February 1 marks the beginning of the Lunar New Year. This year is the year of the tiger. As the legend goes, the Jade Emperor challenged all the animals in the Kingdom to a “Great Race.” Whoever arrived at his palace first would win his favor. The Tiger was sure that he had the race in the bag, but ended up placing third after the cunning Rat and workhorse Ox snuck in ahead of him. Thus, Tigers are extremely competitive people, known for their courage and ambition. Tigers are ambitious, but they’re also extremely generous with a drive to help others. Tigers want to win but they’re also always seeking justice.
To celebrate the Lunar New Year I am reposting this story and recipe about my Japanese aunt.
When I was about 14 my Uncle Jim went to Japan met, fell in love, and married a wonderful Japanese woman named Tokaia. She came to live with Uncle Jim in our small part of the world in Pennsylvania. This was a time that I lived in a world of sameness. Everyone was white and Catholic. We lived in identical houses, had the same landscaping, and watched the same 5 o’clock news. It was as culturally different from Japan as you could get.
My sisters and I were fascinated by Tokaia and her efforts to learn English and how she adapted to this new family. She so much wanted to become a genuine part of the family and not just this oddity. Tokaia gamely ate everything that was put in front of her and celebrated all the, foreign to her, holidays with us. But, as we all know, to feel accepted, both sides must share experiences.
So one Christmas, as we were baking cookies, Tokaia told my family that she wanted to prepare something for the Christmas celebration. We all held our breath and wondered what on earth this would be, and were we all brave enough to eat it.
The dish she wanted to prepare involved seaweed wrappers and rice, and NOT Uncle Ben’s. Where on earth were we going to buy these exotic ingredients? But she was prepared. She had found a small Japanese community in Brownsmills, New Jersey.
So off we went on an adventure to a store that sold Japanese foodstuffs in a town we had never visited. A few days later, the next adventure started. Out came the seaweed wrapper, the sweetened prepared rice, and candied fruit. Seaweed, yuk, wasn’t that the stuff we kicked off our feet at the beach? But we overcame our dismay and we made sweet sushi! And what a revelation it was. Just as sweet and tasty as any Christmas cookie. It was the first time I remembered thinking, wow, there are many things out there that I have never seen or tasted, and I am going to figure out how to explore that world.
I could not for the life of me find a recipe that was anything like my Aunt’s. I suppose, like many family recipes, it was her own creation. I did find a fun recipe for dessert sushi from Food 52 and that is what follows:
- 1/2 cup jasmine rice
- 1 1/3 cups light coconut milk (11 ounces)
- 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 ounces quartered strawberries (2-3 medium strawberries)
- 1 1/2 ounces kiwi, sliced into long rectangular strips (3/4 of a medium kiwi)
- 1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted
- Combine rice, coconut milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan and heat over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the mixture boils. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender and sticky. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, mix butter and remaining 4 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl until creamed. Add milk, vanilla, and cocoa powder and mix until smooth; stir in flour and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt.
- Roll chocolate dough into a 12-inch log and place down the middle of a large sheet of waxed paper. Place another piece of waxed paper on top of the log and use a rolling pin to roll the log into a 12×6-inch rectangle. Remove top sheet of waxed paper.
- Spread room temperature coconut rice on top of chocolate dough rectangle in a 12×5.5-inch rectangle, leaving a 1/4-inch border on both long sides of the rectangle. Line up quartered strawberries horizontally down the center of the coconut rectangle. Line up sliced kiwi below the line of strawberries. Roll up dough into a cylinder like a “sushi roll” by lifting up waxed paper and sealing the ends of the dough together. Roll the roll on the counter and press together firmly. Remove waxed paper from the roll and cut into 16 dessert sushi pieces with a sharp knife. Fill in any gaps with extra fruit, if needed.
- Place melted chocolate into small soy sauce containers. Serve dessert sushi with chocolate “soy sauce” and eat with chopsticks! Makes 8 servings.