养生八宝粥 Eight Treasures Porridge
八宝粥, literally to mean “Eight Treasures Porridge” is a traditional congee concoction enjoyed on 腊月初八 the 8th day of the 12th month in the Chinese Lunar Calendar, hence giving rise to its other name, 腊八粥. Having it roots in Buddhism, the history of this dish can be traced back more than 2200 years back to the Han dynasty when it was generally used as part of prayer offerings and not consumed. Interestingly during the Song dynasty more than 800 years ago , the folks then began enjoying this porridge for themselves, causing it to evolve and change to reflect the culinary characteristics of each period in history, as well as in accordance to personal taste and liking.
The ingredients used to create Eight Treasures Porridge is very extensive but by no means exhaustive. As with most porridges, it has a starchy rice base. And this is the only part of this dish which conforms to the norm. Otherwise, the condiments to add is basically up to the imagination. Most versions favour the incorporation of other grains, like chinese barley (薏仁), glutinous rice (糯米), black glutinous rice (紫米/黑糯米), wheat germ (大麦), millet (小米) to various pulses like red beans (红豆/赤小豆), green beans (绿豆), to nuts like peanut (花生), walnut (核桃), pine nuts (松子), as well as dried fruit and seeds like red dates (红枣), goji berries/wolfberries (枸杞子), lotus seeds (莲子), gingko nuts (白果/银杏), dried longan (桂圆), melon seeds (瓜子), sesame seeds (芝麻) and even dried apricots (杏脯) and raisins (葡萄干). The list extends even longer to include other items which are deem to have curative properties in traditional chinese medicine, like lily bulb (百合) , dried winter melon strips (糖冬瓜), chinese yam/nagaimo (山药). Due to the infinite number of combinations possible, Eight Treasures Porridge can be enjoyed both as a sweet dessert, or in savory broth. Meats and other vegetables can be introduced into the latter version, while others like carrot and taro (芋头) have been found in both!
For this preparation, I’d decided to make it very 养生 by selecting ingredients from the five colours (青、黄、赤、白、黑) which map onto the chinese traditional medicinal concept of balance within the five elements (金、木、水、火、土) which govern the five vital organs (心、肝、脾、肺、肾). I will elaborate more on this in a later post.
green, 青 – green beans, peas (savory)
yellow, 黄 – gingko nuts, peanuts, split mung beans, dried longan, walnuts
red, 赤 – red beans, goji berries, red dates
white, 白 – lotus seeds, rice, chinese barley, winter melon strips (sweet), white jelly fungus, dried lily bulb
black 黑 – black sesame seeds, black fungus (savory), black glutinous rice
1 cup of rice, rinsed
2 tbsp chinese barley, rinsed
12-16 dried lotus seeds
12 – 16 gingko nuts, shelled and peeled
12- 16 red dates, deseeded and rinsed
2 tbsp red beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
2 tbsp green beans, rinsed
2 tbsp peanuts, rinsed
2 tbsp dried goji berries
2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 tbsp black sesame seeds, lightly toasted
salt to taste
water or chicken broth
In a pot place peanuts and red beans. Pour in sufficient water to keep the solids submerged.
Turn on the heat and bring to a boil. Turn down flame to a simmer with lid on for 20 min.
Add in green beans and continue to boil until all the beans and peanuts are slightly soft.
Turn off flame and set it aside, lid on.
In a separate pot, add rice and chinese barley with 4 cups of water or chicken broth (for savory version) and bring to a boil.
Give the lotus seeds a quick rinse with warm water and add to boiling grains of rice.
Add gingko nuts and red dates as well.
Cover and continue to simmer until lotus seeds soften slightly
Strain peanuts and beans from first pot and transfer to pot of boiling rice.
Continue to cook until all the ingredients are soft, stirring occasionally. Top up more broth or water if necessary.
Season with salt OR sugar, depending on whether savory or sweet versions are desired
Add goji berries, turn off flame and leave lid on for 10 min for goji berries to steep.
Rinse the lotus seeds just before adding them into the boiling pot of rice and warm water must be used. Rinsing them beforehand and/or with water at room temperature would cause them to require a longer time to cook.
The ingredients are cooked in two separate pots to allow the porridge to maintain a clear base colour in the end for more attractive presentation. If desired, alll the ingredients can be cooked in the same pot, especially when a sweet version is prepared.
Incidentally, when a sweet version is cooked, rock sugar or even raw brown sugar can be used. A knot of rinsed pandan leaves may also be added to improve on aromatics, as well as other typical sweet broth ingredients like candied winter melon strips or dried longan.
So cook a piping hot bowl of Eight Treasures Porridge for yourself and family, the perfect fix for a cold and rainy day like this.