Lately I’ve been on a quest to not only make healthy vegetarian meals for my husband and I, but to make those meals with whatever is in our cabinet. While sifting through the back of our pantry, I pulled out a bag of mixed grains that were given to us by another expat couple who were cleaning out their cabinet before returning to the U.S. No one that we spoke to was quite sure what to do with it, other than make a side of grains. I put the bag back on the shelf and told myself that I would find a creative way to use them.
Fast forward one week later when my husband came home raving about the delicious juk (죽) that he had purchased for lunch at an open air market nearby. Juk is Korean porridge, typically made with rice that is slow cooked for easy digestion. I imagined that the mixed grains would make for a great porridge, so I set about making a vegetable stock and a pot of green tea. If you do not have mixed grains on hand, rice will of course make an excellent substitution. For a stronger green tea flavor, the vegetable stock can be replaced with more green tea.
*I would deem it poor form to not admit that I actually used Yerba Mate for this recipe. Green tea purists will disapprove comparing it to mate, but I feel that the flavors are quite similar, though mate is a bit grassier. It should be noted that mate is not a tea at all, as it is not made from actual tea leaves.
Ingredients (serves 4-5 generously)
2 cups mixed grains
3 cups vegetable stock
3-4 cups strongly brewed green or Yerba Mate tea
15 medium to large shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon good quality salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon + 4 teaspoons sesame oil
1 layer of dried seaweed (optional)
1. Heat the 1 tablespoon sesame oil in a medium sized soup pot over medium heat. Saute the onion and garlic until lightly browned and fragrant.
2. Add the two cups of mixed grains and stir a few times to coat them in the oil. Add the vegetable stock. When the liquid begins to boil, turn the heat down to a low simmer. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the pot.
3. Meanwhile, make a pot of green tea. Take care to allow the green tea to steep for no more than 3 minutes, or the tea will become bitter.
4. When most of the liquid is absorbed (about 20 minutes), add the pot of green tea and the salt. Allow the porridge to simmer for another 20-30 minutes, stirring infrequently. Check for salt, tenderness, and consistency. Good porridge should be incredibly tender, with minimal chewing needed. It should be thick and not too soupy, but certainly not dry. It should be necessary to consume it with a spoon. Add more salt or liquid (vegetable stock or green tea) if needed until the desired taste and consistency is reached.
5. In a small pan, add a little sesame oil and the shiitakes and saute until tender. Add the sesame seeds and stir for 30 seconds more.
6. Ladle the porridge into bowls, adding a heaping spoonful of the sesame shiitakes in the center. Finish by drizzling a teaspoon of sesame oil atop each serving and crumbling a small amount of seaweed on top, if desired.