Medicinal Congees

Medicinal Congees

What’s Cara Cooking?

There’s lots of way to administer herbal formulas. At Six Fishes, we use decoctions, pills, extracts and powders. One way you can take herbs is to cook them as part of a meal to eat. One of the most enjoyable ways to do this is to cook a medicinal congee.

Congee is basically a rice gruel with meat, fish, vegetables, and maybe beans added. They are also referred to as Zhou or Jook. Cooked well with a nourishing broth, congee is a restorative food: comforting when you are sick, in a chicken soup kind of way; Nourishing and building when you are recovering from an illness.

When deciding what to put into the congee, the possibilities are limitless: You can use nearly any kind of rice. Although different rice’s have slightly different healing qualities, it’s not necessary to over think this. Use what’s around and keep things simple. You can also use other grains, such as millet alone or combined with rice. You can make them with water, or broth. You can select the other ingredients based on the seasons, your health or what leftovers you are trying to use up. Recently, we’ve been enjoying the congee from our local Vietnamese restaurant, where they serve the steaming bowls with all the accompaniments we usually add to a bowl of pho.

The basic recipe for all congees is simple: cook white rice with water or broth in a 1:10 ratio. We have a rice cooker with a terra cotta lining. I really like to use it so I don’t have to watch it or worry about it burning.

We like to crack the rice in our mini chop Cuisinart. You can use a coffee grinder, or this step can be skipped. Congee is the most forgiving dish to make. Other than burning it, nothing can really go wrong.

Last fall, when we hosted Dr. Huang, I prevailed on him to treat my husband, who has chronic digestive problems. After carefully questioning him and palpating his abdomen, he recommended the formula Wǔ Líng Sǎn Poria Five Powder. This is a classical formula with a wide range of applications, all centered on an treating excess fluids in the body. Unlike a drying diuretic, the formula strengthens digestion so that fluids are disseminated throughout the body.

Wǔ Líng Sǎn Poria Five Powder

fú líng Poria

zé xiè Alismatis Rhizoma

zhū líng Polyporus

bái zhú Atractylodis Macrocephalae Rhizoma

guì zhī Cinnamomi Ramulus

The formula has a relatively mild, yet sweet and spicy flavor from the cinnamon twigs. Since its name lets us know that it was originally taken as a powder, we ground the herbs and tried cooking them with the rice. This was not pleasant: even ground and well-cooked, it was like eating bits of wood. So we opted to decoct the herbs to make a tea and then use that as the broth to cook the rice. This was a total success and Eric’s belly really feels better. Congee has become a regular part of his diet.

Basic Congee Recipe

serves 6

1 cup rice. You can use white, basmati, sweet, long or short grain.

9-10 cups water or stock (chicken or fish)

Salt to taste

Crack the rice in a coffee mill or food grinder. Just pulse it. You don’t want powder. In a heavy pot, bring the rice, liquid and optional salt to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and cover loosely with a lid. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the rice is thoroughly cooked and the porridge has become thick and creamy, about 1 1/2 hours.

We recommend adding ginger and scallion. From there, add mushrooms. Fry an egg throw that on top. Shred some seaweed. Add the last of the ham diced up. Add gingko nuts. Add almonds or walnuts. Drizzle sesame oil, soy sauce, fish sauce. The food writer Mark Bittman wrote a great piece using oatmeal in a congee like, savory way and recently there was an article on the savory oatmeal in the Philadelphia Magazine.

Here’s 10 congee’s you can make at home

1.Aduki Bean: Diuretic; helpful for edema and gout

2.Carrot: Digestive aid, helps to eliminate gas

3.Celery: Cooling in summer time

4.Chicken or lamb Broth: Recommended for wasting illnesses and injuries

5.Duck or Carp Broth: Reduces edema and swelling

6.Fennel: Harmonizes stomach, expels gas; useful for reducing hernias

7.Ginger: Warming; used to warm digestion.

8.Leeks: Warming; good for chronic diarrhea

9.Mustard Greens: Expels phlegm; clears stomach congestion

10.Pine Nuts: Moistening to heart and lungs; harmonizes large intestine; useful for constipation

11.Radishes: Aids digestion.

There are several recipes for Eight Treasure Congee. Intended to be eaten on special days and holidays as a winter tonic. Eight is a lucky number in China. Here are a few recipes for Eight Treasure Congees. This recipe is adapted from

¾ cup millet

¼ cup rice

¼ cup peanuts

2 Tbs walnuts

2 Tbs pine nuts

2 Tbs Aduki Beans

½ oz Haw fruit

5 Chinese red dates

Rock Sugar

Cooking instructions: Put all nuts and beans in a ceramic pot with 3 cups of water. cook for one hour, then add millet and rice and continue cooking at a low temperature until everything is well cooked and smooth. Then add rock sugar, red dates and hawthorn fruit at the end and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes.

Want to learn more? Here’s a two books with recipe ideas:

The Book of Jook: Chinese Medicinal Porridges—A Healthy Alternative to the Typical Western Breakfast by Bob Flaws, Blue Poppy Press

     Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen, Recipes from the East for Health, Healing and Long Life by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir and Mika Ono</p><ul>

Cara Frank, L.OM. was raised by in a health food store in Brooklyn NY. When she was 8 she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. For over 30 years she has had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine. At 17 she had her first acupuncture treatment. At 20 she enrolled in acupuncture school. 1n 1998 she went to China to study where she fell deeply in love with herbs and has never recovered.

Cara is the founder of Six Fishes Healing Arts in Philadelphia. She is the president of China Herb Company and she is the Academic Director of the Department of Chinese Herbology at the Won Institute of Graduate Studies. You can read her bio or schedule an appointment.

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Cara Frank is my ‘go to’ for Chinese herbal medicine. She has thirty years experience treating patients with acupuncture and herbs. Cara created the herbal medicine program at Won institute and is a current faculty member. She really knows her stuff! Her company, China Herb is right on the premises so my herbs are fresh and of the highest quality. Her knowledge of herbs is top notch. Booking appointments is easy and can be done online, front desk staff is very friendly, and even though it’s in the city, parking is not that bad! Want a trusted practitioner for Chinese herbs? Go see Cara!

Margaret C.