Today marks the 8th day of the 12th month of the lunar calendar. In East Asian cultures today is known as La Ba and it marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year Period. This is also widely considered the enlightenment day of the Buddha.
On this day it is tradition to eat a dish called Laba Congee aka Eight Treasures Congee (or porridge) for good luck. It is also a great day to bang some drums to drive away negative energy and disease.
For those of you not familiar with congee, it is a grain based porridge (usually rice based). Congee is one of those "universal" foods that is prescribed quite often in East Asian Medicine as it helps digestion and nourishes qi and blood. It is great for those with chronic illnesses as well as those with poor digestion or low energy. It is fantastic in the winter as it helps to warm and nourish the body.
Because this year's La Ba snuck up on me this year's version will not be as extravagant as some years past, but I think it tastes pretty great either way. Thank goodness I keep some of my favorite herbs (yes nuts, seeds and dried fruits are all considered herbs in East Asian Medicine) on hand for teas.
As for the Eight Treasures themselves, it really varies depending on the tradition you follow, so these days it is somewhat up to your tastes, preferences and what you have on hand. For this recipe you will want to choose 8 ingredients total for your congee split somewhat evenly between 4 categories: Grains, Beans, Nuts/Seeds and Fruit.
The base of congee is usually sweet rice, also known as glutinous rice. Don’t worry, there isn’t any gluten in that glutinous rice, it simply refers to the texture. Traditionally this porridge is made with the gluten containing ingredient of barley, but for the sake of my body my recipe is a little different as I have decided to eliminate it and add extra rice.
Here is a little (non exhaustive) list of some potential ingredients for each category:
Feel free to get creative on this! One of the reasons I like congee so much is because it is so versatile. For my congee I chose sweet rice, black rice, black eyed peas, red beans, lotus seeds, walnuts, longan and red dates. I love this combination, but please explore with your own blend!
As for cooking this congee, I like to use my instant pot, but you can also use a rice cooker with a porridge setting or even a pot on the stove just make sure you set aside some extra preparation time because you will want to make sure you have time to soak the grains for at least an hour and soak the beans for at least 4 hours (overnight is best).
So, without further ado, below is my recipe! Please enjoy and let me know if you have any questions and enjoy the kickoff to the Lunar New Year celebrations.
Hey everyone! Sorry it has taken me so long to sit in front of the keyboard again and share a recipe with you. This year has been full of big challenges both personally and professionally (including receiving my doctorate in Chinese Medicine) so this project sort of took the back seat. I promise to update you more soon, but I wanted to try to make up for it by sharing some recipes that I made this year for my holiday potlucks featuring some ingredients you know and some Chinese Herbs you may not. Yes, these recipes are medicinal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t tasty.
I wanted to start with the easiest one to make: Longevity Cookies
Now, these aren’t the prettiest cookies on the sheet, but they taste really good and have no gluten and no refined sugar in them. These little cookies go great with tea as an afternoon pick me up! Like my other East Asian recipes, all ingredients for this cookie are actually all part of the Chinese pharmacopeia. Additionally, all of them are powerful qi tonics and each has a purpose in the recipe. Most of these ingredients are easy to find at your local grocery store, with the exception of poria which you may need to venture to your local Asian market to procure. Then all you have to do is pulse most the ingredients in a food processor with water, top with goji berries (optional) and bake!
Black Sesame Seeds (hei zhi ma): These have 3 major functions in Chinese medicine. They nourish the liver and kidneys, nourish blood and moisten and lubricate the intestines and lungs. Black sesame seeds are also said to prevent premature graying of the hair.
Poria Mushroom (fu ling): This fungus is a wonderful tonic herb for strengthening the digestive system and soothing the nerves. It also aids in helping drain excess fluids from the body.
Fun fact about poria: There is an ancient Korean Legend about poria where a noblewoman fell in love with her servant, but before they could elope she fell ill. Her beloved searched the countryside for an herb to cure her, and in what is believed to be divine intervention came upon poria while hunting a rabbit. When this herb was made into a tea, she was rejuvenated!
Walnuts (hu tao ren): Like black sesame seeds, walnuts also help to nourish the kidneys and lubricate the intestines. In Chinese medicine walnuts are commonly used to relax the back, aid in digestion and support brain functions.
Sweet Rice Flour (nuo mi): Sweet rice is a wonderful qi building tonic for the digestive system and the lungs. It also helps facilitate healing in the skin and helps to relieve excess sweating.
Honey (feng mi): Honey is a moistening herb that is known to restore qi and prevent dryness in the body. It is also a fantastic immune system tonic.
Goji Berries (gou qi zi): Another great liver and kidney tonic, goji berries are a wonderful balancing herb that helps to invigorate the body and relieve fatigue. They can also help with eyesight.
Together these 6 herbs create a treat that will help support energy balance in the body while moistening the tissues. They are a great digestive aid as well as nourishing for skin and hair. Beyond the general tonifying nature of this recipe, these cookies can come in especially handy for those experiencing menopause.
I hope you enjoy these cookies! See the recipe card below:
See you Next Time,
Dr. Melissa is an Doctor of East Asian Medicine as well as a self proclaimed geek glam girl with a passion for gluten free food, self care rituals and beauty products. She is based in Petaluma, CA.