I started the year balancing on a tall wooden ladder, old but fortunately not rickety, while scraping the walls of our new kitchen to prepare them for a fresh coat of paint. January has been filled with renovation work around the house, and I haven't the time to muse about the new year, which is nice for a change.
If I've learned anything from the Januarys behind me, it's that successful transitions do not necessarily call for a set plan of action but are oftentimes a confident work in progress. I did find the time, however, to make a big pot of rice porridge, which thankfully stretched into several customisable, ready-made meals.
A common dish in Asia, rice porridge has many names and versions: jook in Cantonese, bubur in Malay, okayu in Japanese, cháo in Vietnamese, lugaw in Filipino, khao tom in Thai, you get the idea! They are all essentially rice boiled down in liquid and unanimously a comfort food, believed to be beneficial during times of convalescence due to its digestibility. The variations come in the toppings, and they can go many ways and enjoyed any time of the day. I've tried different versions during my travels across Southeast Asia, but I grew up with Chinese-style rice porridge, which in its own category comes with a few varieties.
Rice porridge is a highly forgiving meal to make—you put rice and water in a pot, and you let it cook, stirring every now and then, until it reaches your preferred consistency. Cantonese-style porridge is smooth and creamy while Teochew-style porridge is grainy and watery. I like it somewhere in the middle, and I make it with brown rice (more fiber!) instead of white.
I enjoy having rice porridge the way the Teochews serve it, with a selection of flavorsome side dishes that traditionally range from anything like slow-braised meats to pickled vegetables. The humble rice porridge, plain and simple, then becomes a nourishing vessel for your favorite dishes.
There's no right or wrong way to eat porridge. I like it with dried fruits, nuts and seeds for breakfast. Sometimes I want it light for dinner with only ginger, spring onions, soy sauce and ground white pepper. Many times in the past few busy weeks, I've simply added whatever I could raid from the refrigerator.
I'm including cooking tips for making rice porridge in different textures and consistencies, and suggestions on what toppings would be nice with it (the possibilities are endless, really). I hope this easy and convenient approach to eating rice porridge will help you see it in a fresh, new light and make it your own. And I hope January has been kind to you and the year has been off to a kicking start!
Brown Rice Porridge with Toppings
If you want something light on the stomach, put a pot of rice porridge on. It's easy enough to make a big pot of it and store in the refrigerator for ready-made meals that can be assembled in minutes. Serve with your favorite toppings (suggestions provided below) for a comforting meal any time of the day. This recipe uses brown rice instead of white and makes 4 to 6 servings.
1 cup uncooked brown rice
8 cups water
Wash rice with water and drain. In a deep pot, bring rice and 8 cups of water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cover loosely with a lid. It is important to stir the mixture occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot and getting burned. Cook until each grain of rice is soft and barely holding together, and the mixture is thick and creamy, about 1.5 to 2 hours.
Cook Porridge to Your Preferred Consistency
Thick and creamy or thin and soupy: Following the instructions above will produce a thick and creamy porridge. For a thinner consistency, stir in 1 to 2 cups of boiled water, and keep adding water until the desired consistency is achieved.
Grainy or smooth: The longer the rice is cooked, the more broken down the grains will be, resulting in a smoother porridge. If a thick and smooth Cantonese-style porridge is desired, run an immersion blender through the mixture.
Tips for Cooking Porridge with Brown Rice
Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice. For quicker results, soak brown rice in water overnight and drain before proceeding with the steps above.
Serve porridge hot. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Add water when reheating. Like rice, porridge is often enjoyed as a vessel for flavorful toppings. Here are some ideas to get you started:
SAVORY TOPPINGS + CONDIMENTS
Chopped fresh spring onions
Pan-fried firm tofu or tempeh
Boiled vegetables (carrot, spinach, cauliflower)
Salt and pepper
SWEET TOPPINGS + CONDIMENTS
Dried fruits (raisins, mulberries, goji berries)
Nuts (walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds)
Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, hemp)
Liquid sweetener (maple syrup, honey, agave)
Jams and fruit preserves
Peanut and nut butters
Leave me a comment below: What else would you add to your rice porridge?