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Just like that, it is another year: the Chinese New Year begins this weekend. As kids, we always loved this joyous event, and though we didn’t exactly celebrate it, it felt like we still did due to the huge Chinese population in the Philippines. We had neighbors and family friends that did celebrate it and it felt like we all participated in some way.

Each year, my parents received a box or two of Chinese New Year cake that we called “Tikoy” (also known as “Nian Gao”). It’s a type of rice cake that is semisweet and glutinous that is given to family and friends as a sign of good luck for the coming year, and it usually comes in a beautiful red box. This is one of the things I really do miss: the melding of all the different cultures and traditions. The Philippines is definitely a melting pot: we have a lot of Spanish and Chinese influence and sometimes you don’t know where one ends and the other begins. Or is it all just one big messy fusion?

One of the things we inherited from the Chinese is congee, which is a simple rice porridge. Sounds boring, I know, but the best thing about it are the toppings and condiments that you add to it. When I was growing up, the very moment you sneezed, a bowl of congee would magically appear in front of you, or at least it seemed that way to me. Congee (or lugaw, as Filipinos call it), is what chicken noodle soup would be for most people here. In most Asian households, this magical rice porridge is eaten morning, noon, or night, and it’s especially made when someone is sick.

What I like about congee is that you can add as many condiments and side items to it as possible. Our traditional way of garnishing it is simply with toasted garlic chunks, fried tofu or fried pork belly, and some scallions drizzled with some soy sauce and rice vinegar. You can even cook it with chicken, or without. Being that it is Chinese New Year, I thought a better way to represent the very tiny, tiny part of my Chinese heritage would be to add some natural healing elements to the already comforting rice porridge by adding tons of garlic, ginger, turmeric, AND a lot of extra love, because as you know, that’s how magic happens. So get busy making some congee this weekend, and may you have much wealth, prosperity, and good health!

photos by Maria Kennedy

CONGEE W/ GINGER, GARLIC & TURMERIC

NEEDS (for the porridge):
(click here for Full Grocery List)

1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
½ cup jasmine rice + 2 tablespoon Arborio rice
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 cup water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

NEEDS (for the condiments):

1-2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1 whole garlic bulb, finely chopped
Approximately 5 scallions, finely chopped
Cilantro, finely chopped
2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Optional items:

1 ounce beech mushrooms
7 minute soft boiled eggs (marinated in soy sauce)
firm tofu (optional), sliced about a ¼ of an inch thick

DO:

  1. In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium high heat and sautee the onions and ginger until translucent.
  2. Add the rice and stir until the edges are a little translucent but the center is still opaque.
  3. Add the chicken stock and water and bring to a boil. Add the salt and pepper.
  4. Reduce the heat to a medium low heat and let it simmer for about 30-45 minutes until it thickens. If it starts to get too thick, you can slowly add some hot water.
  5. While the rice is cooking, cook the garlic in the oil on medium low heat until the garlic is golden. Quickly remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  6. Cook the mushrooms in the same pan in the garlic infused oil until they are tender then remove and set aside.
  7. In a small bowl, mix the soy sauce, vinegar and fish sauce and set aside.

To serve, ladle the congee in single serving bowl and top with the garlic, scallions, cilantro, mushrooms, fried tofu and soft boiled egg and drizzle with the soy sauce mixture and some sesame oil. For instructions on how to fry tofu, you can refer to this recipe from the New York Times  here and for the soy sauce eggs, this is a great recipe from Food52.

GROCERY LIST:

1 large yellow onion
Ginger
1 whole garlic bulb
scallions
Cilantro
1 ounce  beech mushrooms
jasmine rice
arborio rice( optional)
low sodium chicken stock
ground turmeric
ground black pepper
low sodium soy sauce
rice vinegar
fish sauce
sesame oil
eggs
1 package firm tofu