  Oatmeal with apples and raisins and a leeetle butter and brown sugar, eggs scrambled with spinach and goat cheese on toast, cream of buckwheat with blueberries and toasted coconut.  I like to keep it in balance and give myself things I want along with things I need, and isn’t it a wonderful surprise when those happen to be one and the same thing?

So I was pretty intrigued by Lorelle’s congee blog, and I really wanted to try making some.  I also wanted to get back on the breakfast wagon after a hectic holiday season filled with travel and too many peppermint mochas masquerading as meals.  I really like the idea of a savory breakfast, since for whatever reason, sweet breakfasts – cold cereals, pancakes, breakfast pastries – always leave me feeling simultaneously sluggish and like, “When’s lunch?” 

I found this pretty simple and yummy-sounding recipe for Ginger Chicken Congee (or jook, as I found out it’s called in Cantonese – thanks, Internet! You’re not just for cats ‘n’ boobs, after all!), and decided to do it up on the first day I got my kitchen back after my house having been in general upheaval for the installation of some new windows the last couple weeks. 

I made a few changes as I saw fit, and my slightly modified ingredients and instructions are below:
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 2 leeks chopped 
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds bone-in chicken pieces, skin removed and trimmed of excess fat
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, skin on and sliced into 4 pieces
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, plus more as needed
  • Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish

Melt butter over medium heat and sauté chopped leeks in it until fragrant and just starting to become translucent in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven.Place the rest of the ingredients except the scallions in the saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook at a lively simmer, stirring occasionally, until the rice has completely broken down and the mixture is creamy, about 1, 1 1/2 hours.Turn off the heat and remove the chicken to a cutting board. When it’s cool enough to handle, shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces, discarding the cartilage and bones. Return the chicken shreds to the jook. Stir to combine, taste, and season with additional salt and pepper as needed. Ladle into bowls and top with scallions.  


I am the child of a mother who came of age in the late 50s and early 60s.  My childhood meals were typified by concoctions created using the magic of Campbell’s “Cream of…” soups.  I think my palette’s come a little ways since then, but what I LOVED about this is that it kinda looked, smelled and was tastefully reminiscent of (though definitely better than) this chicken and rice dish my mom would make using just some onions, salt and pepper, Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup and chicken, served over some Uncle Ben’s quick rice.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not slagging on my mom, here.  If I’d had to cook for me and my brothers and my dad and whomever else my ingrate children had in tow, I’d be all about the convenience too.

Plus, you know, it was the 70s.  The early 80s.  We still thought there’d be better living through food chemistry!  But for reals, this was easy and awesome.  And made me all nostalgic and cozy feeling in the way that only foods which comfort us with their delightful aromas and tastes really can.

Anyway, this is a dish I could happily eat in all its limitless variations for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  In this case, I couldn’t wait ‘til breakfast, so I had it for dinner, topped off with some steamed and lightly seasoned kale.  Aaaaand a little bit of chicken skin I removed from the chicken parts I used, and which I may have lightly dredged in flour and seasoned with black pepper, cayenne and turmeric and then MAYBE crisped in a little bit of bacon grease.

Oh, and how'd that poached egg sneak in there? EVERYTHING IN MODERATION. Delicious, delicious moderation. That's a resolution I don't think it'll be hard to keep this year.

Don't worry. Cody totally got some. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Roasted black sesame seeds (hei zhi ma)

Ever have a hard time getting fully awake in the morning? How about staying warm--are you the first person to reach for a jacket, trying to ward off a chill, when everyone else is opening windows and turning on fans? Do you notice nagging lower back pain that's worse with cold weather but responds well to massage? These are all pretty common complaints, but when they're all presenting together, they might point to a diagnosis of what Chinese medicine terms Kidney Yang deficiency. That's Kidney with a capital K--I don't want you to think there's anything wrong with your actual, anatomical kidney. I'm talking here about the Chinese medical concept of the energetics of that organ: your Kidney Yang can be conceptualized as the steam engine to the train that is you--the source of heat and active energy for your body. Some other signs of Kidney Yang vacuity can include diminished libido, fertility challenges, chilled feet and hands or cold lower back, water retention, general lassitude and a low appetite. A traditional Chinese medical practitioner's diagnosis of Kidney Yang vacuity corresponds, very loosely, to a Western medical practitioner's diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency.

