One of the simplest and yet most fulfilling foods we eat at home is zhou (congee), a rice porridge paired with toppings sweet or savory. But since we’re a Chinese family, we have to turn everything, particularly trivial topics, into some sort of argument. My relatives from the north insist that congee must be eaten sweet: bring on the red beans, honey, dates, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin! And my relatives from the south eat it with pickled bamboo, preserved eggs, and other sodium-dense additions. Over the weekend, my mom and my aunt actually debated this subject for a slightly embarrassing length of time as we waited for the check at a nice restaurant. Every time I thought the conversation was headed toward a more interesting direction, one party would revive the Congee Question with an exaggerated shudder and exclamation of “gross!” or “can’t believe you eat that!”
At least this wore them out enough to not fight over the bill – an argument other Asian families are likely familiar with.
I like congee both ways, depending on the time of day. It’s a completely bland palette upon which you can layer whatever flavor profiles you crave! I grew up mainly eating the sweet variety, with yams or kabocha boiled in with the rice. The deceptively filling combination of hearty grains and naturally sweet kabocha is evoked here in granola bar form. No controversy over these, except maybe a fight for leftovers.
Kabocha & Coconut Chewy Granola Bars Recipe (makes 8)
- 2 cups quick oats
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 2 tbsp chia seeds soaked 1 hr in 6 tbsp water (=1 chia "egg")
- 1/4 cup almond butter, peanut butter or any seed butter
- 1/4 cup honey + more to taste
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 1/2 cups mashed roasted kabocha squash (rinds removed) (approximately 1/2 squash)
- 1/4 cup coconut
Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper and lightly coat with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine dry ingredients (first three ingredients) and wet ingredients (chia through vanilla) separately, then pour wet into dry and mix thoroughly. The ingredients should clump together easily; wait a minute or two for the oats to soak up the liquids before adding more nut butter or honey for binding.
Layer in 1/2 of the oat mixture into the pan, pressing firmly into the corners. Top with the mashed squash and coconut, then add in the remaining oat mixture. Pack it tight!
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes before cutting into bars or squares. Will keep 1 week in fridge or 1 month in freezer.