Meet any Asian friend and they will be sure to ask you if you have eaten. Shown as a sign of courtesy and care, this is akin to asking 'How are you?' in Asian culture. Aptly titled Have You Eaten, Verna Gao presents over 70 recipes of sumptuous (and simple!) Asian dishes in her cookbook that represents this same feeling of togetherness and bonding over a delicious meal.
After leading an impromptu crash course in college to teach her friends how to cook “real Chinese food” and a stint traveling all over East Asia collecting recipes and expanding her foodie horizons, lockdown gave Verna the opportunity to share her cooking with the world. In two years, @vernahungrybanana has become a go-to platform for Asian food inspiration, with 209k Instagram and 216.6k TikTok followers.
We share one of our favourite recipes from her cookbook for you to follow along this week!
A bowl of congee (soft cooked rice in a comforting broth) is a staple in many Asian households, particularly if you're a little under the weather. It is reputed to have healing powers as endorsed by all wise Asian grandmas and mums, including mine. Think of it as a sort of Asian version of risotto, or more accurately, a light savoury rice porridge - the real beauty of this dish is its simplicity. Rather than oats for breakfast, many Asian families welcome a bowl of warm rice congee, otherwise known as jook or zhou, as their first meal of the day. I also, not-so-secretly, enjoy it as a light and comforting quick dinner. Congee is also super customisable to suit various dietary preferences and tastes, and it's worth checking out the many variations of the dish from different regions of China.
Prep time: 15 minutes*
Cook time: 15 minutes **
*plus rehydrating mushrooms
** if using uncooked rice, the cooking time will be 1 hour, plus
- 3 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 400g (3 cups) cooked short-grain rice (you can also make this with uncooked rice, but I find it easier to use leftover cooked rice)
- 2cm (3/4in) piece of fresh root ginger, sliced
- 1 litre (4.5 cups) vegetable stock or water
For the topping (Per serving)
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1/2 tbsp Easy Chilli Oil (see p.23 from the book!)- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 1 handful of chopped spring onions (green onions) and/or coriander (cilantro)- pinch of sesame seeds
To rehydrate the shiitake mushrooms, put them in a heatproof bowl and pour over enough just-boiled water from a kettle to cover. Leave to soak for 10 minutes, until rehydrated, then drain well and thinly slice.
In a small saucepan, add the cooked rice with the rehydrated shiitake, ginger and the vegetable stock or water. Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and simmer on a low heat for around 15 minutes, until the rice has softened and the liquid thickened.
Spoon the rice into two serving bowls. I like to season each serving with soy sauce, chilli oil, sesame oil, lots of spring onions and/or fresh coriander and sesame seeds, but you can definitely switch up the toppings to suit your preferences.
Bonus! Add your favourite protein for an extra flavourful bowl of congee - leftover cooked chicken, red meat or seafood work great here.