Boxed cereals, even the ones labeled organic and natural, are not a very healthy breakfast option. This is because making the cereal into those cute little shapes involves a process called extrusion—a high heat industrial processing technique that denatures the grain, rendering it into an inflammatory food. A much healthier option is to cook your own whole grain porridge. Also known as Congee in traditional Asian diets, this way of preparing whole grains is very digestible and nourishing to the body. You can use most whole grains to make congee, though rice is the one that is traditionally used in Asian congees. I also like to make my congee using millet or quinoa. Adding a slice of dried Astragalus root adds immune-strengthening properties. I cook my congee in a crockpot overnight, so it’s all ready to go on the morning. Leftover congee is good for about two days.
Crockpot Congee Recipe
Soak ½ cup of the whole grain (such as rice, millet, or quinoa) in warm water for 8-12 hours (soaking grains makes them more digestible and makes their nutrients more available to the body). Strain off the soaking water in a fine mesh colander and rinse the grain well. Put the soaked grain into a crockpot and add 4 cups of water. Cook on low setting for about six to eight hours. NOTE: You may add more or less water if you prefer a thinner or thicker consistency.
Serve the congee with any nourishing seasonings of your choice. You can do a savory mix of fresh chopped green onions, fresh cilantro, toasted sesame oil, and a spoonful of fresh miso paste. You may also try a sweeter blend of dried fruits such as goji berries or raisins; chopped nuts or nut butter; butter or ghee; honey, maple syrup, or molasses; and spices such as cinnamon or cardamom. As long as your ingredients are nourishing and pure, feel free to experiment!
I'm a firm believer that what we eat every day should be our primary source of medicine. In my acupuncture practice I teach my clients how to put this principle into practice. The growing movement towards embracing traditional, pre-industrial foods preparation has so much to offer in terms of preventing and healing chronic disease. This movement emphasizes eating foods that are nutrient-dense and free from the modern industrial processing techniques that denature and devitalize our food. Within the Traditional Food movement, bone broth holds a special place of honor. Our ancestors, from all different cultures, have used this traditional healing food for generations, not only for its potent health properties, but also for its ability to enhance the flavor of soups and sauces. By using the bones as well as the meat from the animals we eat, it is also an economic and resourceful practice to make homemade broth.
As a health practitioner, I am especially interested in the therapeutic health properties that traditionally made broth has to offer. Bone broth is a wonderful source of easily absorbed minerals. It also contains naturally occurring gelatin, which is phenomenal for digestion and healing digestive disorders. A natural source of collagen, broth is also a great staple for people with joint disorders such as arthritis. And the "old wives tale" about homemade chicken soup being good for colds and flus? As is often the case, those old wives are now being backed by scientific research, which reveals that there actually are antiviral and immune-enhancing components in homemade chicken broth!
I love the taste, versatility, and healing properties of homemade chicken broth in particular, so I'm going to share how I personally like to make it. You basically make a roast chicken or half-chicken for dinner one night. Then make the broth with the leftover chicken bones, and use this broth along with the leftover chicken to make the soup the next night. You can freeze some of your leftovers if it is more soup than you or your family plan to eat within a few days. This is a very healthy and delicious meal option for wintery nights. Enjoy!
Part One: Crockpot Roast Chicken
1.)Rinse one organic and free range chicken with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with unrefined sea salt.
2.)Stuff the chicken with whatever of the following seasonings you desire: shallots, onion halves, lemon halves, whole cloves of garlic, sprigs of thyme or rosemary, etc.
3.) Chop two onions in half, and place the four onion halves on the bottom of a crockpot. This is both to flavor the chicken and also to elevate the chicken in the crockpot a bit, as it will produce a lot of juices. Place the chicken on top of the bed of onion halves and turn the setting to "high."
4.) Cover and cook on high setting for about an hour, then turn setting to low, and cook on low for about six to eight hours.
5.) Test for doneness with a thermometer. or you can just tell by how easily it falls off the bone! Carefully lift chicken out of crockpot and place into an oven-proof baking dish.
6.) At this point you may choose to broil the chicken in the oven for five minutes if you want a very crispy skin. If not, just let it sit for about ten minutes before carving and serving.
7.) There will be a lot of juice left at the bottom of the crockpot. You may choose to make gravy from this, or leave it in the crockpot for your stock. After your chicken dinner, put any leftover chicken meat into a covered container in the fridge for tomorrow night's soup.
Part Two: Making the Broth
1.) That same night, after your roast chicken dinner, place all the bones back into the crockpot with one roughly chopped onion, a couple celery ribs, and 1 tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar (this helps pull more minerals out of the bones). Cover with 3-4 quarts of fresh water, turn the crockpot to low, and let simmer overnight.
Part Three: Making the Super-Duper Delicious and Healing Chicken Soup
1.) The next day, strain your broth with a fine mesh metal strainer into a large bowl or pot. Discard the bones. You now have your homemade, nutrient-dense broth. It may be a bit gelatinous in texture-- this is a good thing! It actually means you're getting lots of good healing gelatin in your broth in addition to all the minerals from the bones.
2.) To make the soup: In a large soup pot, sautee 1 finely chopped onion in 2 Tb. ghee or extra virgin olive oil on low heat until onions are soft.
3.) Add 3 chopped carrots, 3 chopped celery ribs, 1 peeled and chopped potato, 3-4 cloves minced garlic, 6-8 pieces of peeled fresh ginger slices, and 2 tsp. unrefined sea salt. Sautee for a few more minutes.
4.) Stir in 1/2 cup brown or wild rice in to the veggies, along with chopped leftover chicken. Sautee a few more minutes.
5.) Add your homemade broth to the soup pot and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and simmer, covered for another 45 minutes or so, until the rice and veggies are soft. Taste for salt and add fresh cracked pepper to taste.
Part Five: Adding the healing condiments
Aside from the homemade chicken broth, one of the keys to the healing power of this soup is all the condiments you add after it's cooked. Here is a list of the condiments you can add fresh to your individual bowls of soup:
* 1 Tablespoon of fresh miso paste
* 1 handful of fresh chopped cilantro leaves
* 1-2 tsp. of chopped fresh scallions
* 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
* a crushed clove of fresh garlic (I suggest this if you are battling a cold)
Hope you enjoy this delicious and healing soup as much as I do! If you are interested in learning more about the Traditional Foods movement, here are some great resources:
I am a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Heart-centered practice in the Santa Cruz mountains. See my About page for more about me and the work I do.