japanese sweet potato cakes

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An old friend of mine from my high school days in Japan asked me today if I could take an old and familiar Japanese dessert and make it healthier and plant-based. The dessert is what the Japanese call simply “sweet potato” or “su-i-to-po-te-to”, to be precise. It’s a sweet and savory dessert that is full of sugar and butter, and tastes so good! While trying to find examples of this dessert to show you, I stumbled upon this hilarious Japanese cooking demo for the dessert where this lady cooks with her poodle (not literally cooks her dog, but you know what I mean). You can watch it here:

I wish I had found this video earlier because I definitely would have added rum to my recipe when I was trying to make it! Anyway, I had two slightly different recipes my friend and I found and I decided to make both. I used a recipe from Hungry Note for version 1 and a recipe from Kyoto Foodie for version 2. In order to make them plant-based, I would need to make substitutions for the egg yolk, butter, milk, and cream. After much research (i.e. googling), I decided I would use silken tofu, avocado, coconut milk and coconut “cream” as my replacers, in that order.

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One thing I was a little uncertain of was how the texture and taste would differ since I wouldn’t be using Japanese sweet potatoes. I can’t find those locally here so I used the regular orange flesh “yams” that I found at the farmer’s market. Japanese sweet potato, or satsumaimo, has a purplish peel and light yellow flesh. It’s a little sweeter than what we call a sweet potato in the States. I found a great article in the Japan Times written by the author of one of my favorite Japanese blogs, Just Hungry, that talks about the history and uses of satsumaimo.

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The verdict — both versions of the sweet potato cakes were very good, taste-wise. Not too sweet, a little caramelized on top, and very creamy. Texture-wise, they were definitely too soft. It was a little softer than sweet potato pie filling, and while it did firm up a bit as it cooled, I still think it lacks the traditional texture. Next time, I will probably keep all the ingredients the same but increase the amount of sweet potato. I would definitely add at least one extra sweet potato, maybe even two. I think that would give it the more potato-y texture that is missing. However, this recipe as it stands has really great flavor, both cooked and uncooked. I could eat it raw as a sweet potato pudding as well. And it’s pretty healthy as far as desserts go, so you could use it as a side with your dinner, or even for breakfast if you wanted. I also think it would make a really great pie filling. I might experiment with baking one of these versions in a pie for Thanksgiving this year. I can’t vouch for how close it is to the original since it’s been over 15 years since I’ve eaten suitopoteto, but since I really enjoyed the flavor, I would definitely not call this experiment a failure!

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japanese sweet potato cakes “suito poteto”, version 1

ingredients

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 1/4 cup coconut “cream” (place can of coconut milk in fridge for 15-20 min. Use the thickened “cream” off the top of the can)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • 1/8 cup silken tofu
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract

directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F.  Bring a medium-sized pot of water to boil on the stove top.
  2. Cut the peeled sweet potatoes in 1/4-inch rounds and then halve and quarter them. Boil for 4-5 minutes until fork tender.
  3. Drain the sweet potatoes and return to the pot. Mash them in the pot over low heat to evaporate a bit of the moisture.
  4. Add the avocado, tofu, and maple syrup to the pot and blend with the potatoes using an immersion blender. (Can also spoon into a food processor or blender)
  5. Gradually add the coconut cream and blend until smooth. Add the vanilla extract.
  6. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or foil. Spoon the mixture onto the tray in any shape you want. If it’s too runny, you can use line a muffin tray and use that instead. Mine made 9 little cakes.
  7. Brush the tops with a bit coconut cream.
  8. Bake for 20-30 minutes until set and golden brown. Place tray on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Place a sheet of wax paper on top of cooling rack and use a spatula to place the cakes on the paper. Cool for another 20-30 minutes. They will firm up more as they cool. Enjoy!

*Notes: Next time, besides increasing the amount of sweet potato, I will also try the following: mash the sweet potatoes by hand, blend everything else in a blender or food processor, then stir the mixture into the hand-mashed sweet potatoes. That may help solve the texture problem and make it less runny.

