8 Treasure Congee

I was introduced, in Wuhan, to the Laba porridge tradition some months before the infamous outbreak and lockdown. I have sweet memories of Wuhan and when the Laba Day rolled around this year, I marked my weekend for a quiet celebration. In a bizarre coincidence, 76 Days, a documentary on the 76 days of lockdown in Wuhan, was made specially available on MTV for today –the anniversary of the start of Wuhan lockdown– in support of local theaters affected by the pandemic. Made for a heart-wrenching viewing.

Back to Laba. You will be surprised –as I was– to learn a possible India connection to this ancient tradition: the day commemorates the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautam Budha. History is always so fascinating.

Here I adapt the 8-treasure congee, with some minor embellishments (hope my little transgressions from tradition will be pardoned). The result was unbelievably addictive. Enjoy!


SPECIAL TOOLS:

Pressure cooker.

INGREDIENTS

  • Four grain-legumes treasures:
    • 1/2 cup glutinous (sticky) rice + 2 tbsp black rice + 1 tbsp mung + 1 tbsp red beans
  • Four fruit-nut treasures:
    • 5 dried red Chinese dates (jujubes) + 10 dried Longan berries + 1 tbsp peanuts + 1 tbsp walnuts
  • Serving embellishments (optional)
    • Creaming, per serving: some almond milk OR 1 tbsp sweet condensed milk
    • Topping: dusting of ginger-brown sugar+finely diced dried Longan berries

METHOD

Soak the rice and legumes overnight (or for at least 2 hours) and drain. Pressure cook, on high pressure, the 8 treasures in 5 cups water for 15 mins. Serve warm.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. All the ingredients can be bought in the Chinese grocery stores or online.
  2. The dried longans taste like candy!
  3. I had bought my ginger-brown sugar from Wuhan. But you can substitute with a mix of dry ginger powder and brown sugar (1/8 tsp ginger powder+ 3 tbsp brown sugar).
  4. Savory Scallop Congee: A delicious savory congee.
    • In a crockpot or slow cooker, add the following and cook on slow for 6-8 hrs
      • 1 cup long grain rice + 1 1/2 cup dried scallops (OR 2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs)
      • 1/2 cup diced tender Kale stems + 1/2 cup mushrooms
      • Aromatics: 3 scallions diced + 1 inch ginger, sliced + 4 garlic pods + 2 dried red chillies
      • Cooking liquid: 4 cups water + 4 cups light stock (OR just 8 cups of water)
    • Garnish: chopped scallions, coriander leaves, lime and crushed peanuts

Back to Laba Congee:

Barley Pudding: Surprisingly delicious and creamy! Yellow moong dal is unusual for a pudding and even without the usual sweetener (brown sugar), this will win over the hearts of even the ardentest pudding fans!

Pressure cook on high for 20 minutes:
3/4 cup pearl barley, dry toasted + 1/4 cup yellow split moong dal, soaked for at least 1 hr and drained
+ 1/2 cup chopped apricots + 1/2 cup cranberries
+ 1 tsp cinnamon powder + 1/2 tsp vanilla
+ 4 cups water
(optional) serve with maple syrup or topping (raisins)

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