Baby Legume had her first taste of table food today. A few sips of warm jook at the dining table, as her big sister and I had it for our lunch.
Jook, also known as congee, is comfort food in my family. White rice simmered in broth until the grains break down and melt into a creamy porridge. Chicken broth or pork broth, or (as my mom makes it) a homemade broth of whatever bits of meat and bones are on hand--chicken, pork, and even shrimp shells. Flavor with salt, white pepper, ginger--again, whatever is on hand and strikes your fancy. You can serve the jook plain or with an array of condiments and sides--Chinese fried crullers, pickled vegetables, preserved eggs or an egg omelete. Jook is adaptable. Everyone makes their own kind. My parents are from Thailand, and in Thai we refer to the dish as jok, with a long "o." (Jook is the Chinese term--Cantonese, I believe. I think variations of the dish are ubiquitous in Asia). My mom flavors the rice porridge with fish sauce (because what Thai dish doesn't use fish sauce?) and serves it with little dishes of slivered ginger and cilantro for topping.
I don't make jook often. I can't make it like my mother, of course. She uses homemade chicken stock, always. I don't have the patience for that, and I often don't even have the patience for all the little dishes of toppings she makes. But when it is cold and gray I yearn for the stuff. It's restorative and soothing, the Asian version of the chicken-and-noodle soup cure (but better tasting, in my humble opinion).
This week winter is blasting us with snow and sleet. My whole family has come down with a cold; Bean-girl's nose is a wondrous fountain of snot, and the Legume has just started sniffling. My throat hurts, and the Husband is next (not that he's ever gotten over his hacking cough from our last family cold). Yesterday I dragged out Thanksgiving's turkey carcass from the garage freezer, and set it in a big pot with cold water to make some turkey jook. I tossed in some Chinese sausages and several hunks of ginger for flavor. After several hours of simmering, I took out the turkey, added the rice, and added the shredded turkey meat back in just before serving.
When the Bean-girl saw it at dinner time, her eyes lit up. For once, she did not shake her head and declare her desire for "something different" for dinner. Instead, it was "Can I try that?" She has grown up on her grandmother's jook, and loves the stuff.
She even loves my version (but hold the turkey/chicken/meat please. Bean-girl prefers the plain rice version).
So this afternoon I was very happy to introduce my youngest to jook. Jarred sweet potatoes and bananas are fine, but who eats that stuff after the teeth come in? This is real food, Baby Legume. Bean-girl and I sat with our bowls in the cold winter light, sipping spoonfuls of warm comfort. Baby Legume sat on my lap and grabbed at things on the table.
I gave her the smallest sip of broth, with just a few creamy grains of melt-in-your mouth rice. I know the baby books say to avoid sodium for infants her age. But just a sip won't hurt, right? And in Asia, babies are weaned on this stuff.
Baby Legume liked it, of course. If it's on a spoon, she likes it.
But I'm glad that she liked this, my jook, and her very first table food.