are no sweets or desserts in the Western sense of the word
to be found in traditional Japanese cooking, instead meals
are ended with fresh fruits of the season. Sweet things
do exist however, originally they were something to indulge
in when drinking ocha (tea), and so sweets
are closely linked to cha-do (the way of tea).
Today okashi (sweets) are enjoyed with tea
between meals, in fact, chagashi (tea sweets)
is a name used to refer to Japanese confectionery.
main ingredient in Japanese sweets is an
(a paste made from sugar and various ingredients). An
is made from azuki (small red beans), or
white beans, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, even snow peas!
An and mochi (a paste made from glutinous
rice), are made into hundreds of varieties of sweets in
every imaginable size, color, shape and taste. To be honest
I have never even attempted to make these delicate little
tea sweets, preferring instead to purchase them from my
local Japanese bakery or confectionery shop. However,
I do have some recipes to share that are easy to make
and would fall into the category of "dessert" as Westerners
would define the word.
is a gelatin derived from a seaweed known as tengusa
(heavenly grass). Unlike Western gelatin which is made from
the hoofs and bones of animals, kanten sets without refrigeration
(though refrigerating quickens the process), it doesn't
melt in hot weather, makes a firmer jelly, and has a neutral
taste. Kanten (also known in the West as "agar-agar"), provides
fiber and bulk and best of all it has zero calories, making
it perfect for dieters!
is sold as a brittle, thick, dry rectangular stick. It is
usually clear and translucent but a red variety can be found.
Purchase kanten in Asian food markets. The following kanten
recipe calls for azuki beans, small flavorful red beans
that are used in a number ways in Japanese cooking, primarily
as the main ingredient in "an" (see top of page, second
paragraph). Mizu yokan is a very satisfying "dessert" and
best enjoyed during hot weather.
1 stick of kanten (about 10
3 cups of water
3 1/2 ounces of sugar
1 fourteen ounce can of pureed azuki beans
the kanten and tear it into several pieces, cover with water
in a small bowl and allow to soak for about 30 minutes (place
a saucer on the kanten to prevent it from floating up).
out as much water from the kanten as you can, tear into
very small pieces and place in a small sauce pan. Add the
water and cook over medium flame until the kanten has dissolved.
Strain the melted kanten through a small hand held sieve
into another pan. Add sugar and continue stirring over medium
heat until dissolved. Remove from heat and add the azuki
beans (if they're not already pureed, run them
through a blender).
the pan to the heat and cook until the mixture comes to
a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring
continually. Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.
At this point you'll want to pour the kanten into a tray
of some kind. I like using a plastic tupperware container
with a lid (about 5" x 6" in size). Pour the kanten into
the container and refrigerate until set. The jelly will
be ready to eat when it is completely firm and chilled.
Cut into squares and serve.
thick omelets are very sweet and always served cold. They
are not thought of as sweets in Japan, and are actually
favorite items to be found in bento (lunch boxes), along
with delicious morsels of fish, pickled vegetables, and
rice. I've included the omelets here because I think you'll
enjoy them as a dessert, but remember that you can just
as easily serve them with cold noodles or with sushi.
cup of dashi (see
1/3 cup of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of shoyu
1 1/2 teaspoons sake
1/2 teaspoon of salt
all the ingredients (except the eggs and vegetable oil),
in a small saucepan and heat until everything is dissolved
and well mixed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to
room temperature. Mix the eggs together but try not to whip
too much air into them while doing so because the completed
omelet should be solid and thick,
not light and fluffy.
omelet should be made with a traditional Japanese square
pan (tamago yaki nabe), but if you don't have one a small
Western style pan will do just fine (the finished omelet
you will cut into oblong squares). Heat the square skillet
or Western style frying pan and add a little vegetable oil
using a swab of paper towel (the pan is ready when a test
drop of egg sizzles). Pour in 1/3 of the egg mixture, tilting
and rotating the pan so that the egg spreads across the
in an even layer.
the surface of the egg sets and it's dry around the edges,
use a pair of chopsticks (or a spatula), to roll up the
omelet to one side of the square pan. Wipe in some more
vegetable oil on the empty part of the pan. Add another
1/3 of the egg mixture and tilt to cover the surface of
the pan, allowing the egg to cook. When the surface of the
egg sets use the chopsticks to once again roll up the omelet...
this time rolling the already cooked egg pushed to one side
of the pan, over the newly cooked egg. Cook the omelet for
just a few more moments and then remove from the fire and
allow to cool.
the omelet is cool you can cut it into oblong square blocks.
Place on a platter and refrigerate until well chilled, then
it's ready to serve.
small "pancakes" are sold everywhere in Japan and are very
popular. They have all types of fillings, but my favorite
(and the most traditional), is made from azuki beans.
cups of white flour
4 teaspoons sugar
1 cup of water
1 egg white, beaten until fluffy
1 six ounce can of azuki beans, mashed and
mixed with enough sugar to form a thick sweet paste
the flour into a bowl and add the sugar. Stir in the water
to make a batter, then fold in the egg whites. Heat a nonstick
frying pan or griddle and swab on some vegetable oil with
a paper towel. Drop about 2 tablespoons of the batter onto
the hot griddle, let the batter spread by itself and wait
for tiny bubbles to appear in the pancake.
bubbles appear on the pancake surface, flip and fry the
uncooked side for about 30 seconds, then remove. Continue
making the pancakes until all the batter has been used up.
Spread the thick red bean paste onto a pancake and top with
another pancake (like a sandwich) Dora-yaki should be served
at room temperature and are wonderful with tea!
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