When Mr Taiwanxifu and I were dating, we went to an ubertrendy cafe in inner Brisbane where he ordered cous cous. ‘Fried rice,’ he declared when it arrived. I thought this just reflected lack of exposure to North African food until I arrived in Taiwan and realised how prevalent millet — referred to as ‘small rice’ or ‘xiao mi (小米)’ — is in Taiwanese cooking, especially in indigenous cuisine. Indigenous tribes even make it into a potent alcoholic drink that rivals Kaoliang rice liquor in intensity.
Millet also features prominently in Chinese postpartum confinement (坐月子 zuo yuezi) food. Part of the reason for this is because millet, like many other grains, is a galactagogue — a food that is believed to be beneficial for helping lactating mothers increase their milk supply. During zuo yuezi millet is prepared in many ways, but often seen by itself or with other ingredients in a sweet congee.
Like millet, longan is also a common ingredient in zuo yuezi dishes. It appears paired in sweet congees, and also as a sweetener in herbal soups. According to The Chinese Soup Lady, dried longan are used as a blood tonic, ‘to nurture the heart and to add luster and beauty to the skin’. It is also a ‘warming’ food. This explains its use during zuo yuezi, especially the first few weeks, when the emphasis is on recovering from blood lost during childbirth and assisting women to recover their figure (and beauty). Dried longan also helps with relaxation and insomnia, presumably useful to assist with helping cope with lack of sleep and stretched nerves postpartum.
While I was at Taipei Adventist Hospital, one of my favourite snacks was a congee served mid morning made from millet and longan. I loved the sweet combination with its mixture of Taiwanese black sugar and dried longans. And I like the fact that it is good for you, too.
1/2 cup millet
1 liter water
20 dried longans
2 tablespoons black (brown) sugar
- Shell the longans and remove the dried, black fruit. Soak the dried longans in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the fruit to soften, then gently peel away the fruit from the kernel.
- Bring the water to the boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Meanwhile, wash the millet in cold water until the water runs clear.
- Add the millet to the hot water, then add the longan flesh. Stir the millet and continue to cook for around ten minutes.
- Take the saucepan off the heat. Add two tablespoons of Taiwanese black sugar (brown sugar) to the saucepan. Ladle into bowls and serve hot.
Note: leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator. Reheat in a saucepan, or place a bowl of millet and longan in a steamer/rice cooker for around 15 minutes.