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japanese sweet potato cakes “suito poteto”, version 2 “kyoto-style”

ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 3 tbsp coconut milk (may substitute other non-dairy milk)
  • 1/4 cup silken tofu
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of salt, optional
  • sesame seeds

directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425˚F.
  2. Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/4-inch rounds and halve and quarter them. Steam for 10-20 minutes until fork tender.
  3. Place in a bowl and add the maple syrup and avocado and begin mashing.
  4. Add in the coconut milk, tofu, cinnamon, and salt.
  5. Form into balls and place onto a lined baking sheet, or spoon into a lined mini-muffin tray as I did.
  6. Top with white or black sesame seeds and bake for 20-30 minutes until set and golden brown on top.
  7. Cool in muffin tray or on baking sheet for 10 minutes before removing. Allow to cool for 10 minutes more on a wire rack. They will firm up a bit as they cool. Enjoy!

*Notes: Next time, besides increasing the amount of sweet potato, I will also try the following: mash the sweet potatoes by hand, blend everything else in a blender or food processor, then stir the mixture into the hand-mashed sweet potatoes. That may help solve the texture problem and make it less runny.

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miso udon with tofu, spinach, and shiitake

20130921-223659.jpgIt rained most of the day yesterday. A little on the chilly side, but not cold enough to light the fireplace yet. I’m looking forward to those days — not the colder temperatures so much, but the coziness of sitting in front of my fire curled up in a blanket with a glass of wine. And my cat plastered to my side, no doubt.

It was still a miserable enough afternoon that some comfort food was in order. I had a lot of spinach to use up and a fresh batch of home-sprouted mung bean sprouts so I thought I would make a vegetarian version of miso chanko-nabe. Chanko-nabe is a one-pot meal that the sumo wrestlers in Japan eat. It’s a hearty meal that consists of broth, vegetables and meat or seafood. There are really no rules to making chanko-nabe. You can put in whatever you want, make the broth however you like.

When we lived in Japan, we would often eat this in the winter months. My mom would cook it on the stove in the kitchen and then transfer it to a pot over a gas burner placed in the middle of the dining room table. Then we could serve ourselves and refill our bowls as needed throughout the meal. There are a lot of Japanese meals that are served in this way, a method of keeping warm in the winter months since most houses are without central heating. Many families sit under a kotatsu together in the evenings for food, television, games, and conversation. A kotatsu is a table covered with a futon, or heavy blanket, with a heat source underneath or built into the table itself. I think this table played a big factor in the creation of much of Japan’s cold-weather cuisine.

For my version of chanko-nabe, I used individually packaged, pre-cooked udon noodles — the kind that cook in 3 minutes. I find mine in the Asian section of my grocery store. If you can only find the dried noodles, you will need to cook them separately before putting them in the pot. Also, if you have leftovers, I recommend storing the noodles separately from the broth, otherwise they will absorb all of the liquid and become very mushy.

I sprinkled some shichimi togarashi over my bowl when serving. Shichimi is a Japanese seasoning blend that literally means “seven flavor chili pepper”. The brand I use contains orange peel, black and white toasted sesame seeds, cayenne, ginger, Szechuan pepper and nori (seaweed). It can be found in most Asian food stores. If you can’t find it, you could probably make your own mix, or just sprinkle a bit of cayenne on top.

Update: I’ve shared this post on Pure Ella’s Comfort Food Potluck Party http://pureella.com/potluck-party-comfort-food-recipes/. Won’t you join in the fun, too?

