Early January, the ground coated in a thin veneer of glistening white snow, it’s the calm after the storm. Lights and tinsel come down, discarded gift wrappings are cleared away, and the world returns to a weary, more subdued version of normalcy. Back to work, back to school, back to what ever it was we were ignoring or pretending didn’t have a deadline- It’s an abrupt, harsh transition, alright. Tempted as I am to turn tail and hibernate for the rest of winter, the show must go on, and the gears must continue to grind forward somehow.
Beginning in my own gentle way into 2011, there were no grand parties or late night revelries, and yet a soothing, cleansing sort of recipe for renewal still feels appropriate. Yes, there are still cakes and sweets galore to come (oh, if only you knew my plans…) but for now, a break from complicated fare is more than welcome. Borrowing from the Japanese tradition of nanakusagayu, a simple dish consisting of little more than rice and greens promises wealth, luck, and a healthy, clean start to the new year.
A porridge requiring seven different, distinct greens, this is a dish I shied away from for many years, lacking the creativity to replace the typical Japanese herbs with ones more easily obtainable in the US. Perhaps I cheated a bit, filing leeks, celery, and parsley under the category of full-fledged greens, but they certainly are green-colored, and oh so much more tasty than many other bitter grasses. My version also differs significantly in consistency; rather than a gooey, mushy rice porridge that’s cooked to a slow death, I throw in cooked rice almost at the last minute, keeping the grains whole and distinct, and creating more of a soup in the end. Warming, soothing, quick and brothy, it’s a perfect option for anyone feeling under the weather, too.
Though the greens do wilt down considerably, this recipe still makes a whole lot of food, so you may want to keep the rice one the side for future leftovers, instead of letting it sit and soften in the leftover soup.
1 Medium Leek, Thoroughly Cleaned and Sliced into Half-Moons
2 Stalks Celery, with Leaves, Chopped
2 Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Square Kombu
5 -6 Cups Water
3 – 4 Tablespoons Aka (Red) Miso
4 Cups Cooked Brown Rice
1/2 Pound Fresh Kale, Stemmed and Chopped or Torn
1/2 Pound Fresh Baby Spinach
1/2 Pound Fresh Romaine, Chopped
4 – 5 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Cup Parsley, Roughly Chopped
Toasted Sesame Seeds
Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)
Set a large stock pot on the stove over moderate heat, and add in the leek, celery, garlic, kombu, and water. Bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes, until the garlic has mellowed and the veggies softened. Carefully remove the kombu, and slice it into bite-sized pieces before returning it to the pot.
In a small dish, place the miso paste, and add in a splash of water from the stock pot. Mix well so that the miso is completely dissolved and no lumps remain. Pour the miso liquid back into the pot, and stir to incorporate. Add in the cooked rice, along with all of the remaining greens and herbs. You may need to add the greens in batches, stirring each one in gently until wilted enough to make more room in the soup pot. Cook for just 2 more minutes, and turn off the heat.
Ladle out portions into bowls, including a good amount of broth for each one, and top each serving with a light sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and red pepper flakes as desired.
Serves 8 – 12