Serious Eats: Recipes

Seriously Asian: Korean Kabocha Porridge

[Photographs: Chichi Wang]

In efforts to reduce my overall intake of lard, I've been making and eating a lot of porridge. Porridge fills you up without weighing you down, not to mention being an extremely economical option for feeding a lot of people. It takes a backseat to rice and noodle dishes, which is a shame because it's just as delicious and generally speaking, takes much less skill and preparation.

Whether it's savory or sweet, Asian-style porridge is mild and soothing; the best renditions however, are also flavorful. Growing up I was accustomed to eating a heaping bowl of rice porridge every morning—a stodgy, bland mixture of water and leftover rice from the previous day's meal. It was only after I made some major inroads into the 24-hour Cantonese diner scene that I began to appreciate porridges: soupy porridges replete with shredded meat, thinned out in flavorful pork broths and topped with thinly cut scallions. Later in Korean barbecue joints, I came to love the thicker, sweet porridges puréed with squash or different kinds of beans.

Korean porridges make use of naturally sweet ingredients, pairing glutinous rice with assertive elements like pine nuts and black sesame seeds. My two favorite Korean porridges use kabocha squash and azuki (red) beans that, when long-simmered, become extremely tender and creamy. Regardless of whether the featured ingredient is a type of squash, bean, or nut, the porridges are all puréed with water and thickened with finely ground glutinous rice. After being puréed, only a few minutes of simmering on the stove with the glutinous rice suffices to thicken the mixture.

For the kabocha squash, just three tablespoons of sugar are required to sweeten an entire pot of porridge; I often replace the sugar with agave syrup for a healthier substitute, adding a pinch of salt for balance.

I've been eating a bowl for breakfast each day with my morning coffee; come time for dessert, another bowl is a satisfying way to end the meal. The common toppings for these porridges are chopped walnuts, but pecans, almonds, or hazelnuts also pair well. Glutinous rice balls, pleasantly chewy and somewhat bland, serve to remind the tastebuds every once in a while of the sweetness of the squash and beans.

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