Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Baby Legume eats jook

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.

8 comments:

Rana said...

they say you come into the world the way you go out. eating jook.

at the bahai center we take turns hosting sunday devotions. sometimes people bring bagels and cheese and fruit. its a special day when someone makes a quiche. i always make a quiche. i get up early, go to the farmers market, buy flowers and food, and even make my own crust.

however, my last time hosting, i woke up not hungry for quiche. but cai jeow (scrambled egg w/ soy sauce) and congee. so i brought a rice cooker and boiled the porridge at the center and served it w/ shredded pork, pickeled cabbage, stir fried bean sprouts, cai jeow, and tiny fried fishes.

the bahais were cautiious and bewildered and lined up for bowl after bowl until it was all gone!

unite the world w/ warmth and simplicity. jook!

The bean-mom said...

nana,

I've never heard that saying before. I like it.

You're jook sounds wonderful! Fried fish, mmmmmm. Can't wait to see you next week!

Rana said...

i made it up! thanks.

you can name your memoir Jook and then the caption under it says, "they say you come into the world the way you go out... eating jook."

i already have a name for my memoir: "I Don't Speak Chinese"and then there's a picture of me looking funny.

Ophelia Rising said...

It sounds absolutely delicious! I'm going to try it. Where can one get Chinese sausages, though? Are they available in grocery stores, or should I look in a specialty shop?

(By the way, now you can buy chicken stock in containers, and it really tastes pretty good. I like the Kitchen Basics brand, because they don't add any nasty preservatives or additives, such as MSG.)

I love foods that carry the combination of flavor, culture, and family history. There is so much more soul to these foods than those without the background attached. It reminds me of the book, "Like Water for Chocolate," where the dishes take on the qualities of the emotions felt by the cook, so that when served, the person eating weeps, or laughs, falls in love, etc., depending on what the cook was feeling at the time. I think that food with a soul just tastes so much better.

Thank you for sharing your jook recipe. I'm looking forward to making it.

ScienceGirl said...

That sounds yummy! I am going to have to try it!

Here's an Eastern European version I grew up with: boil rice, add milk when the rice is getting softer (the earlier the better, but harder not to burn it). Add salt/sugar/butter if desired. Serve with choice of fruit preserves.

The bean-mom said...

Ophelia rising,

You'd have to go to an Asian specialty store to get the Chinese sausages. They're long, red sausages just FULL of fat and salt (just warning you!) It's not really necessary, though; I don't normally use them, I just had them on hand and was following this recipe from slashfood:

http://www.slashfood.com/2005/11/28/turkey-jook-a-different-use-for-your-leftover-turkey-carcass/

The important thing is to use the best stock you can, and then just simmer the rice till it's a porridge consistency. I flavor with fish sauce and white pepper, but you can just use salt, too.

Sciencegirl, I always think it's so interesting the way very different, far-flung cultures hit upon similar recipes! I'll have to try your version sometime... my daughter loves anything to do with rice!

And nana, that's just like you to make up your own saying and then try to pass it off as some ancient proverb...

ScienceMama said...

Someday Bean-girl and Baby Legume will tell their daughters "I can't make Jook the way my mama makes it" but their daughters will love it too.

For the future, you can always make Baby Legume some of what you're eating, just leave a portion out for her before you add the salt. The salt can all get added last.

And what a lovely post. Thank you for sharing.

iwsfutcmd said...

Hey there.

Zuk (pronounced like Dzuk, which rhymes w/ "book" in Cantonese) is the awesomest.

-Rana's friend