Every year in the heart of winter, a few weeks after the New Year when the mornings are still very dark and the days are chilly, a small thought begins to ring persistently in my head like a distant bell. Eventually I realize that it is the bell of imo gohan, announcing that it's time to make a pot of this rustic Japanese sweet potato and rice dish, one of my winter favorites.
Japanese sweet potato, like the American sweet potato, does not look like much on the outside. It has a dull pinkish purple skin. When cooked, it is creamy yellow inside, pleasantly but not cloyingly sweet, and tastes something like a chestnut. This is the sweet potato for those who've never cared for the ultra sweet American variety.
Imo gohan is a one pot meal, very simple to make. It's best to plump the brown rice first by soaking it over night or for about six hours, which will shorten the cooking time. Rice, water and sweet potato then go into the pot together and are cooked for about one hour. The addition of black or "forbidden" rice is optional, but it does add pleasing texture and color to the dish.
2 cups short grain brown rice, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained
1 handful black rice (optional)
4 cups fresh water
2 medium Japanese sweet potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon sea salt
toasted sesame seed garnish (gomasio) or tamari sauce
Place rice in a heavy pot with water and sea salt. Arrange sweet potato pieces on top of the rice. It's ok if the potatoes are not entirely covered in water.
Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer on a low light for at least one hour. Place a flame tamer under the pot to prevent scorching. When rice is tender, turn off heat, fluff gently without mashing the sweet potatoes and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Imo gohan is delicious sprinkled with gomasio or a little tamari sauce to taste. Serve in a pre-heated bowl. It is best enjoyed while studying the poems of Basho or contemplating the coming of spring and the Lunar New Year.
For more about Japanese Sweet Potato see post titled "Japanese Sweet Potato/ Satsuma Imo".
For gomasio recipe see post titled "Gomasio/ Sesame Seed Condiment".