I don't think I have ever eaten as many good luck foods as I did this year. On January 7th, there was yet another occasion. The Japanese celebrate the Festival of Seven Herbs, Nanakusa no Sekku. This is a new years custom of eating a rice porridge with seven-medicinal herbs to bring good health and longevity.
The chosen herbs go by their ancient names and used mostly for this occasion, so it's hard to remember all of them by heart. Even my father could only name three but when the festive day arrives, you find out.
Seri, Japanese parsely
Nazuna - Shephard's purse
Gogyo - Jersey Cudweed
Hokobera - Common chickweed
Hotokenoza - Nipplewort
Suzuna - turnip
Suzushiro - daikon radish
The seven herbs sold in packages.
The recipe for making the porridge is quite easy. You can start with day-old rice or fresh cooked rice. Put the rice in a medium size saucepan and add four to five times the amount of water. Simmer the rice for forty minutes until it becomes like a soft oatmeal in its consistency. The porridge is seasoned with salt and soysauce. The seven herbs are added, just before serving.
My eight year old nephew took one look at the porridge I made and said it reminded him of the emergency food that he got at his school's earthquake drill. He was referring to the ready made porridge that came in the earthquake kit. Porridge is not something he eats that often at home. But when he tasted mine, he liked it a lot, and even asked for seconds.
After a couple of weeks of heavy holiday eating, this simple vegetarian rice porridge is easy to digest and very refreshing.
If you do not have these Japanese herbs, come up with your own lucky seven. Japanese also make do with what they can find locally. Think of a combination such as dill, mint, coriander, basil, parsely, chervil, baby spinach, mizuna, kale and baby radish, carrots and turnips. The idea is to choose young green sprouts and roots that bring vibrancy to your life. You can serve this dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I served this as an appetizer before dinner on January 7. It was a hit. I can eat this porridge all year around.
RECIPE: NANAKUSA GAYU- Rice porridge with Seven Herbs
1 package of Nanakusa or a handful of herbs of your choice, including baby radishes and turnips
2 cups cooked white short or medium grain rice
8 -10 cups of water
salt and soysauce to taste, about a 1/2 teaspoon of each.
Wash the herbs and roots. Cut the root ends. Blanch them in hot water for a minute. Drain.
In a medium saucepan, bring the rice and water to a boil. Then turn heat to a simmer and cook for about 40 minutes, until the consistency of the rice becomes thick and porridgy like a soft oatmeal. Some people like their porridge, Okayu, thick; some like it thinner. This is a matter of preference. Be careful not to burn the rice. You can add more water if it gets too thick.
Add the nanakusa and serve immediately with salt and soysauce for those who like a stronger flavor.
Note: Don't overcook the herbs or they will loose their vibrant green color.
Menu suggestions: This Okayu (generic word for rice porridge) is traditionally served as a hearty Breakfast dish with pickles. But you can also serve it anytime of the day. Some consider Okayu as Japanese comfort food.