When the weather starts to get a little chilly, I feel the urge to cozy up to a bowl of congee. I find so much comfort in a warm bowl of savory rice porridge. In Chinese, congee is called 粥, and it’s pronounced jook in Cantonese and zhou in Mandarin. I’ve published several congee recipes in the past: one version made with dried seafood and a vegan version made with shiitake mushrooms, lemongrass, and ginger. I wanted to develop a congee recipe that incorporates fall and winter flavors, so I made this kabocha congee, which uses kabocha purée. Not only does the kabocha purée add a subtle sweet flavor, but it also gives the congee a beautiful orange hue. My husband and I simply can’t get enough of this kabocha congee!
COOKING NOTES FOR KABOCHA CONGEE
RICE AND LIQUID
I like a relatively thick congee, so I usually cook congee with a 1-to09, rice-to-liquid ratio. In other words, cook 1 cup of rice with 9 cups of liquid. In this kabocha congee recipe, the liquid is a mixture of water and chicken broth.
Typically, I make congee with jasmine rice because its natural aroma adds flavor to the rice porridge. However, if you don’t have jasmine rice on hand, you can use other types of long-grain white rice.
For the chicken broth, I use Better Than Bouillon’s roasted chicken base. It is a convenient paste that you dilute with water to make broth, and it’s usually easy to find in grocery stores. You can also use boxed chicken broth, if you like.
MAKING KABOCHA PUREE
For this kabocha congee recipe, you’ll need to make purée from a kabocha squash that weighs about 3 to 4 pounds. The most difficult task will be cutting open the squash because the skin is quite thick. Try to use a chef’s knife or cleaver when slicing into the squash. Otherwise, you’ll be hacking away at the squash for a long time.
Once you cut open the squash, dig out the seeds and cut off the stem. Take one half of the kabocha and place it cut-side down. Slice that half into 1-inch thick slices. You’ll need about 750 to 780 grams of kabocha slices to make enough purée for this recipe. Weigh the slices to see if you have enough and slice more, if necessary. If you have a lot of excess squash, feel free to steam all of it to make a purée, or roast the squash and use it in a salad.
I usually steam the squash inside a wok by placing a steaming rack (affiliate link) in the center of my large wok (affiliate link). Then, I fill the wok with water, until there’s about a 1/4 inch gap between the water line and the top of the rack. Finally, I arrange the kabocha slices over a large stainless steel plate and steam them for 20 to 23 minutes, until the squash is very soft.
If you have another steaming setup, great! Just make sure to steam the squash until they turn soft and can be easily mashed with a fork.
If you cannot easily steam the squash, you can bake the squash too! Arrange the squash slices over a parchment-lined baking sheet. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the squash and bake at 375ºF (190ºC) for 30 to 35 minutes, until the squash can be easily pierced with a fork.
Separate the kabocha flesh from the skins and discard the skins. Use a fork to mash the squash and measure out 1 3/4 cups of purée (420 grams). I like to press the purée through a mesh for an extra smooth purée, but that is not necessary. If you have a little bit more purée leftover (1/4 to 1/2 cup), just add it to the congee.
If making the kabocha purée from scratch is too much work for you, you can always use a 15-ounce can of pumpkin purée instead. Canned pumpkin isn’t quite as flavorful as kabocha purée but it is incredibly convenient.
When I was testing the recipe, I used a few different varieties of kabocha that I purchased at grocery stores and the farmers market. I discovered that some kabocha cook a lot quicker than others. There was one that I purchased at the farmers market that needed only 15 minutes of steaming time and seemed to have a higher water content than any other kabocha I purchased. Just be mindful of this when you make the congee.
I typically buy fresh stalks from the farmers market in Sacramento. When I get home, I’ll slice them into 3 to 4 inch chunks and freeze them to use year-round. If fresh lemongrass is difficult for you to find, you can use lemongrass paste, like the one by Gourmet Garden. Use 3 to 4 teaspoons of the paste for this recipe. One important note: Gourmet Garden’s lemongrass paste contains whey, so it is not vegan or dairy free.
MORE CONGEE RECIPES
HAVE LEFTOVER KABOCHA PUREE?
Substitute the kabocha purée for pumpkin purée in any of these recipes:
- 1 kabocha squash, about 3 to 4 pounds
- 2 stalks of lemongrass
- 2 tablespoons oil, you can use any oil
- 1/2 cup (70g) shallots
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 1 cup (200g) jasmine rice, rinsed (see note 2)
- 4 cups (945mL) chicken broth
- 5 cups (1.18L) water
- 1 3/4 cups (420g) kabocha purée
- 1/2 cup (30g) sliced scallions
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more to taste
- Chinese donuts/youtiao, (see note 3)
- sliced scallions
- fried shallots
- Using a sharp knife or cleaver, slice the kabocha open in half. Scoop out the seeds and strings with a spoon. Place the kabocha halves cut side down, and slice off the stem. Cut one half into 1-inch thick slices. You’ll need about 750 to 780 grams of kabocha slices to make enough purée for this recipe. Weigh the slices to see if you have enough and slice more, if necessary. If you have a lot of excess squash, feel free to steam all of it to make a purée, or roast the squash and use it in a salad.
