Laba Congee/porridge （腊八粥 Laba Zhou)
January 30, 2021
As I mentioned in my first porridge post (Shrimp Congee Using Instant Pot (电压锅版鲜虾生滚粥 Xian Xia Sheng Gun Zhou)) about our Asian obsession with congee/porridge, different types of congee/porridge would be eaten based on weather and traditions. Last Wednesday (Jan. 20th) was the lunar calender’s 8th day of December, aka Laba (which literally means December 8th in Chinese). Traditionally, Chinese people would eat Laba congee/porridge on this day to celebrate the Laba festival. So I made Laba congee/porridge for my family as well. For Chinese, eating Laba congee/porridge also means the Chinese Near Year celebration is getting really close.
So why do people eat “Laba congee/porridge” on December 8th (on the lunar calendar) in China? Although there are different explanations, this tradition seems to come from commemorating the Bodhi Day, the enlightenment day of the Buddha, which falls onto December 8th. After Buddhism spread to China, Buddhist monks would cook congee/porridge using various grains and beans to commemorate the suffering of Buddha on December 8th, and give the congee/porridge to devotees. Over the years, this custom slowly became more widespread and popular among common folk. And today it has become customary for Chinese people to eat congee/porridge on December 8th on the lunar calendar.
Although Laba congee/porridge requires many different types of grains and beans, it is quite easy to make and versatile. The nutritional value is also very good. Once the grains and beans have been soaked for a few hours, just dump them into the rice cooker and pick the “porridge” option. Then wait for it to be done. It is said that eating the Laba congee/porridge can help to boost the immune system to fend off the cold since Laba (December 8th) usually marks the coldest time of the year.
For me, besides the tradition, I always jump on the chance to serve coarse/whole grains and beans to my family since we tend to eat refined carbs more often. Another congee/porridge that is similar in nature to the Laba congee/porridge is called the “eight treasure congee/porridge.” But the meaning is different: it is a tradition to consume Laba congee/porridge on December 8th, whereas “eight treasure congee/porridge” can be consumed any time of the year.
Depending on your preference, you can choose from different types of grains, beans, nuts, and dried fruits. Most Chinese people would agree that there should be at least 8 different types of ingredients. It sounds like a lot, but there are so many choices to select from.
To make the Laba congee/porridge more balanced, I usually pick 2-3 different grains, 2-3 different beans, and 2-3 different nuts/fruits, which add up to at least 8 ingredients.
Options for grains include:
- sweet rice (glutinous rice);
- brown rice;
- white rice;
- pearl barley;
- millet; and
- black rice.
Options for beans include:
- red beans;
- mung beans;
- black-eyed peas;
- black beans; and
- soy beans.
Options for nuts and fruits include:
- dried jujube;
- dried lotus seeds;
- dried longan; and
- dried lily bulbs.
These are just the ingredients that come to my mind right now. They are not at all the possible ingredients..
My rice cooker has the “porridge” function which makes preparing congee/porridge super easy. You can find the exact same model, the Zojirushi NS-ZCC10, here. It’s still going strong after 20 years! If you don’t have a rice cooker that can make porridge, no worries. I have instruction in my notes.
Tools: Rice Cooker1
Preparation Time: ~6 hours
Total Cook Time: ~1 hour
Servings: 4-6 people
- 1/3 cup of sweet rice
- 1/3 cup of black rice
- 1/4 cup of pearl barley
- 1/3 cup of red beans
- 1/4 cup of black beans
- 1/4 cup dried lotus seeds
- 1/3 cup raisins
- 3 dried jujube
- 1 medium sized rock candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar (optional)2
- Gather all the ingredients. Soak the grains and beans in water. For super tough beans (like red beans and black beans), soak for at least 6 hours. The rest can soak for 3 hours. There’s no need to soak raisins and dried jujube.
- Drain the beans and grains. Place everything except the raisins into the rice cooker and fill the water to the 1.5 cup mark for porridge. (See notes for non-rice cooker instructions)
- Close the rice cooker lid and press the “porridge” button. For 1.5 cup porridge ingredients, it takes approximately 1 hour to complete the cooking process in my rice cooker.
- When the rice cooker completes cooking, open the lid and add the raisins, stirring to combine. Add sugar if you prefer a sweeter version. The Laba congee/porridge is best served when it is warm.
- The rice cooker I used has the “porridge” option. But if you don’t have a rice cooker that can make porridge or congee, just add all the pre-soaked ingredients plus dried jujube into a medium saucepan and add about 3 cups of water. Close the lid and bring the sauce pan to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Continue simmering for 40 minutes or until the beans and grains are cooked to your desired softness. Once done, add the raisins, stirring to combine.
- With raisins and dried jujube, the Laba congee/porridge has a subtlly sweet taste. You can opt to add more dried fruits to increase the sweetness or add rock candy or sugar to make it even sweeter. If you are not into sweet congee/porridge, you can add salted meat and vegetables to make it savory.
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