rice

Easy Vegan Mexican Rice

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Last night we had a little get together for D’s birthday. He’s the JET (that’s the program I’m here with) ALT (assistant language teacher) that’s been in Mimasaka “city” for the longest between him, A and me.

I am so thankful for D. If it wasn’t for him, I would have had to do a lot more biking around to find where I can purchase pretty plates, pay utility bills and buy avocados. Though if you can remember/have been following for that long, I still did A LOT of initial biking/adventuring around. But in all seriousness, D has been amazing and I would have had an even harder time surviving this place without his friendship and ability to speak both Japanese and English. Ari-ga-to brother.

Anywho, D is from Jamaica but since I don’t know anything about Jamaican food other than the incredible Jamaican banana fritters he made us once (sweet, savory and cinnamony all at the same time), I opted for Mexican cuisine seeing as it’s relatively easy to throw a Mexican/taco night.

From my previous experience of Mexican nights in Japan thus far…A and I stuck to the basics, mince, guacamole, chopped veggies, sour cream, jalapenos, shredded cheese and of course, tortillas. But this time, I also made a super easy/lazy but healthy “Mexican” vegan rice (below). For dessert/cake we simply topped a chocolate brownie with plain yoghurt and strawberries.

2 cups long-grain brown rice
1 onion, chopped small
2 cups frozen mixed carrot, peas and corn
1 can of preservative-free pinto beans, drained
1 can whole peeled tomatoes
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp hot chili powder
salt and pepper

First, cook rice as per packet instructions – this is probably the trickiest part… try not to over-cook like moi.

In a large pan, fry onion with a little oil until golden.

Add mixed veggies and stir-fry for 5-10 minutes.

Add everything else, pinto beans, tomatoes, turmeric, cumin, chili, salt and pepper and cooked rice then mix to combine.

Cook for a further 5 or so minutes or until everything’s steamin’.

Eat as a side-dish, as a main-dish or stuffed inside a burrito.

New Year’s in Japan

The following extract is from education.asianart.org cos aint nobody got time to write a blogpost. Just joking, not really, but I will say a word or two. First, that I’m so darn lucky, I got to experience mochi pounding TWICE this year since I live so rural and second that the mochi, the adzuki beans (used to make the red bean paste, anko) and the soybeans (used to make soy bean powder, kinako) were all grown and made by hand by my lovely hosts. Also, that the old lady (obachan) pictured below is a great-grandmother and 94!

JOY JOY JOY! Happy New Year, y’all!

In Japan, mochi (sticky rice dumpling) is a tasty treat made to commemorate special occasions, most notably the New Year. Once essential to the New Year celebration, the practice of pounding mochi together, or mochitsuki, is now rare even in Japan, as busy people eat store-bought mochi rather than make their own. Traditionally, glutinous rice is washed and soaked overnight on the evening before the pounding.

The next morning the rice is steamed and placed in the usu (large mortar) where it is pounded with a kine (wooden mallet). Once the mass is soft and smooth, it is pulled into various sizes and shapes. It can be enjoyed a variety of ways: fresh, with different sauces, sweet stuffing, or seaweed.

An offering to the kani (deity), called kagami-mochi (mirror mochi), is comprised of two mochi cakes usually placed on a sheet of pure white paper in the center of a wooden tray. and topped with a bitter orange (daidai). Kagami-mochi is placed on the family altar during the New Year as an auspicious gesture that signifies hope for a happy and bright year ahead.

Mochi is used to make a variety of traditional sweets and it can be eaten right away or cured and dried for later use. When it is cured, it hardens and can be cooked with red beans, vegetables or soups. It is also popular toasted on top of a stove, dipped in a variety of flavorings such as soy sauce and sugar or coated with toasted soy bean powder. Toasted mochi inflates to several times its original size, forming a crisp crust with a soft, chewy interior.

The exact origin of mochi is unknown, though it is said to have come from China. The cakes of pounded glutinous rice appear to have become a New Year’s treat during Japan’s Heian period (794–1185). As early as the tenth century, various kinds of mochi were used as imperial offerings at religious ceremonies. A dictionary dating from before 1070 calls the rice cake “mochii.” Around the eighteenth century, people began to call it “mochi.” Various theories explain the name. One is that “mochi” came from the verb “motsu,” “to hold or to have,” signifying that mochi is food given by God. The word “mochizuki” means “full moon.”
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image[11]image[6]image[1]image[14]image[9]image[2]image[4]image[8]image[12]image[3]image[10]image[5]Oh, and just to confuse y’all a little more, the very first image is where the rice cooks and the last images are of tochimochi being mixed into red bean paste or in Japanese, anko.

THANK YOU VERY MOCHI!

Yesterday, I went to the Miyamoto Musashi festival where I tried fresh mochi for the first time. Mochi is a Japanese rice cake made of mochigome, a short-grain japonica glutinous rice. The rice is pounded into paste and molded into the desired shape.

Traditionally, mochi is made from whole rice, in a labor-intensive process.

  1. Polished glutinous rice is soaked overnight and cooked.
  2. The cooked rice is pounded with wooden mallets (kine) in a traditional mortar (usu). Two people will alternate the work, one pounding and the other turning and wetting the mochi. They must keep a steady rhythm or they may accidentally injure one another with the heavy kine!
  3. The sticky mass is then formed into various shapes (usually a sphere or cube).

Here’s a picture of the professionals smashing mochi:
Note: the lady in white is in charge of turning and wetting the mochi (at the same time as protecting her hands from being mince meat).
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Here’s a picture of me smashing mochi:
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Here’s a picture of me about to smah some anko (read bean) and kinako (soy bean flour) mochi in a whole other sense:
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The verdict? Delicious! And tiring to swallow – much chewing is needed! Although an unfamiliar texture, fresh mochi is seriously tasty and nothing compared to regular mochi. If you get the chance, you should seriously try it. Kinako (soybean flour) was my favorite. Ahh if only I could eat fresh mochi more often!

Fun fact (actually, come to think of it, it’s more a depressing fact):
Suffocation deaths caused by mochi are surprisingly common in Japan and in particular; among the elderly citizens. According to the Tokyo Fire Department which responds to choking cases, mochi sends more than 100 people to the hospital in TOKYO ALONE per annum. Between 2006 and 2009, 18 people died from choking on mochi in Tokyo and in just 2011, there were 8 mochi-related deaths in the Japanese capital. Most likely, other localities suffered also.

For this reason, every year, Japanese authorities warn people to cut mochi into small pieces before eating it. The Tokyo Fire Department even has a website offering tips on how to help someone choking on mochi! Who would have known!