Sunday, June 28, 2009

daigaku imo

The following recipe is my own twist on a traditional sweet potato treat called daigaku-imo ("college potatoes," so called because of its association with Tokyo University), which is basically deep-fried chunks of sweet potato coated with sweet syrup. In the traditional version, the sweet potatoes are cut up into large cubes or triangular chunks, and nothing is added besides a syrup and perhaps a sprinkling of black sesame seeds. In my version, the potatoes are cut into sticks, with nuts and dried fruit added for variety in texture and color.

Satsuma Sweet Potato, 1 large
oil for deep-frying

for the syrup:
water, 1/3 cup
sugar, 1/4 cup
butter, 1 or 2 Tablespoons
fresh ginger root, 1/2 teaspoon grated
dried seedless dates, 5 or 6, chopped
walnuts, 2 Tablespoons, chopped

Scrub the potato clean, and wipe dry with a clean kitchen towel, but do NOT peel. Cut off the two tough ends. Slice the rest of the potato into somewhat thick-ish matchsticks.

Heat enough oil in a medium-sized, deep-sided pot to cover the sweet potato sticks. Make sure to fry the potato sticks in batches that won't pile upon each other in the pot. Fry for about 3 minutes, or until the potato sticks are tender but not soft. Test with one or two to make sure. They have to still be tough enough to survive being tossed in the syrup without breaking. Take the sweet potato sticks out of the oil, drain them on a rack, then spread them out on paper towels.

Meanwhile put all the sauce ingredients into a clean frying pan or pot and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer the sauce until it thickens and gets syrupy. Turn off the heat. Immediately toss the fried sweet potato sticks into the syrupy mixture and stir gently so as to coat the potatoes thoroughly. Turn potato stick mixture out onto a serving dish. As it cools, the syrupy coating on the sweet potato sticks hardens a little like candy. The ginger gives it a really nice depth of flavor.

Daigaku-imo, like its main ingredient the sweet potato, is associated with winter, when it tastes best eaten hot. But this mixture freezes well, and makes a delicious summer snack when served barely thawed along with a glass of cold mugicha (barley tea).