Jan 5
2012
Nanakusa-Gayu, Seven-Herb Rice Soup

After the rich indulgence of the holiday season I find myself craving simpler fair and enjoying my leafy greens with renewed gusto.  This is probably why Nanakusa no sekku (the “Festival of Seven Herbs”).  This is the tradition of eating nanakusa-gayu (seven-herb rice soup, pronounced “Naw-naw-koo-saw guy-yoo”) on January 7th (“jinjitsu“) of each year.   The soup is a variation of okayu, a rice soup/or porridge that is traditionally eaten in Japan when someone is sick.  It is a simple soup made with rice and water, or a light broth, seven different varieties of herbs (each chosen for their unique health promoting properties), and sometimes mochi.  The soup is meant to let the “overworked” stomach and digestive system rest and bring longevity and health in the coming year.

The traditional seven herbs are the seven edible wild herbs of spring in Japan:

But it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find all seven herbs outside of Japan, and so I make my nanakusa-gayu with a variety of herbs that I can find locally, or with the aid of a Japanese market visit.  This year I made my nanakusa-gayu early so that I could share the recipe with you.  The herbs I included were mizuna, watercress, mitsuba, turnip greens, shungiku, cilantro, and basil.

Seven Herbs for Nanakusa-gayu

You can choose whatever herbs you love or can find.  If you ever buy beets or daikon radish with the greens still attached, don’t let them go to waste—the flavor they add to nanakusa-gayu is wonderful.  Can’t find seven different herbs?  No worries, just double up on your favorites!

Making Nanakusa-Gayu

Making the soup is easy.  All you have to do is slowly simmer previously cooked rice in water or stock until the rice swells up and starts to lose its shape.  Then you add your herbs, cook for about a minute more so that they impart their flavor to the soup (but no longer, so they don’t lose their beautiful color!), and then serve!

A bowl of nanakusa-gayu for jinjitsu

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Nanakusa-Gayu (Seven-Herb Rice Soup)

Makes 6 servings

4 cups water
4-inch piece dried kombu (kelp)
1 1/2 cups steamed Japanese rice
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 pieces mochi
3/4 cup boiling water
1/2 cup herbs, rinsed and minced

1. Make the kombu dashi: The best way to make this stock is to soak the kombu in the water overnight, covered, in the refrigerator, then discard the kombu and use the stock. Quick method: Allow the kombu to soak in the water in a saucepan for 30 minutes. Then place the saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as bubbles start to appear, remove the kombu from the water and remove the saucepan from the heat. Do not let the liquid come to a boil, as the kombu will then give the stock a bitter flavor.

2. Add the rice to the dashi and cook over low heat, stirring to break up any clumps of rice.

2. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the grains of rice swell and begin to lose their shape. Add 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, the mochi, and then the boiling water and stir.

3. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally to prevent the soup from sticking to the pot. When the mochi has softened and has begun to lose its shape, add the herbs. Stir and cook for an additional minute, then remove from the heat and serve immediately.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }



Mimi Avocado January 5, 2012 at 1:17 pm

Nice soup, Rachael! Wish I had some right now!

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Geez Louise January 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Easy peasy Japanesey! i like that… happy new year!

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kat January 5, 2012 at 6:41 pm

very resourceful! making my nanakusa-gayu tomorrow morning :)

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Megan January 5, 2012 at 7:40 pm

This sounds just right for after the holidays. I really like the helpful herb identification pic- very nice! I’m going to have to give this a try and soon, I hope I can find most of the herbs.

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Paula- bell'alimento January 6, 2012 at 9:14 am

Love all the herbs in here! Can’t wait to play around with this one!

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Joy January 6, 2012 at 12:05 pm

The soup looks great.

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Maris (In Good Taste) January 7, 2012 at 6:34 am

Simple and delicious!

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Medea January 7, 2012 at 8:52 am

We had this for dinner tonight, but I could barely manage half a bowl because it feels so heavy to me. All that rice!

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Jamie January 10, 2012 at 5:06 am

Wonderful! I have just made myself the promise (resolution?) to start eating more Asian soups – I find they are comforting, healthy, light and tasty, the perfect cleanse while leaving me totally satisfied. This is a wonderful – simple soup. Perfect for January, right?

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Vijitha January 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Hello Rachael
This is Vijitha, and I came to know about you through Prerna. We live in the same part of the world and once during our conversation she mentioned about you. And today when I looked at Camp blog away website, I recollected that and wanted to pop in to say a hi to you. I am planning to attend the conference but need to do little bit logistics with my husband as I have my 13 month old baby boy at home :-) If I make it, I am so looking forward meeting you.

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AW January 25, 2012 at 8:00 am

Awesome! I’m Chinese and grew up eating congee/rice porridge, similar to okayu, . I have to try your recipe.

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) January 29, 2012 at 8:48 am

@AW, Yes, very similar! Let me know if you try it!

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