As we pass the winter solstice, what better way to prepare for the colder weather than through a warming and nourishing bowl of congee?
Congee is a grain porridge cooked slowly over low heat and can be made plain or with the additions of various herbs, vegetables and/or meats. Congee is a common Chinese breakfast food but can be also very therapeutic because it is easily digested and rich in nutrients.
Rice congee may be most popular but a less familiar form (that I would argue is even more tasty!) is made with millet. Millet is an ancient grain and staple food in Asia and parts of Africa. Each grain is small and yellow and has a subtle, nutty flavor. Because of its ease of digestibility and nutrient-density, it is often used in China as a first food for babies and is an excellent match for the elderly, pregnant, postpartum and the sick. It is especially high in amino acids, dietary fiber, magnesium and B vitamins.
From a traditional Chinese medicine perspective, millet is said to enter into the Spleen-Pancreas, Stomach and Kidney channels. The Spleen-Pancreas/Stomach is known as ‘the center’ in Chinese medicine as it is the center from which our bodies are able to take in and process all food and convert its nutrients into qi. Millet also enters the Kidney channel where it nourishes yin and moistens dryness. Winter is a Kidney dominant season and thus, the warming, nourishing quality of millet strengthens not only digestion but also Kidney energies. It promotes urination and can combat the dryness of the winter months. Millet is an excellent grain for pregnant women as it can be protective against miscarriage and is used to treat nausea, vomiting and morning sickness. It stimulates digestion, lowers cholesterol and is a good choice for type II diabetics because it is naturally gluten-free with a low glycemic index.
In this recipe, we combine millet with bone broth, shiitake mushrooms, kabocha squash, ginger and scallion–each with their own valuable medicinal qualities–to make a healthy bowl of goodness. Millet porridge can also be prepared sweet with goji berries, dates and honey, should your tastebuds desire.
If you are not making your bone broth yourself, make sure it comes from a reliable source. Good bone broths use organic, pasture-raised bones and are usually simmered for at least 24 hours to get the most nutrients from the bones. Chicken, beef, lamb, pork or a mixture of all work. The way you can tell the bone broth is of good quality is that when it is cooled, the top layer will thicken and coagulate with gelatin from the bones. Gelatin can help to line the mucus lining of the intestinal walls and pull fluids into the digestive tract. According to traditional Chinese medicine, nutrients from bone marrow is said to nourish the kidneys and vital qi and affect the deepest layers of the body.
The medicinal value of mushrooms is now well known. Shiitake mushrooms are rich in various minerals and vitamins and are excellent for immune building.
Kabocha squash, also known as Japanese pumpkin, is a seasonal vegetable rich with beta-carotene and B vitamins. As a winter squash, its protective outer skin holds in much moisture in its flesh, which then helps us combat dryness when we eat it.
Ginger and scallions are commonly julienned and added as a topping to congee. Together, they not only add flavor, depth and a spicy quality, but are therapeutic in their ability to warm the body, stimulate digestion, strengthen immunity, and open up our nasal passages.
Here is a run-down of the medicinal and nutritional value of the main ingredients in this recipe.
Millet: high in protein, magnesium, dietary fiber, B vitamins, plant lignans. Stops vomiting, nausea and diarrhea, eases ulcers, tonifies yin and moistens dryness of hair, nails, skin, promotes urination, treats insomnia, lowers cholesterol. Gluten-free with a low glycemic index.
Bone Broth: rich in vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Nourishes blood and mucus membranes, benefits the skin and intestinal lining, reduces inflammation, benefits gut health.
Shiitake Mushrooms: rich in polysaccharides, eritedanine, vitamins B12, A, D, E, selenium. Lowers cholesterol, tonifies qi and blood, increases immunity and energy, protects against cancer, supports cardiovascular health, anti-microbial, prevents obesity.
Kabocha/Winter Squash: high in beta-carotene and many B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, manganese, dietary fiber, omega-3 fatty acids. Quenches thirst, relieves edema and urinary difficulty.
Ginger: opens the exterior and prevents colds, stops nausea and vomiting, warms the lungs and stops coughing.
Scallion: treats early stage colds, opens up the nasal passages, kills parasites.
With the addition of bone broth, shiitake mushrooms and winter squash, this millet congee packs a very powerful nutritional punch!
I’ve included an instant pot preparation method as I am finding it quick, convenient and the texture of the congee smooth and creamy!
3/4 cup millet
4 cups water (or 2 cups water/2 cups bone broth or any single or combination of each)
1 cup of diced kabocha squash
1 inch of ginger, peeled and julienned
1 handful of shiitake mushrooms, sliced
2 scallion stalks, sliced
Soy sauce or GF tamari, sesame oil, pickled vegetables, fermented tofu to taste
Add millet, 4 cups of liquid, squash and shiitake mushrooms to a pot. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until millet breaks up into a nice, creamy texture. Serve in a bowl and sprinkle ginger and scallion on top, add soy sauce or GF tamari, sesame oil, pickled vegetables and fermented tofu to taste.
Instant Pot Method:
Add millet, 4 cups of liquid, squash and shiitake mushrooms to the instant pot. Set timer to 15 minutes of high pressure. Let release naturally for 20 minutes. Serve in a bowl and sprinkle ginger and scallion on top, add soy sauce or GF tamari, sesame oil, pickled vegetables and fermented tofu to taste.
Have you made something similar? We’d love to hear about it!