There 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.

The 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.

MIZU YOKAN (azuki bean jelly)
Kanten 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!

Kanten 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 ounces)
3 cups of water
3 1/2 ounces of sugar
1 fourteen ounce can of pureed azuki beans

Rinse 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).

Squeeze 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).

Return 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.

SWEET OMELET (Atsu Yaki Tamago)
These 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.

1/3 cup of dashi (see basics for preparation method)
6-7 eggs
1/3 cup of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons of shoyu
1 1/2 teaspoons sake
1/2 teaspoon of salt
vegetable oil

Combine 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.

This 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 pan's bottom
in an even layer.

When 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.

Once 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.

These 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.

2 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
vegetable oil

Sift 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.

When 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!

This site is owned & operated by The Black Moon All rights reserved. Illustrations and text by Mark Vallen.