Congee with Leeks

For Chinese New Year 2015 I was supposed to bring a potluck dish to the annual gathering of families who'd all traveled together in China when we adopted our kids. It was only a few days out and I'd run out of ideas - and didn't want to grab take-out on the way to the event. Then inspiration struck as I stood in the produce section of my local Asian supermarket: beautiful, fresh green leeks...

I had never cooked with leeks before, but knew they were in all sorts of East Asian dishes, so I grabbed a stalk and got to slicing at home.

After soaking and rinsing the leeks to get sand and dirt out, I sliced the stems into 1/8" thick coins.  Apparently you can do amazing "onion" rings with these guys, but that wasn't going to be on the menu.  What to cook, what to cook... None of the families had done congee yet, and when I'd tried it at home in my rice cooker, I wasn't satisfied with the results. After reading six different recipes that all disagreed about the water-to-rice ratio, I averaged them out and improvised a bit to get this:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup jasmine rice
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 standard-sized leeks, washed, ends trimmed, and sliced into 1/8-inch coins
  • 1 cup sausage, kielbasa, or meat of your choice, chopped
  • 4 medallions sliced fresh ginger
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups water

Toppings to taste:

  • Chopped cilantro (don't be shy about it, take a good handful)
  • Sliced green onion
  • Pickled ginger (VERY authentic)
  • Crushed peanuts

Preparation:

Combine the leeks, meat, ginger, broth, and water in your slow-cooker and set to medium heat; give it at least an hour for the ginger to infuse its goodness. (Alternatively, you could use 1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger, but make sure it's fresh.) Once the ginger has done its work, fish it out of the broth.

Meanwhile, rinse and drain the rice. Mix with salt and oil, then let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse gently and drain again; you want some of that smoky goodness of the sesame oil to stick. Add the rice to the broth.

Reduce heat to low, and let it cook overnight - the longer the better!

The guests at the New Year's party literally ate the entire pot. It was not TOO thick, had a pleasant savory feel, and the leeks - which had virtually dissolved - weren't oniony at all but had a fresh vegetable aroma that reminded us of oncoming springtime.  Definitely a hit, and will make again for guests or weekend snacking.

Thai-inspired Pumpkin Soup - from the garden!

This summer our family expanded our backyard garden plot and grew a pair of pumpkin bushes, ending up with seven very nice pie-pumpkins (as opposed to jack-o-lantern pumpkins, whose flesh is not so good for cooking). (In fact, there were three other pumpkins we grew that weren't ripe enough when frost came that did get turned into jack-o-lanterns!)

Fate of the three that didn't ripen in time

Fate of the three that didn't ripen in time...

Fire Dragon Pumpkin!

Fire Dragon Pumpkin!

With far more pumpkin available than we could turn into baked goods in time for Halloween and Thanksgiving, we pureed most of the harvest, bagged it into quart-size Ziplocs, and froze it for future use.  Today, I decided, would be the future.

The recipes I had taken notes from were Thai squash-based soups, but I thought they would work just as well with fresh pumpkin. So here's what I made:



Thai-inspired Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients:

  • Pureed flesh from a 2-3 pound pumpkin -- you do not want the canned pumpkin that has already been spiced & sweetened for use in baking; it needs to be as fresh as you can get (or frozen in my case). Squash will work fine too - I have seen frozen Butternut cubes at the grocery store, for instance, that you could puree in a blender.
  • One small yellow onion, chopped
  • Two medium carrots, julienned
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 small cans coconut milk (they're about 165 mL per can; the larger-size can may be too much for this recipe) - your local Asian supermarket will definitely have this in stock
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce - again, see your Asian grocer
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Preparation:

  • In a slow-cooker or stock pot, start the pumpkin going with the chicken stock, olive oil, fish sauce, and soy sauce.
  • Saute the garlic and onions, then add to the pumpkin-and-liquid mixture.
  • Let this combination simmer until the pumpkin has thoroughly dissolved into the stock.
  • Add the carrots, plus the dry spices, and finally the coconut milk.

The pumpkin is still a bit frozen here - took about 30 minutes to dissolve into the chicken stock

The pumpkin is still a bit frozen here - took about 30 minutes to dissolve into the chicken stock.

After adding the coconut milk, the texture changes from watery to creamy, and the color from yellowish to a nutty golden brown

After adding the coconut milk, the texture changes from watery to creamy, and the color from yellowish to a nutty golden brown.

In my slow-cooker, I switched the knob to medium heat and let it be happy and bubbly for a good two hours; there was no scalding in my ceramic pot. In a metal pot, you'll want to watch for burning.  As the ingredients are already cooked, all the soup needs to be is hot.

When serving, you could add toppings to taste like:

  • Cilantro
  • Thai basil
  • Green onion
  • Peanuts or cashews
  • Toasted coconut
  • Lime juice
  • Sriracha sauce


Here, I added cilantro, cashews, and a few leaves of basil:

Creamy, warm,  and not spicy at all. More filling than you would think at first look!   

Creamy, warm, and not spicy at all. More filling than you would think at first look! 

This soup pairs well with grilled meat and steamed rice, and would actually be nice for breakfast alongside a toasted bagel, now that I think about it!