POPEYE | SPINACH RICE PORRIDGE

Sometimes I wish I could turn back time. Back to my childhood days. I would return from pre-school and a nutritious meal would be already sitting there waiting for me to devour. Mummy Chow would fetch me after class and pique my curiosity about what she had prepared for dinner along our way home… the joys of reminiscing.

Throughout pre-school and primary school, I had hardly any commitments or responsibilities. I found great joy in simply going home after school and having a lovely meal already prepared. Never having to worry about cooking for myself or calorie counting, and knowing that every dish mum prepared was wholesome and nutritious. I was, and continue to be, blessed to have a mum like her. 

As I moved on into my late teens, after-school commitments started shaping my life. As a result, home-cooked meals were replaced with eating out and socialising. Eating out became a habit, I’d frequent hawker centers and fast-food restaurants—cafes were not the trend yet heh. I didn’t consider the high salt or oil intake, and over time I started feeling queasy and unhealthy. Compounding this, I was feeling guilty about not returning home for proper, family meals. 

Now as a working adult, my working hours—once again—allow me to get home to eat with Mummy Chow. This time however, I’m cooking too. I'm also trying learn the ropes of all her dishes. I may not play a big role in the cooking process at home, but I’m always inspired by how well my mum cooks in our tiny kitchen. Most importantly though, I love having family dinners again. I love the dinner conversations and the bonding we have over mum’s comforting, home-cooked food.

If I could go back and talk to younger teenage me I’d try to explain why eating out is an option to turn down in place of a family dinner. Yes, it’s convenient and helps to curb our hunger pangs almost instantly, but those meals will not nourish us in the long run. We have control over what we consume, and need to listen to what our bodies are lacking to make healthy choices to eat foods that’ll keep us nourished long into our twilight years. 

So this brings us full circle, to today’s recipe. A vital part of the body that requires nourishment is our bones and a good supply Vitamin K is essential to maintaining bone health. This next dish has plenty of it: Spinach rice porridge

Mummy chow created her version of Spinach rice porridge when I was just four years old. Back then, she realised I disliked vegetables, but also noticed that I was glued to the TV when watching Popeye the Sailorman (I wanted to be taller and stronger). Using her maternal cunning, she persuaded me that I would be as strong as Popeye if I could finished one small bowl of Spinach rice porridge. Challenge accepted! In the end, not only did I enjoy the taste, I cleaned out the bowl every time. Mummy Chow succeeded. (Conclusion: Spinach rice porridge kicks ass!)

So here it goes. Like Popeye, I turn to spinach for a power-up! The spinach creates green marble swirls in the rice porridge, giving it more interesting appearance and texture. To boost the tastiness and provide a bit of protein we also add dried scallops and pork balls. For a little more richness and a moderately salty flavour we add a salted duck egg and some dried anchovies (aka ikan bilis), with this natural saltiness no additional seasoning is required. A comforting, home-cooked Spinach rice porridge is easy to digest and I’d highly recommend it if you’re having some digestive upset because it’s very wholesome and settling for the stomach. 

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • ½ bunch baby spinach
  • 4 dried scallops
  • 1 salted egg, separated
  • 100g minced pork
  • 1½ fish cake
  • 25g dried anchovies
  • 1 cup of white rice
  • Olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon white peppper
  • 3 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce

Kitchen Equipment

  • Chopping board
  • Vegetable knife
  • Small pot
  • Small skillet
  • 2 Wooden ladles
  • Fork and Spoon

Preparation

  • Cut baby spinach into three parts (roots, stems, leaves)
  • Dispose the roots, pluck stems into 3 equal parts. Separate stems and leaves into two bowls
  • Cut salted egg yolk into small chunks with a spoon. 
  • Marinade mince pork with sesame oil, fish sauce, white pepper and egg white. Refrigerate it for 20 minutes. 
  • Slice fish cake into thin strips
  • Use a small pot, add 2 cups of water to the rice. Stir rice and water continuously. Rub the rice grains between your fingers. The water should turn murky by now. Drain the water and wash rice grains for another round, then drain again. It is important to wash away surface starches of the rice grains, so as to achieve a clean, less clumpy texture of the rice porridge. Then, add 5 cups of water to the rice

Cooking

  • Boil rice over medium heat and add in dried scallops
  • Bring the water and rice to a boil, add in spinach stems
  • After 15 minutes, lower heat to a cheery simmer. As rice water turns murky and rice grains are cooked, add in spinach leaves.
  • Take out minced pork from refrigerator. Roll them into small pork balls by using a teaspoon. Slowly add pork balls and salted egg chunks into small pot. Add 4 cups of water into the rice porridge where the water level is slightly above the pork balls. Continue to let it boil over small heat for the next 20-30 minutes.

While rice porridge is boiling, let’s start cooking the garnishes (fish cake strips and anchovies)! 

  • Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the small skillet over small heat. Add in fish cake strips and stir fry with a wooden ladle for about 4-5 minutes till they become golden brown and crispy. Scoop out and put aside for later.
  •  On the same skillet, add in 1 tbsp of olive oil. Pour in dried anchovies and fry them for 2 minutes. Let them cook under hear for 2-3 minutes to make sure that they are evenly cooked. Stir them continuously to prevent them from getting charred. Once they’re crispy and their aroma starts to diffuse, turn off heat and scoop out anchovies.
  •  Back to the rice porridge, use another wooden ladle to stir and mix the porridge from the bottom up. Scoop out a pork ball, use a fork to cut into half and check whether it is fully cooked. If cooked, and spinach has turned soft then turn off the heat. 
  • Sprinkle a handful of fish cake strips and anchovies on the rice porridge, add a dash of white pepper, and voilà dinner is served. Enjoy!

Tip

The consistency corresponds to the rice-water ratio. I like my porridge to be at medium consistency, where it is not too watery. So 1 cup of rice to 9 cups of water will suffice. The more water added to rice, the more watery the rice porridge will be.

Keep an eye on the rice porridge and stir occasionally to prevent rice porridge from clumping together, or burning to the bottom of the pan. 

Enjoy!Xx