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Congee and Wet Breakfasts for Health

As we are dealing with the pandemic pathogen that dries up the fluids, Chinese Medicine principle would be to suplement the Yin with food and rest.

One of the greatest tonics for Stomach Yin is congee. Here are some beautifully put details and receipes for some by Andrew Sterman:

Hydration is key to good health, and wet breakfasts are an often forgotten key to good hydration. Wet breakfasts—porridges and congee—absorb a great deal of water as they cook, fluid is gradually given up during digestion, like a time-release capsule of healthy hydration. Beyond bringing fluids into the system so effectively, wet breakfasts soothe and restore the organs of digestion themselves (in Chinese Medical terms, Stomach, Spleen/Pancreas, Small Intestine and Large Intestine). Wet-cooked porridges or congee is the breakfast of choice for a wide variety of health needs ranging from

  • nourishing weak digestion,

  • conditions of chronic dehydration,

  • inflammation or heat pathologies,

  • those especially young, old or convalescing at any stage of life,

  • anyone who challenged their digestion with an extensive or challenging dinner the previous evening,

  • anyone who may have stayed up too late or had a bit too much wine, etc.

Anecdotally, wet breakfasts have been the foundation of remarkable improvements in a number of individuals I have taught who were struggling with serious conditions. Dangerously high blood pressure brought into normal range, severely weakened digestion brought back to good function… there are many instances of success, large and small. Dramatic improvements are not difficult, although adopting consistent new breakfast habits sometimes can be. Since chronic dehydration underlies many serious health conditions, consistent adoption of cooked, wet breakfasts can provide real improvement as well as symptom relief. At the very least, medical treatment can then be calibrated to what we need and can’t do for ourselves with a little extra kitchen effort in the mornings.

Even without a medical condition, congee and breakfast porridge can be wonderful to eat and wonderful for us. The Stomach, Spleen and Pancreas work well with grains in the morning (Chinese Medicine has observed a natural rhythm governing when each organ system is most active). The morning is Stomach and Spleen/Pancreas time, the time when grains are best metabolized and therefore when the use of grains can help stabilize our inner clock. In our family, with young children, we say, “Taste the grain first, wake up your Spleen, let your body know there is some good food coming in.” Although it is trendy to avoid carbs and grains, it is really sugar that has caused the metabolic problems for so many people. Grains are very important for metabolism and digestion, the foundation of good health, if skillfully used.

As with all common foods, recipes vary between cultures and families. How to make good congee and other porridges is one of the common questions I am asked during dietary consults or while teaching energetics of food. Some recipes and a bit of dietary theory are included below.

Rice Congee

Rice congee

To make good congee (jook in Cantonese), use good quality medium-grain or long-grain white rice, preferably grown in the style suited to the Asian market in America. Asia doesn't generally export grain, so the best choice is one of several high quality Asian-style rices grown in California, much of which is exported to Japan. Fluffy rice types, sometimes called ‘Carolina’ style, aren't best for congee. Also avoid short-grain, arborio or risotto rices, they are too sticky.

1 cup dry rice makes enough congee for 4-6 people. Eventually the amount of water for 1 cup white rice is 8-10 cups or more, depending on the type of rice, humidity, and cooking style.