Eight treasure congee, known as “ba bao zhou” (八宝粥) or “la ba zhou” (腊八粥) in Chinese, is a nutritious classic Chinese dish for any meal. Most commonly, people eat it as breakfast, side dish or dessert. This eight treasure congee recipe was originally written for my cookbook, Vegan Chinese Cookbook.
Often Chinese families make eight treasure congee (or any congee containing raw beans) in a pressure cooker these days, because it takes less time to break down the beans. As not everyone owns a pressure cooker, I wrote this recipe for the stovetop. If you want to speed up cooking time, I encourage you to make this congee in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot.
History of Eight Treasure Congee
This special congee is traditionally eaten on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month to celebrate a big Buddhist festival called “la ba jie” (腊八节). The eight treasures originally indicated eight different ingredients, but over time this congee has evolved to incorporate way more ingredients than eight. Each region, family, and person makes this dish differently.
Eight Treasure Congee Ingredients
The selection of ingredients focuses on those providing nourishment to the body, such as whole grain rice and beans, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits.
My version is a classy combination and consists of 8 ingredients more commonly available in north America.
- mung beans
- glutinous rice
- lotus seeds
- red beans
- black rice (Forbidden Rice)
Should I Use Big or Small Taro?
Taro typically refers to the big ones you see in grocery stores. The small taro is called eddo. Because they are very similar in texture and flavour, you can use either kind in this eight treasure congee.
Tips on Soaking the Rice and Beans
I highly recommend soaking black rice, mung beans and red beans for 1 to 2 days to germinate. Change the water every 8 to 12 hours. Sprouted rice and beans are more nutritious, as the germination process maximize the reduction of anti-nutrients like phytic acids, unlocking more minerals to be absorbed by our bodies, and making the rice and beans easier to digest.
If you don’t have the time to sprout the rice and beans, you should at the minimum soak them for 8 hours. A short soaking of the rice and beans still reduces some anti-nutrients and cooking time. If your rice and beans are not soaked at all, it will take longer time to cook the congee in order to achieve a homogenous consistency.
The glutinous rice typically found in the market is refined glutinous rice, meaning it has had its germ removed. It doesn’t take as much time (4 to 12 hours) to soak, but it will also not germinate. If you use a whole-grain glutinous rice, just soak it for the same amount of time in the same bowl with the black rice (which is typically a whole-grain rice) and beans.
Do I need to Soak Lotus Seeds?
If you are familiar with Chinese cooking, sometimes you will see lotus seeds being soaked prior to cooking. I don’t recommend soaking the lotus seeds for this congee. Rehydrated lotus seeds won’t soften when boiled.
Eight Treasure Congee is Naturally Vegan
The image above is a little sneak peek inside the Vegan Chinese Cookbook. This Eight Treasure Congee is a nutritious, protein-rich dish for folks on a vegan diet. The recipe appears in Chapter 5, “Rice, Noodles and Congee”, of the book.
Nourishing Congee as Chinese Food Therapy
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine, eight treasure congee is a popular Chinese food therapy dish. Eight treasure congee strengthens the digestive system, assists weight-loss, nourishes Qi and calms the spirits.
Related: More Nourishing Congee and Porridge Recipes You Will Love
- Millet Porridge: A Chinese Postpartum & Digestive Healer
- Millet Sweet Potato Porridge in Rice Cooker
- Nourishing Liver, Vegetable & Sweet Rice Congee
- Instant Pot Forbidden Rice & Red Bean Congee
Eight Treasure Congee
- 1/4 cup black rice (Forbidden Rice)
- 1/4 cup dried mung beans
- 1/4 cup glutinous rice
- 1/2 cup lotus seeds
- 1 cup 1/2-inch cubes taro
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 10 cups water
- brown sugar for serving
- In a medium bowl, combine the black rice, mung beans, and red beans. Cover them with enough water to double the volume in the bowl and soak everything for a minimum of 8 hours to properly rehydrate. (See the Prep Tip on page 71 if you want to make the ingredient more nutritious.) At the same time, in a small bowl, soak the glutinous rice in at least 1⁄2 cup of water for 4 to 12 hours.
- Drain the two bowls of rice and beans and transfer everything to a large pot.
- Add 10 cups of water, the lotus seeds, taro, walnuts, and raisins to the pot. Bring everything to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer the congee for 1 hour 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.
- Serve hot, sprinkled with brown sugar to taste.