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miso udon with tofu, spinach, and shiitake

ingredients

  • 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
  • 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 packages instant udon noodles, seasoning packets discarded
  • 1 package firm tofu cut into 1/2-inch squares
  • 2 leeks, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
  • 8-10 shiitake, sliced
  • handful of snow peas, trimmed
  • 3 green onions, the whites sliced into 1 1/-2-inch pieces, the green tops sliced thinly
  • 1 bunch spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 cups bean sprouts
  • 2-4 tbsp miso paste
  • dash of shichimi togarashi
  1. In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil. Lower the heat to medium and add the ginger and garlic. Add the leeks, snow peas, tofu and shiitake and cook for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the green onions, spinach and bean sprouts.
  3. Place the miso in a medium bowl and add a ladleful of hot broth. Whisk until the miso is completely dissolved, then stir the mixture back into the soup. I like a strong miso flavor, so I used 4 tablespoons. Start with 2 and taste the broth after you pour the miso back into the pot, and adjust as desired.
  4. Cook for a few minutes and sprinkle with shichimi togarashi, if desired. Serve piping hot.

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grown up bento, part 1

School started last week which means it’s back to either packing lunches or running across the street to Wendy’s or McDonald’s. I’m trying to stick with the former so I bought myself some cute bento boxes in the hopes that this will help me be creative and excited about packing a lunch, even when my schedule begins to get really crazy. Since I’m following the Vegan Before 6 plan, each lunch needs to be vegan also. So far, I’ve made it a whole week, so that’s progress!

Here is what I packed this week:

Day One 

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1 – Corn salad – fresh corn, cooked edamame (soybeans), cucumber, peach, and tomato. Chop everything up and dress with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste. (Could also add fresh cilantro or basil, fresh mozzarella or feta if non-vegan, experiment with the spices. Get creative!)

2 – Leftover fried tofu from Mad Mex (that’s a bit of vegan sour cream you see in the picture), and honey dew melon

Day Two

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1 – Maple Glazed Tofu with homemade guacamole and refrigerator pickles. There’s a multigrain tortilla hiding under the wax paper below the tofu. I put the guac, tofu and pickles in the tortilla at lunch time. (For guacamole – combine one avocado, juice of one lime, and 1-2 garlic cloves in a food processor or blender. Can also add red onion, cilantro, tomato, tomatillo, etc. For refrigerator pickles — recipe is here on my blog) 

2 – leftover corn and edamame salad from yesterday, and mango and cantaloupe chunks.

Day Three

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1 – leftover guacamole from day two. Under the guac is a multigrain tortilla. The greens are leftover from dinner at a Japanese restaurant the previous night. They’re dressed with sesame oil.

2 – leftover maple-glazed tofu from day two and chunks of cantaloupe. I made a wrap again with the tortilla, greens, guac, and tofu.

Day Four

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1 – cantaloupe chunks and cucumber sticks (I grow Japanese cucumbers in my garden — they’re long and slender, have no seeds, the skin is thin and tasty, and they are burpless. Much crisper and tastier than your average cucumber. Very similar to Persian cucumbers, only about twice as long.)

2 – leftovers from the Japanese restaurant two days earlier – fried rice and zucchini, and seaweed salad (I ordered the seaweed salad appetizer specifically so I could have leftovers for lunch. I knew that it would be too much food with my entrée but I was trying to be proactive).

My bento boxes are made by Bentgo. Each container has a lid and they stack on top of each other. There’s a plastic fork, knife, and spoon that fits in between the two containers and there’s an elastic strap to hold everything together. I got a great deal on Groupon for them, and I love the colors!

japanese potato salad

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I’ve been doing a lot of food blog surfing lately and stumbled upon a number of great Japanese home-cooking blogs. These are the foods that I miss the most — not sushi and the basic American-friendly foods you might find in the Japanese restaurants around here. The foods I miss are the ones that my friends’ mothers would serve us when they had us over for dinner. The mother in one household that my sisters and I visited often was a wonderful cook — I have great memories of the amazing dishes she would serve us. Before my parents moved away from Japan permanently, they had us all over for a farewell meal and she prepared all of my favorite dishes, included potato salad bread. I know, it’s starch on starch, but it was absolutely amazing.  Continue reading