Pumpkin Okayu

Several years ago, Hoitsu Suzuki Roshi  (son of the late author Shunryu Suzuki Roshi) had been invited to Zen River as Jokeshi (official witness) to a Shusohossen ceremony. It would be a perfect occasion to serve a Japanese-style breakfast with okayu and miso soup and all the pre-requisite condiments; pickled ume plums, toasted nori seaweed, gomasio, takuan – pickled daikon radish – and soy sauce. For some reason though, I assumed cooking breakfast rice with pumpkin was a common thing to do but he seemed rather surprised by it. So during breakfast he asked, what is it? Fortunately he liked it so much he would ask his home temple to make it too. Phew! Unless of course he was just being polite. But that we will never really know 🙂

Still, we liked it a lot and so come autumn, it always come back on the menu. And wow. The colour is simply amazing!

Tip: If pumpkins are not in season, butternut squash will work too as they are usually available year-round. They will need peeling though as their skin is quite tough.

170 g (⅔ cup) sushi rice
1 litre (4 cups) water
250 g (2 cups) sugar pumpkin (about a quarter of a small pumpkin)

  • De-seed and peel if needed, then small-dice the pumpkin. 
  • Gently rinse and drain the rice several times in fresh water until the water is no longer cloudy.
  • Put the rice, pumpkin, and water into a pot. Leave to soak for 15 minutes.
  • Bring the rice and pumpkin to the boil on a medium flame. Turn the flame low, cover, and simmer until the rice grains are just cooked and the pumpkin tender, about 12-15 minutes. At this point, the okayu should be thin enough to pour off the spoon. Turn off the flame and let it rest, covered, for about 5 minutes without stirring. (This ensures the rice grains remain whole.)
  • Just before serving, loosen the okayu by swishing (not stirring) a wooden rice paddle or flat-backed spoon back and forth through the rice gruel.
  • Serve with gomasio*, toasted nori seaweed, and salted ume plums. Remember to mash the ume plum through the rice to enjoy it’s full flavour.
  • The longer it stands, the thicker it will become. If it becomes too thick, simply swish a little hot water back and forth to thin to the desired consistency.

*Whole sesame seeds toasted with sea salt then ground to a loose powder.

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