Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hot breakfast: Okayu

There's nothing like standing outside your locked apartment, with slippers on and having forgotten your keys and cell phone inside. I'm that kind of morning person.

As a teenager I got up very early to ride my horse and then would pour myself a bowl of cereal and plop down in front of the television to watch really old reruns. Now, I hide myself under the comforter from the offending sunshine coming through my window. I'm no longer a morning person.

Most days, breakfast is a bowl of yoghurt with home-made muesli, maybe a slice of whole-grain bread with cream cheese. However, about a year ago, my traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) doctor told me that cold breakfast was the equivalent of trying to "start my car engine on a cold morning."  This was right after he had picked me up from the floor after I had passed out at his suggestion that I ate too much dairy - Is that possible?! Cut back on cheese?!  His suggestion for breakfast was Grießbrei (Cream of Wheat), which is right up there in my book with oatmeal and chunky cottage cheese - okay on taste, but really inedible due to texture. At my screwed up face, he suggested warm baby porridge.  That's when I realized, while my TCM doctor might be a good doctor, he is probably a lousy cook.

I left his office, still weak from the thought of life without cheese, but determined to find yummy, warm, non-mushy breakfast alternatives.  Yesterday I ran into okayu on Healthy Green Kitchen.  Okayu, the Japanese cure-all rice breakfast, fights off the flu and hangovers from too much sake. 

I changed this recipe up quite a bit from the original because I didn't want to go grocery shopping before eating breakfast. Do you blame me? I've listed some substitutions below for ingredients you may not have.

Dinkelreis (pearl spelt) - literally translated it would be spelt rice. Actually it isn't a rice.  It's hulled or pearl spelt. I've had a box sitting in my pantry forever. Readily available in Austria. Substitute any short grained rice, brown or otherwise. 

Mushrooms - I didn't use any and I'm kicking myself for letting M use our super cool Japanese Buna-Shimeji mushrooms in a pasta sauce last night. They would be great here. Oh well, next time. 

Dashi Kombu - Optional -dried kelp, a basic in Japanese cooking, used to make the stock in miso soup.  A tiny bit goes a LONG way and it keeps forever in a sealed container. Great source of iodine and umami. Substitute dashi powder or leave it out.  

Toasted nori strips - the green sheets used to wrap your maki. Fold the strip up and cut away. Also a good source of iodine.
(I'm lovin' my orange finger nail polish.)

Purple haze carrots - a heirloom variety of carrots with a purple outer ring. Substitute a regular carrot.

Gelbe Rübe - Oddly in Germany, Gelbe Rübe (lit. yellow beet) is a term for a regular orange carrot, but in Austria these are a distinct vegetable in the carrot family.  They look a lot like carrots, but are yellow and a little bit sweeter.  Substitute a regular carrot.

Frozen peas - Authentic? No, but I didn't have any edamame. They were great.

Green tea salt - (Optional) The original recipe called for matcha salt. I didn't have any so I just mixed a bit of sea salt with crumbled up Japanese green tea. Substitute with plain old sea salt.

I highly recommend the additional fried egg. If I had had fresh ginger, I would have added it somewhere in this dish as well.

Final verdict: To be honest, I'm a bit torn on this recipe.  The taste is phenomenal.  I gobbled down 2 servings and was contemplating making another batch. While it is very versatile, as a breakfast, the cooking time is way too long - 1 hour. I wouldn't put it past me, in my morning stupor, to turn on the stove, walk away to get ready and then head right out the door with a pot simmering on the stove. One solution would be to make it the night before, but I don't know if it wouldn't get mushy.  I ate every last grain of "rice" or I would be able to tell you if it can be reheated the morning after. Sorry. Until I know, I'm going to keep this recipe for days like Tuesdays when I work from home and can start breakfast a bit later. In other words, when I can be trusted with things like knives and stove tops.
UPDATE: I made this again on the weekend and had 1 serving leftover.  At least with spelt, this was still not mushy the next day. It heated right up and was great in a few minutes. 
Okayu with heritage carrots and peas, inspired from Healthy Green Kitchen: Okayu

Notes: See the blog for notes about the less common ingredients.  This is a very flexible recipe, add and subtract as you wish. Maybe some toasted tofu bits, flax seeds, cabbage or fresh ginger?  At its most basic, okayu is white rice in stock.
Servings 4
Prep time 10 min
Cook time 1 hour

1 cup /200 g Dinkelreis (pearl spelt)or brown rice
4 cups / ~ 1 liter vegetable stock
1 one-by-four cm piece of dashi kombu (optional)
2 cup / 240 ml water
1 small purple haze carrot
1 small gelbe Rübe (sweet Austrian yellow carrot)
1/4 cup / 15 g frozen peas
small strip of nori
toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
soy sauce, Japanese, for garnish
sesame seed oil, for garnish
matcha or Japanese green tea salt, for garnish (optional)

Serving suggestion
1 organic free-range egg, fried

1.   Rinse spelt, or rice.  Place spelt, stock, dashi kombu and water in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer for 45 minutes.
2.   Meanwhile, cut the carrot and gelbe Rübe into long thin strips. Toast and cut the nori into strips as well.
3.   Add carrot, gelbe Rübe and peas to the rice and simmer for approx. 10 more minutes. Add water as needed to get the desired amount of soupiness. 
4.   Optional: fry egg.
5.   Remove the dashi kombu (keep for making miso soup).  Place some rice and vegetable mixture in each bowl. Top with a good sprinkle of matcha salt.  Sprinkle lightly with soy sauce and sesame seed oil.  Garnish with the sesame seeds and nori strips. Serve with a fried egg in the bowl. Enjoy.
Other Okayu recipes on the web:
Healthy Green Lifestyle - Okayu with edamame, mushrooms and matcha salt


  1. Hi Nicole!
    Your recipe looks great!
    No worries about making it the night before and reheating it- it's actually supposed to be pretty mushy, like porridge...
    If you like savory breakfasts and you need to eat dairy-free, I also have an ochazuke recipe on my blog that I think you'll like- it's my take on another classic Japanese breakfast...and it's really good and easily variable.
    Take care!

  2. Hi Winnie,
    Thanks for answering my question and I'll definitely be trying your ochazuke recipe. I don't need to be completely dairy free, but I should cut down the amount I eat pretty drastically.

  3. I'm pretty partial to my big morning bowl of oatmeal, but this sounds like a great dish for lunch or dinner too. I've had to cut back on lots of dairy for the past few years too, although I can handle small amounts of cheese every once in awhile. So I'm always on the hunt for new ideas!

  4. Hi Jacqui,

    Definitely give it a try. But if you're partial to oatmeal, I think it would even work with old-fashioned rolled oats - a bit like flavored oatmeal without the sugar. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out.

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