Sesame seeds are one of the more effective dietary therapeutics for Kidney Yang vacuity. Black foods in general--black beans, black rice, nori (the seaweed that wraps around sushi), shiitake mushrooms-are all great Kidney tonics, and therefore black sesame seeds are the most Kidney-tonifying variety of sesame seeds and an extraordinarily directed Kidney Yang tonic.

Need more reasons to get excited over sesame seeds? They contain unique lignans that have been shown to lower cholesterol. They're an excellent source of calcium, copper, manganese, magnesium, selenium and lots of other valuable nutrients. A mixture of sesame seeds and rice contains all the amino acids present in a complete protein. And they're fabulous, beyond belief, on congee--I put a little sprinkling of them on my New Year's Day congee, and it looked so pretty, and I took a picture. And then I put a whole bunch more on. After basically avalanching my congee with little black seeds, it wasn't all that photogenic, but it was delicious. 

I like roasting sesame seeds to bring out their full, nutty, umami flavor and sprinkling them over my congee. I always get black ones, for the benefit to my Kidney yang, and also because they're pretty--but you can use any kind of sesame seeds you like best.

Here's the how-to:

1. Heat a dry, flat-bottomed pan, large enough to hold all the sesame seeds you want to roast, over medium heat on a stovetop until the pan is quite hot. It should be too hot to comfortably touch. 

2. Spread your sesame seeds over the bottom of the pan.

3. Toss them around almost constantly, as high as you dare. Try not to spill them all. The goal is to keep them moving so none of them get burned.

Woo-woo! Action shots!

4. You'll know you're done when the seeds smell nutty and fragrant. This might be as quickly as one minute, depending on how many seeds are in your pan and how hot you got it before putting them in.

5. When they're fragrant, immediately remove them from the pan to cool. The "immediately" part is critical, as sesame seeds' high oil content means they'll keep cooking after they're pulled away from heat.

That's all! You can store these in a tightly-closed jar in a cooler area (or your fridge; I like to keep mine on a shadier part of the counter) and sprinkle them on your congee to pretty it up...they're a flavorful, healthful, simple condiment; one of those things you didn't know you were missing till you've had them. In Japan, roasted black or white sesame seeds (iri goma) appear on supermarket condiment shelves, both on their own and in jars of furikake, another terrific topping/condiment that I'll post a recipe for later this week--promise!--or in gomashio, basically iri goma with salt.

Enjoy these on your congee, and if you find other applications for them, please share those with me!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

How to reheat your congee

I have very clear  memories of getting in trouble--over and over again!--for burning the congee. I'd be impatient, hungry, inattentive, distracted by any of the innumerable things that distract dreamy little kids--and suddenly there'd be foamy, hissing congee and mad parents all over the place. 

Burned congee isn't just inedible--it's virtually indelible. It is the stickiest substance ever encountered in the human experience. It's ruined more pots, both of my parents and my own as an adult (yup, still happens sometimes!) than I want to admit. Even to myself.

So. Learn from my errors and reheat your congee slowly, over low heat. Add enough water to thin the congee back to its original consistency, since the rice has undoubtedly absorbed most of the water while it's been sitting in the fridge. Stir it often, making sure to run your spoon all the way to the bottom to  make sure nothing's burning. Be patient. Patience is hard, but you'll save time in the end. Also, you'll save congee. You'll save your pots, and you'll save yourself the aggravation of scrubbing congee goop off your stove. 

This is Sunday morning's congee, reheated on Wednesday morning. I was in a hurry because I had an early meeting, but it didn't take too long: I put the congee, extra water, and frozen green beans in a pot, cracked an egg into it, brought it to a low simmer, covered it, and ran around getting ready. When I was done, so was the congee. I put it in a mason jar and took it to my meeting. 

