If ever spring were eagerly anticipated, it is this year. Every ray of sunshine that peaks out from behind a gray cloud, every bud on every tree, every colorful blossom replaces winter fatigue and gloom with hope and a physical reassurance that, no matter what, spring is indeed imminent.
There is more daylight and all too soon, daylight saving time will begin again, giving a false impression of much longer days while casting early mornings back into dark shadows. It’s a mixed blessing, one many of us abhor, but this year, anything and everything helps.
We always hear about spring cleaning, something typically applied to our homes, to the cobwebs that have gathered in the dark corners of our rooms, to the broken branches and tree limbs brought down by storms, to the mud tracked through the house. It’s fine and necessary to throw open our curtains, open our doors, and spend a few days cleaning.
But it is important to focus on ourselves, too, with spring foods that brighten us from the inside out. Some people think this means a cleanse with special foods, tonics, tinctures, and an avoidance of most things that bring us pleasure. But, as a source now forgotten said in a recent article, our bodies are not toxic dumps; they are self-cleaning ovens. It’s a good point, I think. If we simply celebrate spring and all that it offers, it is enough. A seasonal diet is all the cleansing we need.
For more spring recipes, including tonics and elixirs, from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
Congee is delicious and nourishing year round but especially valuable when you’re recovering from an illness or simply feeling gloomy, depressed,or under the weather. This version has evolved over my several years of making it. For a heartier meal when your appetite is blossoming, consult the variations at the end of the recipe. Turmeric is a widely acknowledged anti-inflammatory but it must be eaten with black pepper to be absorbed so don’t leave out the pepper.
Congee with Sweet Potatoes, Nettle and Turmeric
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup white rice of choice
1/2 cup diced sweet potato
— Kosher salt
3 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
4-6 ounces fresh nettles
— Handful of fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
— Black pepper in a mill
— Fish sauce
— Hot sauce
Pour the oil into a medium saucepan set over medium heat, add the rice, and sauté for about a minute. Add the sweet potato and sauté 2 minutes more. Season with salt, add the stock and 3 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat.
Using tongs, lift the nettles and plunge them into the boiling liquid, holding them there for about 30 seconds, until they are fully wilted. Lift out and set on a clean work surface to cool
Cook the rice and sweet potatoes until the mixture is very thick, about 1½ hours; the sweet potatoes should nearly fall apart. Add water or stock as needed; the mixture should have the consistency of a thick soup, not risotto.