Above: Toasting your mochi before you eat them produces a golden crispy surface and a lovely warm gooey centre. But watch out -- toast them too long and they could erupt!
You might be familiar with mochi. The Japanese chewy gooey rice cakes usually filled with a sweet red bean paste, and in more recent times popping up in many more fahionable flavours (e.g. coffee) and fillings (e.g. fruit-flavoured jellies or ice-cream). Traditionally they were eaten by farmers in the winter to mend both body and soul, and are a treat eaten during the Japanese New Year.
What I wasn't familiar with, however, was just how mochi work hand-made mochi takes!
As Babs, Chris and I learnt how to make this delicious traditional treat while WWOOFING on a rice farm near Osaka, we wondered "can anyone we know actually make this at home?"
Possibly. If we can't tempt you with the great mochi workout (great exercise for the biceps and triceps, as the guys will attest!) check your Asian grocery stores for mochi sheets or mochi powder. As for yomogi (Japanese mugwort), it's long been regarded a North-Asian cureall for blood purification and inflammation reduction, so dried versions of the leaves have known to be sold in Asian markets and medical halls, to be used as a soup or tea or even spa ingredient!
But if you want try to make mochi the old school way, here's how. The effort might just make you love your mochi that mochi more.
800g Japanese sticky rice (note that this is a specific strain of rice different from regular Japanese rice, which is already stickier than say Basmati or Thai rice)
300g azuki (sweet red beans)
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon unrefined sugar
200g yomogi (Japanese mugwort)
Preparing the Sticky Rice
- Soak the sticky rice overnight
- Drain the sticky rice and set aside
Preparing the Yomogi (Japanese Mugwort)
Collect a big plastic bag of young yomogi leaves. They grow wild in the Japanese and Korean countryside, in parks and even just next to roads. Foraging best done between March and May when the leaves are sufficiently sized, but still tender. Given we were on the farm in April, Shigemi sent us out to forage for the year's harvest. The surplus can be sun-dried or frozen.
- Remove leaves with brown bits
- Place yomogi in a large basin
- Put a couple of scoops of charcoal ash in a towel bag, and place the bag on top of the yomogi
- Pour boiling water on the ashbag until the basin is full of water. Leave a weight (e.g. a cooking pan filled with water) on the ash bag to keep the yomogi underwater
- The above process removes the bitterness from the yomogi leaves
- Drain the basin and squeeze the water out of the yomogi
Preparing the Azuki (Sweet Red Beans)
- Wash and drain 300g of azuki
- Bring the beans to a boil, boil for 5 minutes, then drain the water. This removes the bitterness from the beans
- Refill the pot with water and bring the beans to a boil again, then lower the flame as much as possible and let the beans continue to simmer until their skins have cracked
- Drain the beans
- Mix 3 tablespoons of white sugar and 1 tablespoon of unrefined sugar into the beans
- Shape the bean paste into little balls (about 2cm in diameter)
Making the Mochi
- Steam the soaked sticky rice for about 20 minutes
- Add a thick layer of yomogi on top of the rice and steam for about a couple of minutes
- Transfer the steamed yomogi to a mortar and use a mochi hammer (or pestle) to pound the yomogi (use short sharp quick movements of the hammer)
- Remove the yomogi from the mortar and set aside
- Transfer the sticky rice to the mortar
- Use a mochi hammer to pound the sticky rice into a smooth sticky dough (short sharp quick movements of the hammer)
Shigemi says she's never seen WWOOFERS make mochi with such...such... what's the word, Chris?
I osso say! A very respectable effort, when compared with these veterans.
- Add the pounded yomogi into the rice dough, and pound with long strokes of the hammer (swing the hammer from directly overhead) to mix the yomogi into the dough. Pound as quickly a possible – the rice dough is malleable only when it's still warm
- When the dough and yomogi is smoothly mixed, cut / pull out balls of dough (about 4 cm in diameter)
- Wet both your hands, and flatten out the dough ball in your palm. Make the edges of the patty thinner than the middle
- Place an azuki ball in the middle of the patty
- Fold in the corners of the patty (and the resulting smaller corners
- Turn the mochi upside down, wet your hand again, and use both your hands to make quick circular movements in opposite directions. Use your thumb to smooth out the shape of the mochi
(Pardon the light. We were all working at night in the backyard kitchen!)
- Sprinkle rice powder on a tray
- Roll the mochi on the rice powder and lay out in rows in the tray. This way they won't stick to each other
Serving the Mochi
- Toast It! Place the stuffed mochi on a charcoal grill or in a toaster oven, and warm for a few minutes, until the mochi develops a light golden crust. Watch out! The mochi will expand, and if left alone the azuki will erupt from the mochi. Shigemi says this will produce a heavenly smell, but quite a sticky mess!
- Soup It Up! Use some of the dough to roll into plain mochi balls to eat with boiled sweetened azuki soup (right). To make the soup, add boiling water to the cooked azuki and sweeten to taste. Shigemi's mother enjoyed this so much she had 3 mochi balls in her soup for dinner, while the boys and I could only manage 1 each!
Old school mochi, made this way without preservatives, keeps for only 2 to 3 days at most. So if you've made more than you can eat, be sure to spread the love around.