(You could in theory also heat congee in a microwave, but I've never done it because microwaves skeeve me out, so I can't offer instruction on that method.)

Monday, January 6, 2014

On rice and chagrin

When you grow up with a Chinese mother and an Indian father, you eat a lot of rice. Rice for breakfast (topped with an over-easy egg and a couple of pieces of turkey bacon or scrambled eggs and ketchup) lunch (fried in a skillet with chopped hot dogs and scallions or last night's leftovers), dinner (steaming underneath chicken curry or beef broccoli), and dessert (in all sorts of Chinese rice-flour pastries, or in kheer, a rich Indian rice pudding) wasn't unusual in our house. Rice is more than a food, more than a simple carbohydrate to me and to many other people who grew up in households with a rice cooker at the emotional center of its kitchen: rice is our culinary soul.

To illustrate: 

Last night Adam made these amazing tacos. He took chuck roast and black beans and put them in a cocotte with a little bit of canned San Marzanos, onions, garlic, lots of cumin, lots of ancho powder (from peppers he grew in the garden!), tequila, Worcestershire sauce, chicken stock, apple cider vinegar, bay leaves, and a couple of chopped pickled jalapenos from a jar our friends put up.

Then he made coleslaw based on a Peter Reinhart recipe: cabbage, mayonnaise, sour cream, scallions chopped down to the white part, cilantro, lots of freshly-ground black pepper, apple cider vinegar, a little bit of turbinado sugar, and lime juice. We thought as we ate it that adding a chopped pickled jalapeno would be nice too.

THEN he made fresh, from-scratch tortillas! is how Adam ate his tacos:

He ate them LIKE TACOS.

And here's how I ate mine.

Yeah. I got a bowl of rice and then I put taco components on it. With chopsticks. 

So you can imagine how intense my chagrin on discovering, day after day, that my child just doesn't like rice. Other mothers feed their children rice cereal right off the bat, and the kids love it. I know toddlers that love sushi, rice crackers, rice pudding, mochi--but not mine. No form of rice, thus far, has been interesting to him. When I share congee with him, he picks out the shiitakes and leaves the rice behind.
My own breakfast this morning was leftover Sunday morning congee topped with a tea egg. I offered some to Kamal, but as always, he ate the mushrooms out of it and nothing else. 

Then I remembered how when I was little my mother would let me top my plain congee with milk and sugar, and also how my father would cook what he called "milk-rice": essentially a simplified kheer made by simmering leftover cooked rice in milk, sugar and spices. Milk-rice isn't congee, but they're definitely in the same family.

I figured I'd make something similar for Kamal, but keep it really simple and not too sweet. I added some organic whole milk and a tiny bit of honey to a little leftover cooked jasmine rice, and simmered it all together on the stove for about twenty minutes. 

And then I gave a dish of it to Kamal along with a spoon, and then stepped back and tried not to look too invested. 

At first it was looking very promising.


But then the alchemy began. Lately Kamal's been doing his own elaborate culinary experiments in every cup, jar, and ramekin he comes across. These experiments involve lots of mixing. Also dabbing and patting, and also splashing. They do not involve any eating. 

I soldier on. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

How To Get Healthy: A One-Word Lesson (and also, Sunday morning congee recipe)

If I had to give a one-word lecture on how to achieve your healthiest self, here's how the lecture would go:


All things in moderation, "good" things and "bad" things alike. This applies to exercise, to emotions, and very straightfowardly to food.

I love congee and I think you should eat it for breakfast every day, yes. But I don't think you should eat it for every meal of every day, because it would be hard to get enough calories and because eating lots of different foods is important (and fun!).  Kale is good for you, and it's hard to eat too much of it, but "kale overdose" can actually cause thyroid problems.  Beer and bacon cheeseburgers and pistachio ice cream hot fudge sundaes are generally considered not so good for you, but I'm going to go ahead and say that in moderation, all of those things can be very good for your soul.

