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Blog: On Health. On Writing. On Life. On Everything.

Congee and Beans

February 28, 2011

Tags: food, water, herbs, amino acids, Asia, bean salad, botulism, breakfast, butter beans, cabbage – sour, chelating, China, congee – recipe, cilantro, Congee and Beans, cravings, detoxification, dill, easy meal, economical meal, fermented foods, garbanzos, garlic, gluten-free, grape leaves, Greece, Herbes de Provence, herbs – dried, herbs – fresh, herbs – Italian beans, Hippocrates, Japan, Kellogg - John Harvey (1852-1943), Kellogg - Will Keith (1860-1951), legumes, lunch, maple syrup, marjoram, microwave, olive oil, parsley, pressure cooker, refrigeration, resveratrol, rice – brown, rice – short, rice cooker, Russia, tarragon, vegetables, pickles, salt and pepper, sauerkraut, savory, sweet tooth, umeboshi plum paste, Your food be your medicine

Surely, I've been stressing my mantra "Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables" on this blog; without vegetables, no health.

Think of congee and beens as "fast" vegetables. They don't substitute for greens and roots and cabbages. But congee for breakfast and beans for lunch keep me going all day until I arrive at my vegetable-laden dinner table. The amino acids in congee and beans complement each other to a full, nourishing set, and congee and beans have this in common: They are easy to make and very economical – I bet you can’t come up with a healthier meal that’s less expensive.

• Congee: This Asian dish is basically rice cooked with lots and lots of water into a very satisfying thick soup. If you think you know rice, and don’t like it, try congee. To me it always tastes like it was made in heaven by some motherly, nourishing angel. Here is how you make it yourself:

If you have a rice cooker with a congee setting (which I don’t), you have it easy. I use a pressure cooker. One cup of brown rice – preferably the short, sticky variety – to two cups of water. Cook for about ten minutes. After cooling, add three to four cups more water. Cook for another ten minutes or so (I know my recipes are awfully vague; that’s how I cook – you figure out your own way). The pressure cooker method works better if you do it in two steps rather than pouring in all the water in the beginning. If, on the other hand, you have only a simple, big pot, you let the rice simmer on very low heat for several hours. If needed, add more water.

One cup of dry rice, transformed into congee, fills about four big breakfast bowls. You serve it with any kind of fermented pickles – sauerkraut being very good and cheap. (Look up my old blog on fermented foods if you are not familiar with their health benefits). Chinese traditionally have some nice pickles – but it has to be the fermented kind, not the modern processed stuff, and the fermented pickles are not longer found easily. I have used sour cabbage from the Russian store, or Greek marinated grape leaves (high in resveratrol!). Japanese have great fermented things like umeboshi plum paste. You only need a little bit for a whole bowl. Whatever you like. But don’t do sweet stuff like maple syrup – the congee needs fermented foods. Anything sweet will only feed your sweet tooth. And it is not written in stone that a breakfast needs to be sweet – that is the Kellogg brothers' invention, I suspect.

I always add a liberal amount of olive oil because otherwise it won’t last me until lunch. By the way, you may add a pinch of salt to your bowl – but fermented foods usually provide all the saltiness you may want.

This breakfast has one great advantage: Filling without stuffing, it squashes all cravings – and makes you go until lunch without ever thinking of food.

• Beans: I apologize to the purists among you, but I use canned beans. Of course, one can also soak beans overnight and cook them – but I have more interesting things to do. When you buy canned beans, make sure they have no additives – they should be beans and water, nothing else.

You open a can of beans and heat the contents (including the fluid) in a small pot to a boil. Add olive oil (I can’t even think of life without olive oil!), and pinch of salt and pepper. Toss in a handful of fresh or a table spoon full of dried herbs: Dill and parsley turn a boring can of beans a festive and health meal. Tarragon goes beautifully with garbanzos (which, technically are no beans, but belong to the legume family), marjoram or savory are great with butter beans, Italian herbs or Herbes de Provence plus garlic make dark beans a spectacular meal. Cilantro goes with everything – again add some garlic, and you already have a detoxifying, chelating medicine – “Your food be your medicine” as Hippocrates already said. We can now buy so many different kinds of canned beans. Find out what you like – and then rotate, because it is not good to eat the same fare every day.

If you can’t warm up your beans at midday at work on a stove (don’t use a microwave!), you can also make a bean salad (same ingredients, just drain the fluid of, and perhaps cut a small onion into the mix). But keep your beans refrigerated at all times, as they are prone to botulism germs when left at room temperature longer than two hours. And, hopefully you know better than use a bulging can of beans – discard it!

And then, as they say: Enjoy!

P.S. Did you notice that congee and beans are perfectly gluten-free? No-sweat gluten-free!
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