- Add a steaming rack to a large wok. Fill the wok with water, until there’s about a 1/4-inch gap between the water level and the top of the rack. Bring the water to boil. Arrange the kabocha slices over a large plate. You can stack the kabocha slices if you don’t have enough room to arrange them in a single layer. Carefully place the plate of kabocha slices over the steaming rack. Cover the wok with a lid and steam the kabocha for 20 to 23 minutes, until the kabocha flesh is very fork tender. If you have another steaming setup, feel free to use that. (See note 4 for roasting instructions.)
- Let the kabocha cool for a few minutes. Use a spoon to separate the kabocha flesh from the skins. Then, use a fork to mash the kabocha flesh until smooth. If you want a smoother purée, press the purée through a mesh strainer, but it is not necessary to do so. Measure out 1 3/4 cup (420g) of purée and set it aside (see note 5).
- Peel away any dry outer layers of the lemongrass. Then, rinse the lemongrass stalks.
- Slice off the thin tops off the stalks of the lemongrass. You can save them for another use or discard them (see note 6). The bottoms of lemongrass stalks tend to be a little dry. Slice off the bottom 1/4 inch of the stalk.
- Slice each stalk of lemongrass into thirds so that you should be left with 6 total sections. Using a kitchen mallet, bash the lemongrass sections a few times to release its aroma.
- Pour the oil into a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the lemongrass and let it sizzle in the pot for 1 to 2 minutes. Next, add the shallots and sauté a minute more. Add the ginger and sauté for another 30 seconds to a minute.
- Transfer the rice to the pot. Then, add the chicken broth and water. Cover the pot with a lid and bring to boil.
- Reduce the heat to low. I usually move the pot to the smallest burner on the stove so that the congee can cook very slowly. Let the congee simmer for 30 minutes. Add the kabocha purée and stir until the purée is well incorporated.
- Cover the pot and continue cooking the congee for another 15 minutes. Because of the sugar content in the kabocha, the jook will start to scald at the bottom of the pot. Give the jook a stir, carefully scraping the bottom for any kabocha build-up. Cover the pot again and cook for another 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and give the congee a stir. The congee should be quite thick at this stage. If you want the congee to be thicker, let the congee cool in the pot, uncovered, for another 15 to 20 minutes. The congee thickens as it cools.
- Use tongs to fish out the sections of lemongrass. Add the fish sauce and scallions into the pot and stir to incorporate.
- Serve the kabocha congee in bowls with Chinese donuts, scallions, and fried shallots, if you like. Refrigerate any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days. I usually reheat the congee in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes. You can also reheat the congee in a saucepan.
- Vegan Version: The cooking process is very similar to the one described above, with a few changes. Instead of using chicken broth, use vegetable or mushroom broth. To give the congee extra umami flavor, I like to also add dried shiitake mushrooms. Rehydrate the mushrooms by covering them with hot water for 20 minutes. Drain the water and add the mushrooms the same time you add the shallots. Once the congee is done cooking, instead of adding fish sauce, add 2 1/2 tablespoons of white miso. In a small bowl, mix the miso with 1/4 cup of the hot congee until the miso is completely dissolved. Then, add the miso mixture to the congee. Taste the congee and season with salt, if necessary. You can also use 2 tablespoons of Yondu, a vegetable-based seasoning, instead of miso.
- Rinsing Rice: You don’t need to rinse the rice too thoroughly, as you want the starch in the rice to thicken the congee. One change of water should be fine.
- Chinese Donuts (Youtiao/油條): I typically buy youtiao frozen from Asian grocery stores. I reheat them by baking the donuts at 350ºF (175ºC) for 15 to 17 minutes, until crispy. Slice them up to serve.
- Roasting Kabocha: Arrange the kabocha over a parchment-lined baking sheet and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Roast the squash at 375ºF (190ºC) for 30 to 35 minutes, until fork tender.
- Leftover Kabocha Purée: If you have only 1/4 to 1/2 cup of kabocha purée left over, just add it into the pot for the congee. Otherwise, feel free to use the leftover purée by adding it to oatmeal, soups, chowders, or my pumpkin dinner rolls.
- Lemongrass Tops: There are several things you can do with the tops. You can rinse and dry the tops and then use kitchen scissors to cut them into 1/2-inch pieces. Add them to your favorite herbal teas or chai. You can also use the tops to make broth. I recommend bundling up the tops and tying them with string before adding to the pot (see photo below). That way, the tops will be easier to fish out.