Tuesday, July 14, 2009

kinako nejiri

After a class trip to Kyoto in my last year of high school, I developed a craving for suhama dango, the small, very sweet, colorful balls skewered three to a toothpick, packed in gift boxes, and sold at the Kyoto train station for tourists to take back home. I didn't know what they were made of, and this became a problem for me years later when I was in the US, dreadfully homesick for the flavors of home. A childhood friend asked me if she could send me something from Japan, and I described those balls the best I could. But she lived nowhere near Kyoto, and what arrived from her a month later didn't look anything like the colorful balls I had been craving. They were dull-colored flat strips of some kind of dried dough, twisted like a ribbon. When I ate it, though, it had the same taste and texture I remembered. This was how I discovered Kinako Nejiri. I checked the listed ingredients, and there were only two: Mizu-ame (rice syrup) and kinako (soybean flour). I realized then, that the colorful balls were essentially the same thing, just rolled into balls rather than rolled out and cut into strips.

ingredients for 4 servings:
Mizu-ame (rice syrup), 4 Tablespoons
Kinako (soybean flour), 60 grams (3/4 cup) and more for dusting

Place the syrup (it has an odd consistency somewhere between a liquid and a solid) in a heatproof dish, and soften it by heating it in the microwave for one minute. Stir half of the soybean flour into the syrup with a wooden spoon or spatula. When that is mixed in well, add the rest of the soybean flour little by little till the dough becomes stiff enough to roll out on a soyflour-dusted board with a rolling pin to about a quarter-inch in thickness. Add more flour if necessary to get the right stiffness. Cut into rectangles (3/4 inch x 1&1/4 inch), then twist gently like a ribbon. Coat the ribbons with some more soybean flour and store in an airtight container in a cool place.

There is green kinako and yellowish kinako, depending on whether it was made from green soybeans or yellow soybeans. I mixed up two batches of dough, one with the green powder, and one with the yellow. I made the ribbons with part of the dough, and balls with the rest. I also rolled some of the balls in black sesame seed for variety. If you won't be eating it up within a few days, freeze it. If you want it sweeter, roll the balls in granulated sugar, and/or add some sugar to the dough. The stuff they sell at the Kyoto station is much sweeter than my version, and they obviously use food coloring for the bright colors. I have tried this recipe using honey in place of the rice syrup, but I felt the honey taste was too pronounced.

Other variations could include adding cocoa powder or ground sesame to the soybean flour, and coating the strips or balls with colored sugar crystals. I rolled my kinako dough a little too thin, as the photo shows, and must try to make it thicker next time. Refrigeration helps stiffen it, and so will leaving it out to air for a while. But beware letting it go uncovered for too long. For more photos of this recipe, click here.