A few weeks ago, I mentioned that a lot of Filipino cuisine I grew up eating soothed my Crohn’s symptoms. A comfort food that my mother makes for me whenever I’m having a flare, feeling sick, or recovering from a procedure is a Filipino chicken soup known as arroz caldo.
Arroz caldo is a rice porridge similar to Thai jok, Vietnamese chao ga, and Chinese congee. The Filipino version is based on the congee that Chinese immigrants brought to the Philippines. The Spanish colonists called it arroz caldo, which translates into “rice broth.”
When I’m not feeling well, especially if I have a fever or a sore throat, arroz caldo warms my body from the inside out. The creamy texture coats my upset stomach and staves off nausea and diarrhea. The heartiness of the chicken and rice satiates my hunger while still being easy to digest. Most importantly, the simple ingredients are both flavorful and medicinal.
Arroz caldo ingredients
The main ingredient in arroz caldo, as the name entails, is rice. Rice is one of the four foods in the BRAT (banana, rice, apple, toast/tea) diet that my mom instructs me to follow whenever I experience diarrhea. White rice is low in fiber, digests easily, and is a source of protein. It contains vitamin D, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and other minerals. As a carbohydrate, rice provides a much-needed energy boost when my Crohn’s causes fatigue.
Of course, rice alone is bland. Onion, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce give arroz caldo its distinct flavor. Like rice, onions contain calcium, iron, and protein. They’re high in vitamin C, folic acid, and antioxidants. Furthermore, a 2019 Chinese study found that onions reduce the risk of colon cancer. Garlic can also inhibit colon cancer and acts as an antibiotic and an anti-inflammatory. Ginger shares the same healing properties as onion and garlic, is an antioxidant, and combats nausea.
I consider onion, garlic, and ginger one of the holy trinities of Filipino cooking because they’re the base for several dishes. Another common ingredient is patis — Filipino fish sauce. Patis is darker and has a stronger flavor than Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce. Made from fermented fish, the brown liquid extract adds saltiness without increasing sodium. Despite its pungent aroma, it doesn’t taste overly fishy.
The final ingredient, chicken, provides protein. I usually make arroz caldo with chunks of skinless, boneless chicken breasts, which is probably why mine doesn’t taste as good as my mom’s. She cooks hers with chicken thighs and/or legs. Sometimes she removes the skin, but she always includes one or two pieces with the bones to enrich the broth.
My mom’s arroz caldo recipe
The recipe below makes four to six servings and takes about an hour to cook. Like most good cooks, my mom relies more on taste than measurements. Once you make arroz caldo the first time, you can adjust the amounts to suit your taste and texture.
- 1 small to medium yellow or white onion, diced
- 3 to 5 garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
- 2 thumb-sized pieces of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into thin matchsticks
- Chicken (2 to 4 pounds), cut into pieces
- 2 tablespoons of patis or 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 cup of white rice, rinsed until water runs clear
- 4 cups of liquid (chicken broth or water with 1 or 2 bouillon cubes)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sliced green onions or scallions (optional)
- Sliced hard-boiled egg (optional)
Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pot. Over medium to medium-high heat, sauté the ginger for about 3 minutes. Stir in the onion and garlic. Cook until the onions become soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the chicken, and brown it on both sides. Season with patis or salt. Stir in the rice, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the broth or water and bouillon cubes. Bring to a boil.
Lower the heat, cover, and let simmer, stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t stick. Continue cooking until the rice is soft, and the arroz caldo is the desired consistency. Add more liquid if it gets too thick.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with chopped green onions and slices of hard-boiled egg.
Allow leftovers to cool completely before refrigerating. The arroz caldo will thicken as it cools, so you might need to add more liquid when you reheat it.
With the cooler temperatures and cedar fever about to explode here in Austin, I’ll be making at least one or two pots of arroz caldo over the next few months. Mine, however, will never taste as good as my mom’s, because she makes hers with love.
Note: IBD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of IBD News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to IBD.
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