A Warm Comfort Soup for a Cold, Story Day

As the year is coming to a close and the christmas season is over, we, in New England got our first storm of the winter season. Snow began to fall overnight, and then began to turn to freezing rain, making the commute to and from work, cold, slippery and not very pleasant. I didn’t want to stop at the grocery store to shop for supper, and my husband, Poppi and I didn’t feel like choosing a restaurant to eat at or to get take-home from; but we both knew we just wanted to get home and cocoon for the night.

So, the best thing for me to do, was cook whatever I could find on hand. Supper had to be nutritious, warming and delicious and I wanted it to be simple and easy to eat. What came to mind was an asian comfort food called rice porridge, or congee. This soup is often eaten for breakfast, or when one is sick or weak, or when one needs food-supplied comfort. Traditionally its made with meats and meat broths, but my mission was to make it vegan and low fat, which I was confident I could accomplish both. So, as soon as we arrived home, and were safely inside, I began gathering ingredients and chopping and preparing for our simple supper. As the storm raged on there was a certain comfort in knowing we had a delicious and nutritious stew simmering away on the stove.

This is the kind of cooking that doesn’t need exact measurements, or a complete listing of ingredients to be successful.  It mostly depends on what you have on hand, personal preferences  and technique, and how you combine all those elements.

First thing I did was choose a pot to cook in. My first mistake was choosing a too little pot.After cooking the rice, I realized I need a lot more room then I was allowing for in my 3 quart pot. A 5 quart to 6 quart pot should have been my first choice. Then I measured out one cup of medium grain rice, which I rinsed in the sink until clean. I put the rice and about 8 cups water in the pot and turned the burner on high. I added mushroom and veggie bouillon powder (low salt) to the water and tasted it to make sure I added enough seasoning.

As the rice began to cook, I began to chop my vegetables. I minced all the veggies very fine, almost the size of a grain of rice, and separated them into two containers. One container held the veggies that would take longer to cook, 1 small potato, 1 cup butternut squash, 1/2 large white onion, 1 large carrot,3 cloves garlic and about 3/4 cup white bok choy stems. The second container held the bok choy greens, minced finely, about 1  cup. I definitely would like to have put any other leafy green in the mix if I had some available, but I was going with what I had on hand at the time. I set the two containers aside to wait until the rice was ready.

After cooking the rice about 40 minutes, I was ready to assemble the rest of the stew. The rice was very cooked and the grains were beginning to break apart, which is exactly what I was going for. I added more water to the pot, as some had cooked away and some had absorbed into the rice, and then I adjusted the seasonings again, adding more mushroom bouillon, to my taste. All together I probably put in about 1 tablespoon of the mushroom veggie bouillon. Then I dumped in all the slow cooking vegetables and let them cook until they were soft, about 25 minutes longer. I tested the carrots for doneness, as I’ve discovered carrots take longer to cook than  potatoes and are a better indicator of doneness when cooking a combined dish. Then I poured in the minced bok choy greens, gave a good stir, cooked 5 minutes longer, then the vegetable congee was ready to serve.

If I had scallions, I would have garnished the congee with the scallions, but instead, I used a few grain of toasted sesame seeds, and crumbled toasted seaweed sheets. The congee hit the mark! It was comforting, hot, delicious and very healthy! We rounded out the meal with a side salad and my husband added a slice of his favorite rye bread!

Very easy and very repeatable. And as I am finding out for myself, more and more, the simplest foods are most often the most delicious and satisfying. Next time a storm is threatening, be it emotional or weather…cook up a pot of comforting congee and see if it does the trick for you!