Registered Chinese Medicine Practitioner
Bachelor of Health Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine (UTS)
Bachelor of Science Majoring in Psychology (UOW)
Specialising in pain management and mental wellbeing through Tradition Chinese medicine in combination with modern science in mental health, dieting and nutrition.
Plain congee is one of the simplest yet important staples in Cantonese cuisine. It is usually eating for breakfast as an excellent source of energy and filling although it can also be had for practically every meal depending on the ingredients you put in. This recipe will deal with the most basic of variations and that is the plain congee. This is the go-to food when anyone in the family came down with a debilitating illness such as lethargy and the flu as it was easy to digest and not heavy in flavour to cause nausea. Something that my mother would use to do is make up a large pot of plain congee and then leave it in a slow cooker which maintains the heat without having to return it to the stove and the quantity will be sufficient for the duration of most illnesses. As we got better more savoury ingredients such as pork, chicken and shallots may be added later.
From the western nutritional perspective congee has been noted to have similar health properties as described from a TCM perspective. One of the main benefits of congee is the ability to hydrate the body due to the amount of water used in cooking. The rice also breaks down and becomes soft as it cooks and this is perfect for someone with a weakened digestive system.
The main ingredient in this dish is rice. Rice is sweet in flavour and neutral in nature therefore its channel propensities lie with the Stomach and Spleen. By itself the sweetness of rice is good for nourishing the Yin and Qi and as it enters the spleen and stomach it also supplements the functions of these organs as well as boost Wei Qi via the Stomach and helps produce Gu Qi.
As this is a congee, water is used as a medium to carry the flavour as well as being Yin in nature and therefore it adds a cooling and moistening nature to the dish.
Usually a bit of table salt is added during the cooking and this table salt is salty in flavour and cool in nature and is good for clearing pathogenic heat such as UTIs because saltiness enters the Kidney and Bladder. The flavour increase appetite as well as helps soften masses and moistens.
The ingredients individually favour the middle and lower jiao and this is evident in the whole recipe as it helps boost and regulate the functions of the organs involved with digestion, transformation and separation of fluids. The method of preparation is boiling and simmering. This makes a cool natured food slightly warm as well as moderates the overall hot nature of the dish through the addition of water.
Congee is very beneficial to those who are suffering from loss of appetite, digestive problems and flu symptoms by boosting Wei Qi. On the other hand it should be kept in mind that in excess it can exacerbate spleen qi vacuity and damp patterns. This is because the spleen generates fluids and if the spleen qi is weak there will be over production and build-up of damp through excess consumption of the sweet flavour in this dish.
As mentioned before plain congee is generally eaten when someone is very weak or has an impaired digestion either due to illness or recovering from illness as it is something that is nutritious and easy to digest. Generally when someone is in this weakened state eating foods that are contain complicated ingredients or strong flavours and heavy in meats, they may end up throwing up the food or leading to further indigestion due to an impaired spleen function (spleen is responsible for transforming food and transporting Qi to the 4 limbs) and forcing someone to keep eating such foods will only make their appetite worse and hinder their ability to recover so simple foods such as plain congee or even plain bread should be the main diet until they get stronger.
Once they start to show signs of improvement and their digestion can handle more complex and slightly fattier foods then you can slowly introduce more flavours and ingredients. In the case for congee, the next step would be to add some dried scallops. Dried scallops is sweet, salty and slightly warm in nature and it is used for nourishing Yin, tonify blood, replenish the Kidneys and harmonise Spleen and Stomach. This extra ingredient slowly builds on the properties already present in plain congee without putting a lot of extra stress on digestion. Other ingredients that may be gradually added is Chinese yam or lotus seeds as they benefit the spleen and kidneys. Eventually ingredients such as mince pork or chicken can be added into this dish to provide an extra source of protein and nutrition as well as tonify the Qi.
As congee is an extremely versatile dish it features heavily in TCM food therapy since it is an excellent base dish for experimenting with different ingredients and flavours and from the perspective of food therapy it is suitable for most pathological patterns just by adjusting and adding a few extra ingredients and is an excellent comfort food during the cold seasons.