Editor’s note: It’s the fifth day of the new year and every time you open your frig, those trays of glutinous white rice cakes — mochi — are staring you in the eye. “Ahhhhh, I ordered too much,” you say to yourself. “What am I going to do with all this mochi? I’m going to be bachi’d if I toss it out.”
Toss it out?! Don’t even think of doing that . . . because there is a second, even more exciting, life for all of that leftover mochi, as I learned by asking a few friends.
Joanne Ninomiya, founder and former owner of the translation and video production company JN Productions, Inc., came back with some great ideas that gave those plain white rice cakes a total makeover. Here are Joanne’s contributions.
Ideas for Mochi Toppings
Most local families fry their leftover mochi in butter, or they boil it or bake it in a toaster oven sprinkled with combinations of kinako (ground soybean flour) and sugar, or shoyu and sugar or azuki beans.
But how about being creative and giving your mochi a different taste and look?
Use Kiri Mochi (square-cut mochi) or the round ones and cut them into thirds or fourths before cooking. Keep in mind that mochi packs a lot of calories and carbs, so by cutting them smaller, you can get more bites with toppings. I cut my Kiri Mochi into three pieces and then cut those three pieces in half again for a total of six pieces. You can either bake the mochi pieces in a toaster oven or fry them in a skillet. If you use a toaster oven, place your mochi on a piece of foil lightly coated with Pam, butter or oil and set it at 375 to 400 degrees for about eight to 10 minutes or until the top of the mochi gets puffy. Remove the mochi from the oven or pan and place the pieces on a large plate.
And now for my toppings.
Natto (fermented soybeans)
Option 1: Spread natto seasoned with the sauce that comes with the container, or plain shoyu. Top with chopped green onions.
Option 2: Natto topped with daikon oroshi (grated radish) and green onions. A mild shoyu-based sauce such as Ohana Shoyu, which is a slightly sweetened umami sauce sold by Aloha Tofu, is good over the daikon. Bonus tip: Ohana Shoyu is good alternative to plain shoyu if you are eating your mochi just fried.
Option 3: Natto and cheese. Use a soft, melty cheese such as Gruyere, Brie, cheddar or Gouda if you want to go highbrow, although Kraft Velveeta works just as well. It may sound strange, but natto goes very well with cheese.
Mochi topped with cheese and sprinkled with furikake (nori flakes).
Mochi topped with cheese and bacon.
Kinako is ground soybean flour, so it’s quite healthy. It’s brown and mostly tasteless, although it does have a slightly nutty flavor. I make a dry mixture of kinako and sugar — 2/3 part kinako and 1/3 part sugar — with a pinch of salt. You can add more sugar if you have a sweet tooth.
Option 1: Kinako and peanut butter. Place a dollop of peanut butter on the mochi, sprinkle unsweetened kinako over it and drizzle with honey. This is my personal favorite of all of the sweet mochi toppings.
Other easy topping ideas: Yude Azuki (azuki beans) from a can is already sweetened, so you can pour it over the mochi straight from the can. Ikura (salmon roe) is pricey, but it, too, goes well with mochi.
Some, or all of the above options, are extra tasty when wrapped with nori (dried seaweed sheet). Actually, by wrapping them in nori, they’re easier to handle. Cut one sheet of nori into fourths to wrap around the mochi. Think temaki sushi, and surprise! — the peanut butter, kinako and honey topping is delicious wrapped in nori!
Lightly sauté green bell pepper, onion, mushroom, spinach leaves or non-watery extra veggies in olive oil with a touch of salt for about one minute. Before the veggies wilt, add a dash of sake and some umami dashi, if you prefer, and set aside. Clean the frying pan and coat generously with butter or olive oil and then add about five pieces of cut mochi to the pan. When the mochi has softened, layer cheese (I prefer Gruyere, Brie, cheddar or Gouda) over it and add the veggies, draining all accumulated liquid. Add more cheese if you like and top with crumbled bacon, cooked ham or sausage and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Since the frying pan is amply oiled, your complete mochi pizza should slide easily from the pan to a large plate. Season with ketchup and Kewpie mayonnaise. If your mochi is precut, it will be easier to serve each person.
Another friend, Arlene Sato, a retired school cafeteria manager and a fellow 100th Battalion daughter, credits her grandmother for some of her leftover mochi ideas.
“My grandma taught me to put the frozen mochi directly from the freezer onto an ungreased frying pan, turning several times to heat it, with a cover. I like mine kind of crispy on the outside.” Arlene said the mochi is done when the inside is soft. “Dip in a bowl of very hot water, then roll in a kinako-sugar mixture.”
Arlene had another good idea. She suggests stuffing the defrosted mochi in an aburage, or fried bean curd (or tofu) pocket. “Use a toothpick to close the aburage. Add this to a pot of oden (a one-pot Japanese stew containing daikon, konnyaku, eggs, fishcake).”
Finally, Grant “Sandaa” Murata, the Herald’s advertising and promotions manager, who is interested in all things Okinawan, makes Okinawa Zenzai with his leftover mochi and shared this recipe with you.
In Okinawa, regular Zenzai is made with azuki red beans. However, most Uchinanchu prefer “Okinawa Zenzai,” made from kintoki mame, which are slightly larger red-colored beans that taste a little bit like kidney beans. In Okinawa, they are sometimes referred to as “Okinawa Zenzai Mame.” Kintoki mame is sold locally at Times Supermarkets as “Small Red Beans.” They are less expensive than buying azuki red beans.
2 cups Kintoki Mame (or “Small Red Beans”)
1 cup Kokuto (Okinawan brown sugar, although local brown sugar works, too)
3/4 cup white sugar
Dash of Hawaiian salt
Leftover New Year’s mochi
Soak beans in water overnight. Be sure to cover the beans with at least 2 inches of water since the beans will swell in size.
Transfer soaked beans into a pot and cover with 2 inches of water. (Note: Do not use the water that the beans soaked in overnight.) Bring beans to a boil and then turn down the heat and let them simmer until tender, which may take an hour or longer. If you have a pressure cooker, cook the beans for 25 minutes until tender. Make sure the beans are tender, because once you add the sugar, the beans will get harder.
Add the sugar and Hawaiian salt. As mentioned earlier, once the sugar is added, the beans may get harder so you may have to simmer the beans for a bit longer. After adding the sugar, taste the sweetness and add more sugar according to your taste.
When adding the leftover mochi, you can either toast the mochi in a toaster oven or microwave it until soft. Place a few pieces of the softened mochi into a serving bowl while hot and add the hot beans and broth over it . . . and enjoy.
Okinawa Zenzai is usually eaten ice-cold and sometimes even with unflavored shaved ice on the top. If you want to eat it that way, you may want to make the broth of the beans much sweeter, as the shaved ice will melt and water down the sweetness.