I remember one day in particular, five years ago, when Adam and I had recently moved into our home. The backyard had been serving as a mini-farm for 30 years for the family that lived there before us, but hadn't been maintained for their last few years there. We'd spent that long, bright September day, along with many days before and after, working hard to restore the backyard to a functional and beautiful growing space.

Here's a "before" pic of our backyard...

...and an "after" pic. Hard work, but so worthwhile.

When the sun finally went down and we'd showered and stretched our aching muscles, all either of us wanted was a burger and a beer. We went to Flavor, sat at the bar, ordered a couple of pints of Moonlight and medium-rare bacon cheeseburgers, and felt really, really good about it. It was a meal that was good for our souls. Not the kind of meal anyone ought to eat on the regular, for sure--but that night, it was exactly right. It was moderation at its most fun.

This morning Adam made me the congee he's made most often for me, one I requested while at the hospital after giving birth to Kamal. The morning after Kamal was born, after sleeping in a chair in the hospital room with me and spending hours with our brand-new son in the NICU, Adam went home, checked on the animals, fixed me congee, and brought it to my hospital room steaming hot in a thermos. The hospital staff got really worried when my breakfast tray came back untouched; a nurse stopped in and gently remonstrated that I shouldn't worry about losing the baby weight yet. I explained that my husband was making me the breakfast I really wanted, and she frowned skeptically, then slipped a bunch of applesauce cups onto my bedside table with a conspiratorial look.

Sunday Morning Chicken Congee with Kale, Ginger, Goji Berries and Shiitakes


For full congee recipe:
1 1/2 cups of white rice (we used jasmine)
1 4-inch piece of ginger, sliced into thin coins--no need to peel if it's organic
2/3 cup of dried goji berries
one 10 oz bag frozen shiitake mushrooms, or equivalent weight fresh shiitakes
water to fill the pot, or a combination of water and stock (approximately eight parts liquid to one part rice, so approximately 12 cups of water--but this is a very flexible ratio)
2 whole chicken legs, skin-on, bone-in*

For individual serving: 
about a quarter of a bunch of kale
one egg

*A whole chicken leg=one thigh and one drumstick. You could also use four thighs, or four drumsticks, or three drumsticks and one get the idea. You could certainly also use the equivalent weight in skin-on, bone-in chicken breast, but I prefer the flavor of dark meat.


Adam first thoroughly washed the rice, then put in in the rice pot with the ginger, goji berries, shiitakes and water.

Next he heated a skillet, added a little bit of coconut oil to it (we use Nutiva brand) and browned the chicken legs all over in it.

He put the browned chicken in the rice pot with the other ingredients and filled the pot with the water.

Then he turned the rice cooker on. (Follow the directions for your rice cooker; or, if you're doing this on the stove top, add about 12 cups of water, cover your pot, and bring it to a low boil, then reduce it to a low simmer, stirring occasionally, until congee is done. See this post for a description of how to know when your congee is done.)

While the congee is cooking (about 90 minutes to two hours in our rice cooker) chop and sautee the kale; Adam used coconut oil for this, too. Here's an important note: Half a bunch of kale is enough for a couple of servings, and this recipe makes way more than a couple of servings of congee.  If you want to make enough kale at once to accompany the whole pot of congee, Adam suggests two bunches of kale.

You could also just add the kale to the pot of congee at the beginning of cooking, if you want. This wouldn't work for softer greens, like spinach--those would just sort of melt into the congee with the long cooking time--but it's fine for a hardy green like kale.

Once the kale is done, cook an egg over-easy in coconut oil.

Put the congee into your favorite bowl, making sure there's a little of everything in it, then top with the kale and egg.

