When summer seems so far off and we’re facing yet another grey and rainy day here in the UK, there’s nothing better than to cosy up at home with a steaming, hot bowl of comfort food. Considering the amount of rainy days we experience in this country, it is little wonder that Indian food, with its wide range of suitably warming options, is such a popular choice. From fragrant curries to spicy soups, creamy dal to aromatic stews, Indian cuisine offers a whole lot of comfort on a plate – whether you choose to indulge in a spot of home cooking, grab a take-out from your local curry house or have a night out at one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants, choosing Indian for dinner never fails to hit the spot.
However, there is one dish that is renowned throughout Asia as pure comfort in a bowl; congee is a form of rice porridge with variations enjoyed not only in India but across China, Indonesia, Korea, Sri Lanka and the many other countries that rely on rice as part of the staple diet. This is a dish with ancient origins and one that can provide a nutritious boost to even those with a low income – after all, rice is the most prevalent and affordable meal on offer in Asia.
The Many Faces of Congee
The word congee is believed to have originated from the Indian kanji which is a Tamil word, referring to the boiling method employed when cooking the rice. The people of Tamil Nadu have a great appreciation for this simple rice gruel – variations in this state include congee made from millet, broken wheat and a variety of other local grains.
In the south, the people of Kerala have their own version they call kanji – a dish usually served with green lentils or an assortment of chutneys for extra flavour. The Keralan people also serve a medicinal version, believed to boost the immune system, spiced with Ayurvedic herbs and sweetened with creamy milk and jaggery.
The Muslim population of South India have developed their own recipe for congee to be consumed at Ramadhan, the month of fasting. Ingredients such as ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, pepper, onion and coconut paste are added to the rice porridge and it is eaten to break the fast.
Congee – How do you Eat Yours?
As a general rule, there is no ‘right’ time of day to enjoy congee. Whether served at breakfast, lunch or as a snack, this versatile dish can be dressed up with the addition of vegetables or shredded meat, or dressed down to a plain porridge that’s easy on the digestive system.
Typical Indian additions to congee include rich ghee or beaten yoghurt for added texture as well as the numerous distinctive and aromatic spices found in the Indian store cupboard that can be added according to preference or taste. Cumin is a popular option, as is fenugreek, but the blank canvas of congee makes for an excellent base for any sort of meal you desire.
Congee can also be served as a sweet pudding. The addition of coconut milk along with jaggery, honey or sugar and a sprinkling of dried fruit and nuts such as raisins and almonds makes for a delicious dessert that will appeal to any Indian foodie’s sweet tooth. Try it and see.