Christmas is around the corner and the neighborhood is redolent with the sounds of sneezing and sniffling. Yup. It’s the season of giving and nothing keeps on giving like the common cold 😉 I’ll often go with chicken matzo ball soup or phở when someone’s under the weather but if you have stomach upset and anything solid makes you want to crawl for the hills, soupy porridge will help rehydrate and re-nutrient you without making you feel like lunch is going to do an encore. お粥 Okayu is a simple rice porridge that’s often made when you’re not feeling well but need something in your stomach to help the medicine stay down and since it’s very easy to digest, it’s often used as baby food too. 七草粥 Nanakusagayu is a variation, literally “seven plants of spring porridge,” made with 7 traditional Japanese greens/herbs and is served on the 7th day of the new year as a digestif after all the previous days of feasting and celebration. In fact, temples often serve okayu during fasting. Plain old okayu usually is just (uncooked) rice and water or dashi stock in a 1:5 or 1:6 ratio with maybe some 梅干し umeboshi (pickled plum) or just salt. I’ve had a hard time teasing out the difference between okayu and 雑炊 zosui which seems to vary based on how you were raised/what your Mom cooked. Some say that okayu is a thicker porridge while zosui is more soupy with proteins and veggies added. Gaku Homma, aikido master and author of The Folk Art of Japanese Country Cooking: A traditional diet for today’s world feels that simply adding vegetables, fish, and miso or soy sauce will turn okayu into zosui and recounts a Japanese saying where 1 bowl of zosui = 2 bowls of okayu = 3 bowls of 飯 meshi (a rice-based meal, like donburi) = 4 bowls of sushi = 5 bowls of 糯 mochi (sticky rice) in terms of the sensation of fullness so if you’re trying to lose weight, okayu or zosui wouldn’t be a bad way to start. Since I’m particularly sensitive to bitter tastes when I’m not feeling well or nauseous, I’ve used mâche greens which have just a slightly nutty flavor. There’s very little texture here (even the carrots have been shredded) to minimize antagonizing your gag reflex and another benefit of using mâche greens is that they don’t become slimy when cooked like many greens which could also prompt a pilgrimage to the porcelain altar. And 1 serving is just a smidgen over 110 calories.
Okayu and zosui are usually made with uncooked rice that is cooked in the broth, in fact many Japanese rice cookers like Zojirushi actually have an okayu or porridge setting so this can easily be made in the rice cooker or on the stove. Since I’ve included veggies and protein, this dish is more zosui than okayu but has a thicker, porridgey consistency than classic zosui so if you like it more soupy just add another cup of broth or water. Since salt isn’t a bad thing when you’re sick cuz you can passively absorb more water when your liquids contain electrolytes like sodium, I’ll often add a teaspoon or more of miso paste which also helps with flavor too. I’ve also included ginger in the broth not just for flavor but also as an herbal as it has been noted to help alleviate symptoms of nausea as well as aid in digestion. The University of Maryland Center for Integrative Medicine has a helpful page with research journal references on the medicinal effects of ginger if you’re itching to find out more 🙂
Did you know…?
1) Hate fishing for your herbs like you’re panhandling for gold? Pop them into a tea ball or herb infuser that has a hook to attach to the rim of your pot and you’re all set.
2) Since you want an oatmealy, porridgey consistency sushi rice or any rice that absorbs a lot of liquid does well with this meaning that longer grain rice varieties like jasmine or basmati won’t give you that velvety, glutinous texture.
3) Why wait until the end to mix in the miso? Miso loses its flavor when boiled so mixing it in at the end keeps all that savory, nutty, umami-ness intact 🙂
2 c 昆布出し konbu dashi(seaweed kelp) stock or low-salt chicken stock
1/2 inch ginger, peeled and gently crushed with the flat of a knife
2 tbsp carrot, peeled and finely grated (I used a microplane)
1/3 c uncooked sushi rice
1-2 tsp 白味噌 shiromiso (white miso paste), optional
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 c mâche greens
In a donabe or small saucepan (~1 quart), bring stock, ginger, and rice to boil then turn to lowest setting. Cover and gently simmer for ~20 minutes. When initially bringing the stock to a boil and for the first few minutes of simmering, periodically stir the rice to keep it from sticking to the bottom. Discard ginger. Pour ~1/4 c of porridge into a small bowl or cup and mix in miso till combined. Pour back into donabe and mix. Whisk the egg into the porridge, stirring as you add it, so it will make long silky strands. Remove from heat and stir in greens and top with carrot (or stir it in–the carrot is so finely grated that the residual heat will cook it). Makes 1 serving. Cold vanquished and tummy upset righted 🙂
**If using a rice cooker add all ingredients except the carrot, greens, miso, and egg then use the porridge setting and follow the directions above from whisking the egg into the porridge.