Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

How Quarantine Inspired a Cooking Club and This Shroomy Congee with Spinach

by 
Annie Siebert
December 29, 2020

I slouched toward the end of the wretched year of 2020 prepared to surrender to twice-a-week takeout. The kitchen creativity that sprouted in the spring and flourished all summer, when we could at least sit comfortably outside and drink with our friends, had waned. After nine months of making three square meals for my family of three, I was ready to relent; just order a pizza. 

This is saying a lot. I love to cook. I love to bake. Food is my love language, how I show people I care about them. But I was done.

Then, one Monday in November, my best friend dropped a bag on my porch. (She does this regularly; we both love to cook, and if one of us stumbles upon a deal on cheese or a particularly lovely bundle of herbs, we always buy for each other.) It contained two oranges, two limes, a knob of ginger, a bag of fresh ramen noodles, Chinese chives, Thai basil, and two jars of apple butter. It reminded me of a Chopped basket, which always contains at least one completely bonkers ingredient.

Then, I had an idea, which I immediately pitched to my BFF: a cooking club (working title: Arn Chef -- a nod to the charming accent that’s native to our hometown of Pittsburgh) to get through what is inevitably going to be an extremely stupid and long Pandemic Winter. 

“I love this,” Mallory replied immediately.

No items found.

We roped in two more friends and met for an outdoor drink on one of the last warmish days of the year to sketch out the rules:

  1. Each bag should contain three to five ingredients. 
  2. Cooks have one week from receipt of ingredients to make their meal.
  3. The ingredients in the bag must be used across one meal, not necessarily just one dish. 
  4. Use of the internet and cookbooks for inspiration is OK.

A week later, I bought doughnuts and hot chocolate to bribe my 2-year-old into relative silence for a car ride through Bellevue and the North Side to drop three identical bags on my friends’ porches. Each bag contained a quart of whole milk Greek yogurt, a bundle of green onions, a bunch of cilantro, a baggie of cardamom pods, and a cup of white basmati rice. 

To toot my own horn about my great idea and my friends’ spectacular creativity, week one was a huge success

I had something congee-adjacent in mind when I put together the ingredients, but as my friends served up their dishes (in a group text; we’re not lunatics having dinner parties!), I realized I needed to put together a truly impressive dish. 

And I did it! The recipe below riffs on flavor combinations from Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish, my go-to cookbook throughout the pandemic. It feels suitable for all seasons, with a bed of rice porridge and a big pile of greens and herbs, but it feels particularly apt for this time: warm and comforting, bright and nourishing. 

I think it’s important to throw the book at our mental health right now, and for me that’s connection with friends; delicious, healthy meals; therapy and Lexapro; yoga (with Adriene, duh); and a daily Americano.

Arn Chef and this dish might have been a product of 2020 desperation, but I suspect both will continue to sustain me throughout 2021.

Shroomy Congee with Indian-ish Greens

Prep Time: 15 minutes
 | 
Cook Time: 15 active, 40-75 minutes including Instant Pot cooking time depending on release
 | 
Serves 2-3 with greens

Ingredients

This may seem like an absurd amount of rice porridge, but trust me: Make the whole recipe. Congee works as a base for countless toppings, from pan-fried tofu with kimchi and bok choy to roasted carrots, tomatoes, and onions.

For the congee (makes many servings)

1 cup white basmati rice

1/2 cup brown basmati rice

8 cups water

2 tablespoons mushroom bouillon (I like the Better Than Bouillon mushroom base, which is a paste. Add an extra cube of bouillon or another scoop of the Better Than Bouillon for extra shroomy flavor.)


For the greens (serves 2-3 on top of congee)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Pinch chili powder (I like Kashmiri chili powder)

Pinch asafetida

Handful or two of cilantro, leaves and tender stems only

2 packages of Fifth Season spinach (10 oz.)

Two green onions, sliced

Lime

Prep Time: 15 minutes
 | 
Cook Time: 15 active, 40-75 minutes including Instant Pot cooking time depending on release
 | 
Serves 2-3 with greens

Ingredients

This may seem like an absurd amount of rice porridge, but trust me: Make the whole recipe. Congee works as a base for countless toppings, from pan-fried tofu with kimchi and bok choy to roasted carrots, tomatoes, and onions.

For the congee (makes many servings)

1 cup white basmati rice

1/2 cup brown basmati rice

8 cups water

2 tablespoons mushroom bouillon (I like the Better Than Bouillon mushroom base, which is a paste. Add an extra cube of bouillon or another scoop of the Better Than Bouillon for extra shroomy flavor.)


For the greens (serves 2-3 on top of congee)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Pinch chili powder (I like Kashmiri chili powder)

Pinch asafetida

Handful or two of cilantro, leaves and tender stems only

2 packages of Fifth Season spinach (10 oz.)

Two green onions, sliced

Lime

Ingredients

This may seem like an absurd amount of rice porridge, but trust me: Make the whole recipe. Congee works as a base for countless toppings, from pan-fried tofu with kimchi and bok choy to roasted carrots, tomatoes, and onions.

For the congee (makes many servings)

1 cup white basmati rice

1/2 cup brown basmati rice

8 cups water

2 tablespoons mushroom bouillon (I like the Better Than Bouillon mushroom base, which is a paste. Add an extra cube of bouillon or another scoop of the Better Than Bouillon for extra shroomy flavor.)


For the greens (serves 2-3 on top of congee)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

Pinch chili powder (I like Kashmiri chili powder)

Pinch asafetida

Handful or two of cilantro, leaves and tender stems only

2 packages of Fifth Season spinach (10 oz.)

Two green onions, sliced

Lime

Directions

Combine the white and brown rice, water, and bouillon in an Instant Pot. Cook on high pressure for 30 minutes and then allow pressure to release naturally. Or, if you're in a hurry, go for a manual release, but put a damp towel over the steam valve so you don't spew starchy steam bits all over your kitchen.

While the pressure is releasing, make the greens. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or sturdy pan over medium-high heat. Add the cardamom pod and cumin seeds and toast until the cumin is a toasty brown, no more than a minute. Add the chili powder and asafetida and swirl. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the spinach and cilantro, reserving a few leaves of cilantro for garnish. Put a lid on to allow the spinach to wilt a bit, then stir till all the spinach is wilted and coated in the spices. Add salt to taste. Serve the greens on top of the congee with a squeeze of lime, cilantro, and green onions.

About the Author

Annie Siebert

Browse Additional Recipes

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Every Herb Ever in This Delicious Salad

by 
Brooke Siem
Read More

This Make-Ahead Strata Will Help It Look Like You're Not Woefully Out of Practice at Humaning

by 
Laura Scheck
Read More

We Didn't Travel, but This Sesame-Crusted Ahi Tuna With Spinach Did

by 
LaVonne Roberts
Read More