nothing new, timeless favorite ::::
The fad of “[insert orthorexia obsession of food choice] bowls” in crunchy, hipster scenes is prolific. It may be touted as a new thing. Look! There are acai bowls, the superfood from South America, sprinkled with bamboo dust! What about goji berries and chia seeds soaked in [insert esoteric, heritage nut that most people can’t find in regular grocery stores]! Make a savory, healthy bowl with ancient seeds like teff and the so ever-present quinoa that people actually know how to pronounce it! And OMG, kale! RAW KALE in the bowl! Oh, and you’re gluten-free, not because you actually have celiac disease but because it seems hip and cool and a way to avoid carbs. Yay, Whole 30 bowls are even more superior! But wait, you can’t eat nightshades. Replace them with blabbity, blah, blah, blah!
I’ll add my own “OMG” here: This is not new. This is not new. This is not new. Nutrition and “healthy eating” marketing ploys abound every few years. Remember oat bran? What about the grapefruit diet? Don’t get me started on “cleanses.” Unless you don’t have a liver, a “detox” or “cleanse” is a joke in the way that it’s usually marketed. And if you don’t have a liver, YOU’D BE DEAD. Before you comment on my sarcasm and hypocrisy of hard-to-find foods, I’m not saying don’t eat these foods or sometimes search out the esoteric ingredients because I like the challenge and am interested in the experience of trying something new. I say, try something new at least once. You might like it. Don’t foist your diet plan on me. Just do it for you, especially if it’s a health-related issue (as in ACTUAL celiac disease or diabetes or a life-threatening food allergy).
One of the original timeless meal bowls is congee, a thick rice porridge often served with sides for more flavor. This bowl never goes out of style or tries to hop on the hipster bandwagon. It just is. And it always will be. It is this dish that is truly prolific, with variations in Greece, China, Vietnam, Korea, India, Tibet, Philipines, Japan, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, and Taiwan.
I first had congee at my then-boyfriend’s now husband’s parents’ house the day after Thanksgiving. He called it bae in Taiwanese and was made from the leftover turkey meat and broth from the previous day’s meal. Eat warned me the night before, don’t refuse the bae in the morning when it is served, that’d be rude. Why would I refuse it? It sounded good and lovely on a cold New York post-holiday morning. Apparently a prior girlfriend turned up her nose at this comfort food and was subsequently demoted to poor girlfriend material by the family. Bae is also touted as a go-to for people who are ill or with poor dentition.
My bae making starts the day of Thanksgiving after we clean up the meal. I usually shave off the meat from the untouched roasted turkey to add to the broth later. The already carved turkey bones make the broth. If you have an overflow of leftover meat and you don’t want to turn the bae into a stew, save the meat for turkey pot pies or serve cold with a little salt and/or the gravies/sauces used on Thanksgiving (more on those at a later date). The porridge cooking is flexible. I usually do 1:6 ratio of rice to water. This can be used for plain bae. Since we use the leftovers from Thanksgiving to make bae, flavors from how the turkey was seasoned will flavor the broth. One relative, possibly not well integrated into the tradition of the bae, asked me if the typical “non-Asian” turkey herbs distract from the taste with the bae and Asian flavors of the sides. Never bothered us. Nowadays, I don’t even but herbs on the turkey, just salt and pepper.
Then the sides! Ah, so many choices. This year, we had the cooked and salted duck eggs, a very salty and crumbly consistency, and preserved duck eggs, a.k.a., pidan, century eggs, or thousand year eggs — all the same thing. The pidan yolk flavors are akin to blue cheese wafting up your nose:
My mother-in-law also bring this fermented soy from Taiwan. It comes in tiny, dense blocks. This particular brand is fairly sweet and one of the best:
We also add pork floss (seen on the left side of the photo below), wheat gluten, fried bread sticks (youtiao), bamboo shoots, tofu with soy paste, and sometimes scrambled egg.
Whatever you decide for sides, make sure they are flavorful. Think of this meal as not only comfort food but like a salad bar where each eater can tailor their bowl to their likings. Kind of like everyone’s diet restrictions these days but maybe not quite so millennial. Hell, you could even make this whole meal gluten-free if you want. Then yer still cool.
- turkey carcass, from a 10-15 lbs bird
- 1-2 carrots, diced
- 2-3 ribs of celery, diced
- 1-2 medium onions, diced
- a few tablespoons of neutral oil
- enough water to cover turkey bones in 16-quart pot
- 1½ cups rice
- 9 cups of water (separate from above; this is to cook the rice)
- a 16 quart pot (to book the congee)
- an 8 quart pot (to cook the plain rice)
- Sides (you choose): bamboo shoots, wheat gluten balls, salted duck eggs, preserved duck eggs, fermented soy, pork floss, youtiao, etc.
- Strain the turkey broth after cooking down bones slowly on very low heat overnight, or about 6 to 8 hours. A slow cooker could work for this also. Set broth aside.
- Cool bones enough that you can handle them and pick the remaining meat off and set aside. Discard the bones when fully picked.
- While bones are cooling, cook the plain rice porridge in the 8 quart pot. A 1:6 ratio of rice to water is about right. Cook as you would regular consistency rice, in a covered pot. The starch in the porridge will be sticky and rice soft when it is ready.
- Heat neutral oil in the 16 quart pot. Briefly cook celery, onions, and carrots to soften. Sprinkle with salt while cooking.
- Add in strained broth, turkey meat, and cooked rice. Taste to determine seasoning needs. Add salt or more water if needed. Cook for 1 to 4 hours to meld flavors and serve hot with your choice of sides listed in the ingredient list. I like to also top with a little sesame oil. You can find most of these sides at Asian grocery chains, like 99 Ranch.
- If you have leftovers: This freezes well. I've kept for months without issues.