Warming Winter Soups: Daikon-Ginger Brown Rice Congee, Comfort in a Bowl

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Here’s an easy-to-make soup that has a lot going for it: the soothing digestibility of slowly cooked brown rice, the warming qualities of ginger, the health benefits of dried shiitake mushrooms, and the sweet goodness of onions, carrots and daikon. All the rice-eating cultures of Asia have a version of this porridge, whether it’s called congee, or jook or okayu as it is in Japan.  Most often it’s eaten in the morning and sometimes it is as simple as rice slowly simmered in a lot of water. Usually, condiments such as pickles, fried bread or tofu, or bits of meat are added at the table.  Because it’s so soft and creamy, congee is fed to people recovering from illnesses, and sometimes is the first solid food for babies.  You have a great deal of leeway to adapt this to your taste.  But do make it, it’s wonderfully warming to eat first thing on a cool winter morning. If you want this to be a complete meal with protein, toss in a cupful of diced tofu during the final five minutes of simmering.  You won’t be sorry! Complete recipe after the jump…

DAIKON-GINGER BROWN RICE CONGEE

While this soup takes an hour and a half from start to finish, most of the time it is simmering on the stove, and the time you’re actually devoting to it is minimal. If you think of it, pre-soaking your rice will result in an even more tender and creamy soup.

3/4 cup short grain brown rice, washed (short grain brown rice would be my first choice, but any good quality rice you have on hand will work)

8  cups water, or stock of your choice

1 1/2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and julienned

3 or 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, cut into thin slices with a scissors (after removing the stems)

sesame oil, preferably, or canola or other similar oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

1 cup daikon, diced

1 cup carrots, diced

1 tablespoon mirin, optional

salt, soy sauce, white miso to taste

2 green onions, slivered, as garnish

1. Bring the water or stock to a boil in a soup pot.  Add a pinch of salt, the rice, ginger and shiitake mushrooms.  Bring back to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and simmer about an hour and 20 minutes or until the rice is partly dissolved into a creamy broth. Add more water as needed to make a soup of the consistency you prefer.

2. While the rice is simmering, heat a sauté pan and sauté the vegetables with a pinch of salt about five minutes, or until beginning to be soft. Then, cover with three cups water, add the mirin and a teaspoon of soy sauce and simmer very slowly about 35 minutes or until all the vegetables are meltingly tender.

3. Add the vegetables to the rice pot, stir and simmer about five minutes more. Taste and season, adding a tablespoon of  white miso, if you like, or a little bit of soy sauce.  This soup is meant to be mildly seasoned.  Garnish with green onions, or pickled vegetables or whatever toppings appeal to you. Excellent reheated the next day.

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