I will begin this page with my winter-time lifesaver recipe. This is a recipe that I thank my partner Tim for introducing to me, deep in the chasm of a feverish winter flu, years ago. He crafted a steaming bowl of rice porridge rich with ginger, mushrooms, white pepper, and scallions, brought it to me in bed, and told me that it would make me better. It soothed my throat, calmed my sinuses, allowed me to break a sweat to help diminish my fever, and nourished me in a way that allowed me to sleep deeply.
Thanks Tim! This recipe comes straight from the streets of Bangkok, although Rice Porridge (also known as Jook or Congee) has been known as a remedy for ages in China.
The Thai dish is known as Kao Dtom, and it is generally pretty bland, with slightly varying ingredients depending on the local flair or availability of ingredients. This is often eaten as a regular breakfast food in Thailand, especially with the addition of egg.
You can find one version here, with a focus on Ginger and Chicken.
Kao Dtom (serves two):
1/2 Cup dry jasmine rice: Blend or grind until broken into smaller pieces, but not a powder. You can also find broken rice at Asian marketplaces, and it is often cheaper than full-grain rice.
Add the broken rice to 3 Cups water or stock (chicken or veggie are both fine). Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 1.5 hours, or more if possible. Crock pots are ideal for this endeavor, and the simmering time depends on the size of your pot, type of heat, etc. The idea is to simmer the heck out of it, with the fluid gradually reducing until it reaches a viscous consistency, yet nice and soupy (a spoon should NOT stand up in this porridge). Too much water is better than too little; the longer it cooks, the more “powerful” the porridge becomes. Make sure to stir the porridge consistently for the last half hour, and add more water if it’s reducing too quickly.
Meanwhile, stir-fry a small amount of ground pork until tender (just a fistful will do). The pork is optional but traditional.
When the porridge starts to become viscous, add the pork as well as the following:
1/2″ to 1 1/2″ chunk of fresh ginger, either chopped into toothpicks or sliced into discs.
1/4 Cup button mushrooms, de-stemmed and chopped. If you’d like to use dried fancy mushrooms, please do (just 4 or 5 dried mushrooms). Shiitake is wonderful, as are mixed forest mushrooms. You can save the water used in re-constituting the mushrooms and add it back into the porridge, then allow to reduce again to the viscous consistency.
Allow those ingredients to meld for ten to fifteen minutes, then turn off the heat and add the following:
1/4 Cup sliced shallots (green onions) or 1/3 Cup diced scallions
1Tbsp soy sauce or to taste
Healthy dash white pepper to taste
Dash fish sauce to taste (optional)
Honey to taste if a bad cough is present.
Lastly, crack an egg into it one minute before serving. If you prefer not to have the runny yolk, just gently fry the egg and add at the end.
There you have it! Savor the harmonious flavors, and feel well!
Quick explanation of why this has such a healing effect:
The blandness of rice nourishes, moistens, and cools the parched and inflamed tissues while gently building energy; the warmth of ginger encourages sluggish digestion, improves appetite, relieves nausea, and helps get rid of phlegm; the pungency of scallion opens the lungs to decrease bronchial inflammation and opens the pores to allow a gentle sweat. Mushrooms help to strengthen the immune system and add a sweet earthy flavor which is especially good if you’re not using pork. White pepper helps to clear the head in a gentle way, while simultaneously stimulating the function of the digestive tract to encourage nourishment. Honey helps to tonify the lungs to reduce coughing.
Pitchford, Paul. 2002. Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, Third Edition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.