A Coconut Cure: Congee, Chicken, and Greens
Berkshire native Alana Chernila, local politician, mother of two, and author of the new cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), dispenses change and cooking ideas to readers and friends. She shares her peak-of-the-season recipes with Rural Intelligence to help us make the most of what’s growing in our region. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has just announced that she has a new one in the works: Meals from the Homemade Pantry (Clarkson Potter), due out in 2014.
There are nights that fit together like puzzles. I’m standing at the stove — it’s 5:00 and there is a coming and going in the house right now which is decidedly unsettled, although also joyous in a sun-through-the-window kind of way. I’m making congee, the thick rice porridge that is thickening in so many kitchens in the world right at this moment. Maybe not in this country because we don’t seem to know congee as well as we should.
We are slated to go to our friends’ for dinner, and the request is that our contribution fits in the theme of “Polynesian.” I have to admit that I don’t really know what that means. I Google, and everything is pineapple. And what I really want is congee, and I figure that if I make it with coconut milk, maybe the theme will apply. Most cultures makes congee in some form, so I’m probably safe.
Rice in the pot. Water, coconut milk, and a jar of whey in the fridge for good measure–all in the pot. I always have a hard time believing that so much liquid will go into that tiny bit of rice, but it always does.
Congee is really all about the toppings. Years ago, we used to eat it for breakfast with hot sesame oil, cashews, and scallions. If it’s breakfast, you can also treat it like oatmeal and go sweet. This recipe is from my friend Janet–she outlines all the options here. Since Janet taught me the chicken trick, I tend to make a whole dinner in a bowl, and I add layer after layer of whatever sauce I can find in the fridge. Kimchi. Ginger scallion sauce. Chili garlic sauce. It’s entirely adaptable, it can be everything you want it to be, and it will warm your belly in the best way.
Coconut Congee with Chicken and Greens
Adapted from A Raisin and A Porpoise
Serves 8-10 (trust me, you want leftovers, but you can halve this if you like).
2 cups white basmati rice
1 can full-fat coconut milk
18 cups water (you can substitute some whey if you have it in the fridge)
5 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 boneless chicken breasts, partially frozen for easy slicing
1/2 pound tender greens, cut into thin ribbons (spinach, tat soi, or any other green you have on hand)
1. Combine the rice, coconut milk, and water in a large pot. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to medium low, and cover. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, stirring every so often. It will seem like there is too much liquid and not enough rice! But trust me, it will thicken. When it does, add 4 teaspoons salt.
2. Combine the remaining teaspoon of salt and the cornstarch in a small bowl. Using a sharp knife, cut the chicken breasts into thin slices (1/2-inch if you can). Toss the slices in the cornstarch mixture and then transfer them to the pot, stirring them into the hot rice. Add the greens and stir them in as well. Continue to cook until the chicken turns white and the greens are soft, about 5 minutes.
Top with anything you like: warmed sesame oil, hot pepper, kimchi, scallions, ginger scallion sauce or if you are not me, cilantro.
Reprinted with permission from Eatingfromthegroundup.com. All text and photos copyright 2008-13 by Alana Chernila.