Fuel late-night sessions with healthful porridge (Yomiuri, Mar.9)

Tamako Sakamoto / Special to The Daily Yomiuri

It was recently reported that the University of Tokyo is planning to shift the start of its school year from April to autumn in the near future, trying to adjust its school calendar to a Western system in order to welcome more students from other countries.

I don’t dislike the idea. However, as you know, the current Japanese school year starts in April and ends in March. Although temperatures are still low when graduation ceremonies are held in March, sakura (cherry blossoms) are usually in full bloom within just a month, when entrance ceremonies are held in April. As many schools have cherry trees, you can see freshmen taking memorial photos with sakura in the background.

So entrance ceremonies in Japan are naturally associated with the most beautiful cherry blossoms.

To enter schools in April, Japanese students have to take entrance exams during winter. Usually entrance exams for private junior high schools start in January and end in early February. Exams for high schools and universities also start in January and end in March. Therefore, some students have to graduate from their previous school before they find out where they’ll enroll next.

So many students are struggling with entrance exams even now.

Unfortunately, influenza is also in season during exam time and tends to be pervasive. Mothers of jukensei (students taking entrance exams) get very nervous and have their children wear masks to prevent them from catching viruses or have all family members get vaccinations against influenza to keep their children in good trim.

Luckily, I do not have any jukensei this year, but I will for four consecutive years, starting next year, as my younger three children take exams. For jukensei staying up late to study, mothers are often expected to serve an extra night dish that is filling but not too heavy.

I have pretty much decided to prepare a special dish I learned when I went to Taiwan five years ago. When I had this ginger-flavored porridge with many ingredients such as pork, taro, carrots and dried shrimp, I thought it would be a perfect night dish for jukensei because it is warm, nourishing and good for digestion.

I’m sure it’s also a good recipe for when you don’t feel well or have a good appetite. This nourishing dish will surely give you some energy!

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Rice porridge with pork and taro

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup rice

2 liters water

200 grams thinly sliced pork

1/2 naganegi or leek

100 grams carrot

1 knob ginger

250 grams taro

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon instant chicken stock

1. Wash rice and drain. Let it sit at least 30 minutes. Cut pork into thin slivers. Chop leek and carrot. Grate ginger. Wash taro and wipe with paper towel. Peel and cut into halves. Cut each piece into quarters. Scrub well with a teaspoon of salt. Wash well and drain.

2. In a skillet, heat vegetable oil. Add leek, carrot, ginger and pork, and stir-fry 2-3 minutes.

3. In a pot, bring 2 liters of water to a boil over medium heat. Add stir-fried pork and vegetables, instant chicken stock and a teaspoon of salt. When it starts to boil again, skim foam and fats.

4. Add rice. Stir well with wooden spatula and cook 15 minutes. Add taro and turn the heat to low. Cook 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

*Original recipe contained dried shrimp and dried scallops. If you have time, soak them in a bowl of water overnight and add to the soup. Drained water can be added as tasty stock for the porridge.