Thursday, February 25, 2010
lily root, sometimes called lily bulbs (yuri-ne)....2 heads
sugar.....1 Tablespoon or more to taste
food coloring, sesame seeds and sprinkles for decoration (optional)
Lily root looks a bit like a head of garlic, but flatter. It should be available at an Asian food market. It usually comes to the consumer packed in sawdust. Kept this way, lily root can stay fresh for months in the refrigerator.
Turn the lily root over and you'll find a gnarly "belly button" that must be cut out before you can separate the "petals" of the root. This can be done easily with the pointy end of a potato peeler.
Carefully pry off the "petals" from the outer row of the root, working your way towards the center. When the "petals" have been separated, rinse them well in water to get all the dirt and sawdust out of the nooks and crannies. Cut away any brown edges or spots. Place the lily root segments in vigorously boiling salted water for about five minutes, or until the petals are soft enough to mash between your fingers.
Drain the lily root and mash finely while it is still hot. I do this by using a fine-meshed wire colander as a sieve, but a small-capacity food processor would probably work just as well. If the mashed lily root is too wet/soft to form into balls, put it back into the cooking pot and stir it with a wooden spoon over medium heat until enough liquid has evaporated to make it firmer. Add sugar to taste. After it's cooled to room temperature, mix in a pinch of salt.
The mashed lily root will be creamy white, but at this point you may add food coloring to all or part of the lily root. (With small children in mind, I decided to make colorful balls and dyed part of the mashed lily root yellow, and part of it orange.) Divide the mashed lily root into six equal segments and shape each segment into a ball.
Twist each ball in a square of plastic wrap, and set aside for ten minutes or more. When the balls have settled, unwrap them carefully so as not to disturb the "wrinkles" that the plastic wrap made in the sides of each ball. To make the balls even more colorful, I sprinkled the yellow ones with black sesame seeds, and the orange ones with multi-colored chocolate sprinkles. For adults, I would probably have left the mashed lily root its natural color and topped each ball with grated citrus peel.
Lily root is very mild in flavor, but it has a fun crunchy texture when simply blanched, and a distinctive creamy texture when cooked through. To see how I use it in savory (non-dessert) dishes, go to Lily Root in Three Courses.
Friday, February 5, 2010
I once suggested this version of stuffed dried persimmons waay, waay back, as a short postscript to a post about dried persimmons stuffed with cream cheese and candied yuzu peel. But since I finally took some photos of the An & Walnuts version, I thought I'd post them to show you how easy and attractive it is.
Dried persimmons (I used Ichida-gaki, a soft and gooey brand of dried persimmon from Nagano prefecture)
Shiro-an (white bean an)
1. Mix the walnuts and an together.
2. Gently remove the woody caps from each dried persimmon. Use a knife if you need to.
3. Press a finger through the hole where the cap used to be and gently create a cavity in the persimmon without breaking the outside skin.
4. Stuff the cavity with the an/walnut mixture, little by little till it is full.
5. Replace the woody caps over the holes, and dust the stuffed persimmons with granulated sugar.
Serve with strong, unsweetened Japanese tea.
Monday, February 1, 2010
According to A Dictionary of Japanese Food by Richard Hosking, shiruko is a "sweet soup made from the an of azuki beans with mochi or dango [dumplings] of shiratama added. If the an is not sieved, the soup is called zenzai." Hosking defines zenzai as "sweet red bean (azuki) soup. Toasted mochi are served in a sweet soup of an. The type of an used varies with the part of Japan."
Well, call me an ignorant country bumpkin, but I didn't hear the term zenzai till I lived in the Kansai region as an adult. When I was a child growing up in Hokkaido, we called all soupy an by the name of shiruko. I was congratulating myself on learning the difference at last, when I discovered that in these modern times, traditional definitions often no longer apply. Curiosity led to experimentation, and experimentation led to the three recipes I've posted here.
Let's start out with my version of traditional shiruko/zenzai. I heat the contents of a can of sweetened boiled azuki beans (or an) and thin it with water to the desired consistency. Meanwhile I grill some mochi on a net over my gas burner. I like brown rice mochi because I find it is more fragrant and flavorful than the white version. And I like to grill it so that it burns a little around the edges. This gives it a pleasant smokey flavor. I spoon the hot azuki soup into individual bowls and plunk grilled mochi into each bowl. To raise the dish to the level of a dessert for a celebration, or for guests, I add to each bowl one chestnut that has been bottled in syrup. So simple!
Next, give this refreshing, chilled version of shiruko/zensai a try. The ingredients are an, yogurt, and shiratama dumplings. Find my recipe for shiratama dumplings here. I use tofu instead of water when I make my dumplings. This produces dumplings with denser flavor that stay soft longer that ones made with water, even after they've been chilled in the refrigerator. I usually make a lot at once, and freeze them in small batches for later use.
Blend an with yogurt to desired consistency (add sweetener if you must), pour into individual serving bowls, and plop a few shiratama dumplings in the middle. No heating with this recipe. Serve chilled. It has a very pretty pinkish-purplish hue that makes me think of blueberries.
Finally, here's a recipe for shiruko that doesn't include azuki at all. Heat some sesame paste (neri-goma) in a saucepan and gradually thin it out with some milk till you get it to the desired consistency. Add sugar till you get it to the desired sweetness. Blend well. When the soup is smooth and heated through, pour into individual bowls and add sliced bananas and shiratama dumplings. I played with the color combination of this one, using black sesame paste and adding dried yomogi (mugwort) to the shiratama-ko to produce green dumplings in addition to the usual white ones. The black-speckled soup with green and white dumplings and yellow banana slices made for an amusing/entertaining/startling shiruko that appealed to my passion for colorful food. This was a big hit with my husband, who is not partial to desserts with an.
I haven't bothered with measurements, because the important thing here is the idea of these variations, and you can adjust as you please to make more/less, sweet/not-so-sweet versions of these desserts. Some of you may want to make azuki an from scratch. More power to you. I don't use an enough to make it from scratch myself.