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Home-style Chinese cooking and occasional cultural commentary.

Chichi's Chinese: Multi-Grain Congee

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I was craving something soothing but couldn't decide between rice, polenta, and oatmeal. Naturally, I did what any mature woman confronted with this question would do. I took everything in my cupboard that looked like it could be good if simmered, and put it into the pot for congee.

This included not only the polenta and the oatmeal, but also brown rice, a handful of lentils and some Chinese adzuki beans. The results of this multigrain, congee-like concoction were so good that I found myself eating some variation of this for weeks. It was as much a cry for ritual cleansing during this time of rich holiday fare as it was a nod to the congee breakfasts of my youth.

My mother, to ensure that my childhood breakfasts were filling, made hers so that it was essentially overcooked rice, whereas I've always liked my congee to be watery and soup-like. Whenever she wasn't looking, I'd flood my bowl with tea, drinking water, really whatever liquid was on the table. But my mother insists she likes her congee that thick. To each her own, I guess.

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So I have learned from personal experience and through a recent investigation into the matter, conducted and led by SENY editor Max, that everyone has a different textural preference for congee. Some like it to be thick and creamy, others more light, and so forth. Another thing that's nice about multi-grain congee, you get the built-in textural variation, and the variations are as many as there are grains.

The other day my friend and I were loggerheads about the exact mixture we wanted in our pot of multi-grain congee. My ideal blend features mostly white rice with a big handful of steel cut oatmeal for chewiness, brown rice for nuttiness, and lentils for a hit of something earthy. Sometimes I will mix a few spoonfuls of multigrain cereal into a batch for an extra hit of grainy goodness.

But my friend wanted to put wheatberries in there, and though I have nothing against wheatberries, I just didn't want the mixture to be that chewy. She, on the other hand, objected to the seed-like graininess of the crushed rye and barley I wanted to add. We ended up adding only the ingredients to which we could agree. As in the spirit of compromise, no one was truly happy, but a pot of creamy congee is hard to dislike, rye or no rye.

About the author: Born in Shanghai and raised in New Mexico, Chichi Wang currently resides in Manhattan, where she divides her time between writing, cooking, and tracking down the best noodles in the city. Visit her blog, Mostly Tripe.

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