Daughter Miriam has been sick recently and is going in for a procedure in a few days. The doctor has put her on a restricted diet—no fiber; no red, orange or purple foods; nothing from the lily family. This cuts out many foods in our normal diet—no brown rice, whole wheat, tomatoes, carrots, onions, garlic, leeks, or any other “stringy” vegetables. How do I create a Sunday dinner that is both satisfying for everyone, but where she can still keep within this diet?
Note: Add-ins (counterclockwise): Napa cabbage (leafy part); spicy pickled red radish; broiled salmon; fresh ginger; green onion; Sichuan pickel; cilantro; peanuts; Napa cabbage (white thick part); sesame oil; say sauce; and chili oil.
When we lived in China, wife Jan had surgery. When she came home, we were instructed to feed her xīfàn [稀饭; literally dilute cooked rice], during her recovery. By that time, we were very familiar with this dish, because we had had it for almost every breakfast in our hotel restaurant for a year.
Note: This is one of those simple dishes with many names. Each Asian country makes a variation of this dish, but gives it a different name. It is called xīfàn or bái zhōu [白粥; white porridge] in most of China; congee in Guangdong, China; Juk [죽; 粥] in Korea; and Okayu [お粥] in Japan.
At its simplest, xīfàn is simply “overboiled” cooked rice. Any rice that was leftover from last night’s meal is boiled in a large amount of water until it starts to shed enough starch to thicken into a porridge. If there was a lot of rice left over you will have a thick rice porridge. If there was only a little rice left—or you are feeding a lot of people—you end up with a thin gruel.
Note: Xīfàn goes cold fairly quickly and becomes pretty unappetizing. If you have an electrical hot pot it is very useful in keeping the xīfàn warm at the table.
People who are not sick, then add things to make this rather bland dish more interesting. While there is no set list, these add-ins are usually salty, spicy, flavorful, and/or crunchy. Several side items are usually provided and diners then pick and choose their favorites.
Note: By itself xīfàn is Vegan and you may choose only Vegan add-ins to keep it that way.
Karl’s Xīfàn (Chinese Rice Porridge)
1 cup dry long grain rice
½ tsp. Kosher salt (optional)
Some possible add-ins:
2-4 boiled eggs, chopped (Note: I had planned to boil some eggs, but for got in the last minute rush.)
3-4 green onions, sliced
6 oz. broiled salmon, flaked
½ cup spicy red radish pickle
1 cup napa cabbage, shredded
½ cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
½ cup roasted or boiled peanuts
¼ cup Sichuan pickle (mustard root)
2 Tbs. fresh ginger, cut into small matchsticks
Anything else that pleases your palate.
1. Boil the rice in 8-9 cups of water until the rice starts to break down and thicken the porridge.
Tip: This will probably take at least one hour of simmering. You may need to add more water if you want a thinner porridge.
Note: I prefer to cook the rice in my rice-steamer and then boil the cooked rice in the eight cups of water.
2. Prepare you selection of add-ins while the rice is cooking.
3. Set the xīfàn in the center of the table with the add-ins arranged around the pot.