Pennywort Congee (Kola Kenda)

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You might be asking yourself what the heck pennywort is. It probably also sounds ridiculous on your head.  For those who aren’t into botany, pennywort is a low-growing plant with conical-shaped leaves that’s found in swampy areas. The edible kind is scientifically known as Centella asiatica, and is found around Asia. In Sri Lanka, we call it gotu kola, which literally translated means conical-shaped leaf! It’s a bit of a fibrous leaf, similar in texture to kale.

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This pennywort is used in various Asian countries. Pennywort has been touted for its medicinal properties (though there may be no scientific evidence), and is one that is used in Ayurvedic medicine and even traditional Chinese medicine. Regardless of any evidence, any green leafy veggie is good enough for me!

Culinary wise, it’s used to make various dishes. In Indonesia, the leaves are used to make a type of salad, while in Vietnam and Thailand, it’s used to prepare a type of drink. In Sri Lanka, the pennywort is used to make a salad-type dish (along with grated coconut, onion, chilli, and lime) as an accompaniment to eat with rice. My most favourite way to use pennywort? To make this congee dish.

My first taste of this dish was on a family trip in 2008. I didn’t go to Sri Lanka very often (as it is quite expensive to fly, especially a family of 4), so I never experienced it until then. The congee (as we call it in Sinhalese, kenda) is typically consumed for breakfast. One morning, my aunt was making this green looking soup. I was skeptical about it at first, but as soon as I had one sip, I loved it. It was creamy with the coconut, and just the right amount of garlic. As it is a congee, it does have rice, making it a filling breakfast. The congee is also accompanied with a piece of jaggery (cane sugar from date trees) for sweetness. My sister hated it and to this day still thinks it tastes like grass. She would tease me for eating grass, but I could care less. It might be difficult to find, but we have no problems finding this in Vancouver — it’s sold in shops in Chinatown or South Asian grocery stores.

My recipe is a quick and dirty method that does not require straining  of the fibrous goodness, but rather relies on a high-powered blender to make it! Even if you don’t have or find pennywort, you can easily replace it with any leafy ingredient of your choice — in fact, you can find different varieties of this congee using various leafy veggies in Sri Lanka! The congee is also vegan/dairy-free, and for those who are paleo, I’ve offered a substitute.

Ingredients
Makes 2-3 servings

  • 2-3 cups of pennywort (or other leafy vegetable)
  • 1/3  cup of shredded coconut
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup of cooked rice, divided    *see note
  • water
  • salt, to taste

———

To your high-powered blender, add the pennywort (or green leaf), shredded coconut, garlic, half of the rice, and enough water to get the blender moving (~1/4 to 1/2 cup). You don’t want it too runny; it should be the consistency of a thick smoothie.

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Heat a saucepan on medium heat, and add the blended mixture to the pot. Add the rest of the rice, as well as the salt, and stir until fully heated. And that’s it! Quick and easy breakfast or lunch, and perfect for when you’re feeling sick. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge and easily reheated in the microwave.

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Notes

  • For those who eat paleo, you can omit the rice altogether. Instead, try adding cooked quinoa at the end (no need to add anything in the congee itself)
  • Because it is traditionally served with jaggery, try drizzling a bit of agave on top
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