For over-the-top decadence, Adam also crisped some of the chicken skin in the hot pan. This is a time-revered, ridiculously delicious congee topping--but definitely falls in the category of things that, no matter how good for the soul, should only be eaten in very careful moderation. BUT HOLY MOLY IT'S SO GOOD.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tea leaf eggs (cha ye dan)

When I was a really little kid--like two, or three, or five, or so--my mother would pull out this embroidered green bag from the linen closet, stuff it with towels and sunscreen, and put it in the back of our old Datsun station wagon with a straw beach mat and a picnic cooler. We'd all put on our swim suits and drive out of Hahaione Valley, our quiet neighborhood in the suburbs of Honolulu, to Hanauma Bay, a lovely moon-shaped beach that used to be pleasantly sociable and nowadays is a huge tourist attraction. (It's still lovely. It's just crowded! And hard to park! And they charge admission!) We'd park up at the top of the road and walk a long way down a sloped, winding path to the beach. Once we'd spread out our beach mat, Mom would slather me with sunscreen while I squirmed and whined to get in the water, and then she in her glamorous one-piece or Dad in his awfully-short trunks would walk me into the waves.

I remember loving that water so much, bobbing in the gentle waves, peering at the fish that brushed our legs and terrified my big sister. Once there was a shark sighting, and everyone was warned to get out of the ocean, and I screamed and cried that I didn't care if a shark got me, I just wanted to stay in.

Here's a grainy old picture of me at the beach circa, oh, 1980 or so. See how pissed I look? That's probably because I'm not in the water. Stupid shark sightings.

Eventually, salt in my hair and eyes stinging from trying to see under the water, I'd trundle back to our spot on the sand and Mom would unpack the cooler. There might be anything from turkey sandwiches to pasta salad to potstickers in the cooler, but there would always be what she called soy-sauce eggs, one of my absolute favorite treats. Satiny, savory, perfectly umami: there was never a time, not through my endless picky-eater phases, when I wouldn't be thrilled to eat them. Mom made them by hard-boiling eggs, peeling them, and then letting them sit, overnight or longer, in a briny mix of soy sauce, star anise and strongly brewed Lipton tea.

The tea eggs Adam made for yesterday's congee are a fancy, grown-up cousin of my mom's soy-sauce eggs. They use loose-leaf lapsang souchong, a smoky black Chinese tea--no tea bags here!--and cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds and peppercorns along with the star anise. Also, before the eggs are totally hard boiled, the shells are cracked all over but left on, so that the tea brine creates a delicate veined pattern, similar to a crackled porcelain glaze, all over the surface of the eggs.

If you don't love the flavors of star anise and fennel seeds, you can leave them out of the recipe and still get the beautiful pattern and a nice subtle smoky-salty flavor. If you're on the fence, though, try it with at least the star anise: it's pretty integral to the traditional character of these eggs.

Adam used this recipe from Saveur, originally published there in 2012.

Tea Eggs 

1/2 cup soy sauce1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
8 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 sticks cinnamon
1 tablespoon loose-leaf smoked tea, such as lapsang souchong 
8 eggs

Bring soy sauce, sugar, peppercorns, fennel, cloves, star anise, cinnamon, and two cups water to a boil in a saucepan; remove from heat and add tea. Let steep for 10 minutes.

Pour marinade through a fine strainer into a bowl and keep warm. Place eggs in a 4-qt. saucepan; cover by ½″ with cold water.

Place saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil; cover pan, remove from heat, and let sit until eggs are soft-boiled, about 5 minutes.

Drain eggs. Crack shells all over but do not peel eggs; return to saucepan along with marinade.

Bring to a boil and let cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and add 2 cups ice. Let cool in marinade before serving. (We actually left our eggs overnight in the fridge, sitting in the marinade, in a quart Mason jar.)


Here's how they look all peeled and pretty. The longer you leave them in the marinade, the darker the marbling and more pronounced the delicious flavor. 

Today Adam reheated yesterday's bai zhou, or plain white congee, for me, with some of the remaining sauteed beet greens and shiitake mushrooms. He tucked a cold tea egg underneath the hot congee, and it was warmed up and perfect by the time I broke into it. Here's a photo of today's breakfast, and you can see, if you compare it to yesterday's, how the congee gets progressively smoother and creamier as it reheats (or cooks longer).

