Friday, January 31, 2014

Mochi, Another Chinese New Year Treat

As you may have discovered from my blog, I have a bit of a sweet tooth. This particular treat, Mochi or pounded sweet rice,  rises above many in my heart, so much so that my husband started calling me "Mochi Lady" more than 13 years ago, and still does to this day. This post is rather long, which might give you an idea of just how much I love mochi. And, while the chewy, sticky texture of this lightly sweetened rice cake is not so familiar to most Americans, it is something worth exposing yourself too at least once!

Mochi is a not too sweet treat, made by people in almost every country in Asia, and is one of the foods eaten on Japanese and Chinese New Year, which are this month. Various types of cooked glutinous rice or sweet rice flour are pounded or mixed to make a sticky mochi dough which is most often filled  with sweetened red bean paste, but may also have an assortment of fillings (like the ones I bought pictured above), with chopped peanuts and coconut, lotus seed, sesame paste, taro or other fillings. The red bean variety is often available in take-out sushi restaurants in the USA, as well as any Asian market in either the refrigerated or dry good self area. 

The skillful process of pounding glutinous rice into mochi has become a bit of a spectacle, showing up on japanese game shows and tons of youtube videos, like the one below, keep watching to the end to see the incredible speed they hit!
Many years ago a friend of mine from the Philipines, knowing of my love of mochi, shared an incredible homemade treat made by her family back home, and sent to her in a care package. It was a seasonal specialty in the Philipines: early spring mochi made from the first grains of fresh green spring rice, pounded, sweetened and flattened between two sheets of plastic. It was an amazing, chewy, slightly sweet, nutty and fresh, handmade by her family and sent half way around the world. It was a gift I will never forget!  I could not find any photos or recipes on google exactly like what I ate that day, but this is somewhat similar: How to Make Kalamay na Pinipig 

Over the years I have made mochi at home only a few times. Once from fresh sweet rice which I soaked overnight, steamed and then "pounded" using the paddle attachment in my stand mixer. Last year, I decided to try using the Mochiko rice flour (pictured in the box at the top). I do not have a microwave, so followed the stovetop directions for cooking the mochi dough. Here is a good video for a Korean style mochi, and she shows how to make the red bean filling using adzuki beans.

Below are some pictures of my mochi making adventure with my kids, who share my love of mochi.  First we made the red bean filling and scooped it into small balls ready for filling the mochi dough. Then made our dough from the glutinous rice flour, and tinted it pink with a few drops of food coloring.

 Below: cutting the dough into 1 1/2 inch squares, then filling them with red bean paste, pinching the dough closed and rolling the mochi round and flat.

To make Red Bean Filling:

  1. Put one cup of adzuki beans in a heavy pot with 3 cups of water, cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat for 10 minutes.
  2. Lower heat and simmer for about 1½ hours.
  3. If the beans haven’t softened after 1½ hours, add more water and cook over low heat until they are soft and can be well mashed.
  4. Mash the beans with a wooden spoon (or food processor) until smooth.
  5. Put the beans back into the pot and add ¾ cup light brown or raw sugar, ¼ tsp salt, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 2-3 tbs rice or corn syrup.
  6. Stir with a wooden spoon over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the paste looks a little shiny.
  7. Using spoons, divide the bean paste into one inch balls (or smaller depending on the size mochi you want to make.  

To make Mochi:
Mochiko is the only brand of glutinous rice flour I have seen in the USA. You must use glutinous or sweet rice flour for this, regluar rice flour will not work. Most recipes online use a microwave, you can do that if you like. I made mine on the stove top and it was great. 

3 Cups water
1 box (16oz or two cups) Mochiko glutinous rice flour  
1/2 cup granulated sugar
pinch salt
2 drops food coloring if desired.
  1. Put water, sugar, salt and food coloring in a pot and bring to a boil.
  2. Stir in Mochiko flour and simmer stirring constantly, until the dough forms a thick smoth paste, about 3 minutes. 
  3. Sprinkle the counter with tapioca or corn starch and spread the dough our sprinkling the top with starch as well. 
  4. Cool and cut into squares for filling with red bean paste, or anything else you like. shredded coconut and peanuts are a great combination too!
  5. Mochi must be eaten within a day or two, and should be kept at room temperature, it will get hard if refrigerated. 
There are many other kinds of mochi, which if you decide you like it, you can start to discover. For Americans, there is this variety that you can find in most health food stores. I was raised eating this type, toasted and topped with a little butter and maple syrup, a New England twist. 

I usually keep sweet rice or glutinous rice in the house, since when it is cooked or steamed you get sticky rice, which we love as well. It can be turned into little balls and sprinkled with sesame, or rice seasoning, which makes a great treat for little (or big) kids. 

 Have you had mochi? What do you think?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

New Year

It's only been a few weeks since the new year started, but to be honest, it feels like months have gone by. I love new beginnings and special holidays with family, so I feel sort of nostalgic for the holiday just past. Lucky for me, I celebrate four new year holidays each year, and each in a different way: Western New Year, Chinese New Year, Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and my birthday (personal new year). Chinese New Year is coming up later this month, and I am working on a post about Mochi sweets which are traditionally eaten on this holiday, but to start getting you inspired for this holiday, I thought I'd include this post about homemade dumplings, which we sometimes make for Chinese New Year, Western New Year...or just for a fun dinner.

The dumpling "skins" or dough (bottom right above) can be found at any asian market, but often in a good regular grocery store at the end of the produce isle, near the tofu. You can fill these with whatever finely chopped ingredients you like, tofu, vegetables, meat and add some garlic, scallion, grated ginger, salt or spices. Steam boil or pan fry and your are done.

It's a bit of a messy project, but great fun for kids or a party night with friends. One of my favorite kids books describes family dumpling making, Mochi, and New Year in the most wonderful way "Dumpling Soup" is well worth the read! 

I don't really use a recipe when I make dumplings. I toss together different ingredients that I might have in the fridge and season as I said above with garlic, ginger, salt and spices. The typical fillings I use are: tofu (pressed and crumbled), scallion, blanched mung bean sprouts, finely chopped mushrooms, or shredded carrot. Traditionally, the dumplings are made with pork, if you'd like you can use any ground meat, season it well, and fill dumplings with a small spoonful in the middle, use your finger to wet the edge of the dough with water, hold the dough in half and pinch it tightly closed, overlapping the seam as you go. If that is too complicated, you can just fold them in half and pinch the edges together. 

Once you have made a batch of dumplings, you can steam, boil or fry them. I served these up with some sautéed pea greens from the Asian Market, totally out of season for the north-east in the winter, but a joy to eat, and a great way to start another new year. 

Here are some links to some traditional dumpling recipes:
Homemade Chinese Dumplings - Jiao Zi - This has great photos to show how to pinch the dumplings closed.  

For dipping, you can buy a "dumpling dipping sauce" or make your own by mixing: 2 crushed cloves of garlic, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil, 1 teaspoon hot chili oil (or other hot sauce)

Beyond this, get creative: sweet, savory, curry, sweet potato, banana and chocolate..... whatever your heart desires. 

UPDATE 1/29/14: Check out my friend and cousin, Nadine Nelson of Global Local Gourmet demonstrating how to make delicious Golden Chicken Spring Rolls. 

So, are you going to make some dumplings...or did this scare you off 
and you're headed to the store to just buy some?