Hi friends! Happy Election Day. Hope ya’ll voted and stuff. It’s getting colder out around here, rainy and cold and dark. Nick lovingly describes this time of year as the time when we eat a lot of bright orange meals. I can’t help it, I love me some squash (and sweet potato and carrots and… you get the point). This Brown Rice Congee with Roasted Red Kuri Squash does not disappoint. If you’ve never had congee before, I highly recommend. It’s literally comfort in a bowl.
Congee is a rice porridge traditional to China. At its simplest, congee is rice cooked in liquid for a period of time so that it loses most of its texture and forms a rich and soft — and incredibly comforting — substance.
It’s on par with chicken noodle soup or a simple risotto as far as comfort foods go. These are the restorative dishes, the soul-healing dishes, that we turn to time and time again. They don’t go in and out of fashion and they aren’t trendy. They are simple, good, whole foods that are dependable and familiar. When there’s change or turbulence in life, it’s great to have these dishes in your back pocket.
If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
While San Francisco is incredibly pricey these days and almost not worth the effort to actually attempt to reside there, I have to give it proper credit. It’s where I first discovered rice porridge and, likewise, one of my favorite dining experiences. At a tiny restaurant in the Inner Sunset, called Nabe.
Nabe serves Japanese hot pot-style dishes. Their name comes from the Japanese word nabemono, meaning “one pot cooking.” The dining room is tiny, and as you sit there on a dark and foggy San Francisco evening eating delicious meats and vegetables cooked in even tastier broths, the windows fog up almost completely to create a cozy intimate atmosphere nearly disconnected from the outside world. You get to focus on the food and good company. That’s my type of dining out.
At the end of the meal (when you’re too full to even think about dessert) your server comes to your table with a couple cups of cooked rice, freshly sliced green onion, raw egg and thinly sliced nori. They use up your remaining broth by cooking the most amazing rice porridge that comes together very, very quickly table-side. And you eat more. And it’s the most perfect ending to a meal.
Mottainai (Waste Nothing)!
The porridge they make for you table-side is a traditional end-of-meal rice soup called zosui and, according to Nabe, perfectly embodies the Japanese practice of mottainai, which means, “waste nothing.” I love this concept so much. At a time when food waste is one of the biggest types of waste in our country and around the world, it’s something we should all try and live by every day, even a tiny bit.
When I made this congee, I had the rice porridge from Nabe in mind, and also mottainai. I took leftover chicken bones home from a restaurant meal and used them to form the broth base here. I don’t cook a lot of whole chicken at home, so it was a great opportunity to have some leftover bones at my disposal.
Red Kuri Squash = Love
In keeping with the theme of “waste nothing,” I can’t leave out the other star to this dish – Red Kuri Squash. It’s officially my favorite squash of fall/winter 2016. I first noticed this bright orange gourd at one of my favorite go-to farmers market stands in Ballard: One Leaf Farm. These girls know how to grow delicious veg. Heck yeah. Favorite part about Red Kuri squash hands down? You don’t have to peel it.
I’ll repeat: you don’t have to peel it. Sorry, butternut, there’s a new squash in town!
Much like Delicata, the Red Kuri squash skin gets soft and tender when cooked through. It adds a nice contrasting texture to the thick, rich buttery flesh inside. So, you only have to discard the very top, really. Makes prepping this squash a breeeeeze.
While it’s not quite a traditional topping for congee, the roasted Red Kuri squash adds another level of comforting yumminess to this simple dish. You may even need to take a 5+ hour nap after eating the two together… you’ve been warned.