A dab of sesame oil, a dab of tamari, a dab of homemade sriracha, and I'm in heaven. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Dinner

New Year's Day is actually also my birthday, and my perfectly spectacular spouse, who does most of the cooking around here because he is just better at it, completely outdid himself making dinner. Seems appropriate that the anniversary of the day I was born into my half-Chinese and half-Indian should start with a traditional Chinese breakfast and end with a traditional Indian dinner.

Adam started this Wedding Lamb Biriyani last night, after finding it on the Serious Eats blog. It's adapted from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Weekends, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.

You can't see it because it's hiding under the mound of saffron-y rice, but there's a beautiful pile of lamb shoulder braised in a paste of ginger, garlic, onions and cashews.

Adam also made Madhur Jaffrey's Gujarati-style green beans, brightly flavored with mustard seeds. 

Dinner with all the fixings: crisp-fried onions, puffed raisins, browned cashews, and raita

And for dessert, Gramercy Tavern's Gingerbread, found on Smitten Kitchen. This is my favorite cake, ever, of all time, in the entire world. I always tell Adam that it's one of only two desserts I would choose over a chocolate dessert (the other one being Adam's strawberry shortcake). Tonight Adam made this gingerbread WITH COCOA POWDER AND CHOCOLATE CHIPS IN IT. It was cake to cry tears of joy over, seriously. 

Such an amazing meal! I'm grateful to the gills for my wonderful partner, I'm full of delicious spice, I'm pleasantly sleepy--and honestly, I'm kind of relieved that I have a nice, light, balancing breakfast of leftover plain congee, beet greens and a tea egg planned for tomorrow. 

My Year of Congee: Day One!

Today's the beginning of 2014--and the first day of my Year of Congee. Are you as excited as I am? (Probably not: I don't know that many people who get as excited about congee as I do. I'm hoping this blog will bring you over to this side of hardcore congee fandom.)

Congee can be made with many different types of grains, and be flavored as elaborately as you like--but since we're just starting out, I'm starting this year with the simplest and most common type of congee--bai zhou, which translates to "white porridge" and is basically just rice cooked with lots of water (as opposed to cooking it with stock and/or herbs, spices and other flavorings) that you top with whatever you like.

Here's how to make bai zhou:

Put 1 part washed white rice (we used jasmine; our favorite Three Ladies brand from Thailand) into a pot with 8 parts cold water.  We use a rice cooker, and just follow the cooker instructions, hit the "cook" switch, and have congee about 90 minutes later. Of course, timing varies from cooker to cooker.

If you don't have a rice cooker, making congee is only slightly more complicated: Bring the water and rice to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally, for as long as it takes for the rice grains to start breaking down and sort of losing their individual borders.

How broken-down and borderless your rice grains get is up to you. We tend to make a batch of congee on the more-solid side; here's a picture of what it looks like when it's done.


This makes a pretty big batch; I'll reheat small portions for the next few days on the stove with a little extra water in them, and so those will break down even more and start looking more and more like a smooth white mass and less like lots of blurry grains of rice.

There are countless ways to top your bai zhou. I picked some toppings that are considered lucky, in Chinese culture, for the new year: tea eggs, beet greens sauteed with shiitake mushrooms, and toasted black sesame seeds. Adam very kindly cooked them all to order--I'll start posting recipes for congee accompaniments tomorrow!--and laid them out here along with tamari, sesame oil and his homemade Sriracha.

Here's my dressed-up bowl of breakfast, all ready for me to dig in:

Kamal climbed into my lap and helped himself to some shiitakes, so I fixed him his own little bowl.

Mmmmm...mushrooms and mama kisses


We both loved it. So much, in fact, that I had another bowl for lunch today and am already looking forward to having it for breakfast tomorrow.

Tomorrow I'll post the recipe for these lovely tea eggs.

Besides being a pretty addition to your congee bowl, they're a perfect picnic food and were one of my favorite snacks when I was little.

Happy 2014, friends!