An easy congee recipe that’s perfect for any night



Active time:5 minutes

Total time:1 hour


Active time:5 minutes

Total time:1 hour


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Crisscrossed by meandering rivers and dotted with ponds and lakes, the Jiangnan region of China’s lower Yangtze River is famously home to Shanghai, the country’s largest city. But Jiangnan is also known for its green land and fertile waters.

“The first time I heard Jiangnan referred to as yu mi zhi xiang – the ‘Land of Fish and Rice’ – was when my family and I crossed a small street at Taihu, the ‘Lake Tai’, with a beautiful golden Dashing along paddy fields gently swaying with the breeze on one side,” writes Betty Liu in her beautiful cookbook, “My Shanghai: Recipes and Stories from a City by the Water.”

Of the many recipes in the book, almost half contain some form of rice. There are pumpkin rice cakes with red bean paste, rice-crusted pork ribs stewed in lotus leaves, glutinous rice rolls stuffed with black sesame, and many others. But one of the simplest rice recipes is zhōu or xī fàn – often called rice porridge by its Anglicized name.

A plain congee, in its simplest iteration, is a combination of rice and water in a ratio of about 1 part rice and anywhere from 6 to 12 parts water. The rice is boiled and simmered until the grains release all of their starch and the water thickens as they fall apart.

Known as juk or jook in Korea, bubur in Indonesia, lugaw in the Philippines, teochew in Singapore, and dozens of other names around the world, there’s also an endless variety of ways to prepare it. “You can make it with plain water or any kind of broth… You can vary its flavor with spices, dried roots, other grains, and vegetables,” Liu tells me over the phone from Boston, where she is a resident. Congee can be eaten on its own, but is almost always topped with a few savory treats before serving.

Her congee recipe aims to be a base for home cooks to play around with, adding or subtracting liquid to achieve their ideal texture, supplementing with other grains or vegetables for flavor, and finally adding a variety of proteins and pickled, canned or fresh garnish vegetables.

In her book, Liu suggests topping your congee with pickled vegetables, a Millennial Egg, salted duck egg or chile-fermented tofu. But the possibilities are unlimited. “When I was a kid we would each have our bowl of congee and then a small bowl of fermented tofu. We took a spoonful of congee and then used our chopsticks to pluck off some of the fermented tofu,” says Liu. Today she loves it with a drizzle of soy sauce and pickled mustard or kimchi.

“But you can take what you like or have on hand. Leftover duck or Thanksgiving turkey is always good in cooler months,” says Liu, also noting that you could rehydrate dried mushrooms, use that liquid to cook the congee, and sauté the mushrooms to serve on top.

For a spring congee, she suggests sautéed or pickled green garlic or ramps—mixed into a pesto or bubbled in a hot pan—fresh peas, herbs, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Italian basil pesto is an easy, versatile summer sauce

In summer, corn is ideal for congee, either simply steamed kernels or a puree of fresh corn swirled into each bowl. Quartered cherry tomatoes and hard-boiled eggs? Fried eggplant and zucchini? Tiny, just cooked shrimp? Yes, yes and yes.

“Growing up, congee was never served the same way,” says Liu. “One message I want to convey is that I think some people think Chinese food is intimidating. But like any home cooking, there are no real rules when it comes to congee. It’s your kitchen, it’s your rules!”

  • Instead of rice >> try another grain e.g. B. farro or buckwheat.
  • To make your rice porridge tastier, use any type of broth or broth instead of water >>.

To make this recipe faster, plan ahead: give the rice a quick rinse in cold water, drain, then freeze in a resealable bag. Once frozen, the water that envelops the grains helps them break down faster. Cook the frozen rice for just 20 minutes instead of the hour to get the same mushy texture.

Storage: Leftover congee can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Where to Find: Dried lily bulbs, dried mung beans, pickled mustard greens, millennial eggs, and Chile-fermented tofu are available in Asian markets or online.

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  • 8 cups water, chicken broth, mushroom broth, or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
  • 3/4 cup short or medium grain white rice

For the optional supplements

  • 1 dried lily bulb
  • 2 tablespoons dried mung beans, soaked in water overnight

For the suggested optional toppings

  • Pickled mustard greens or other pickles
  • Millennial egg or hard-boiled egg
  • Chile fermented or other tofu
  • soy sauce
  • spring onions

In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the water or broth to a boil. Add the rice, plus one or both of the optional toppings, and bring to a boil again.

Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring regularly to prevent the rice from sticking, until the rice grains have “bloomed” or opened up and started to burst and the congee is a thick, Has a mushy consistency, about 45 minutes. Add more broth or water if you want a lighter congee. If you want it thicker, uncover and cook longer.

Serve with your choice of toppings, stir into congee for flavor, or top to eat between two spoonfuls of oatmeal.

Per serving (1 1/2 cups congee; no toppings)

Calories: 128; total fat: 0 g; Saturated fat: 0 g; cholesterol: 0 mg; sodium: 2 mg; carbohydrates: 28 g; fiber: 1 g; sugar: 0 g; Egg white: 2 g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a nutritionist or nutritionist.

Adapted from “My Shanghai” by Betty Liu (Harper Design, 2021).

Tested by G. Daniela Galarza; email questions [email protected].

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