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.
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.