With the shortage of flour in supermarkets since the COVID-19 outbreak, I have been inspired to focus on flourless and low-flour recipes. The traditional Japanese cuisine has provided me with much inspiration, as a food tradition that has relied on a wide range of staple ingredients other than grain-based flour. The mountainous nature and the strongly seasonal climate of the Japanese islands have meant that, before modern times, food resources were often limited. This was especially the case with staple grains such as rice, wheat and barley. The Japanese traditionally overcame the shortage of these grains by supplementing with root vegetables (e.g. sweet potato, daikon, taro and potato), pulses (e.g. adzuki and soybeans), ‘mixed grains’ (e.g. millet and buckwheat), and a range of ‘sansai’ or wild vegetables foraged from the countryside and forests (see the feature article on the Japanese ‘sansai’ tradition at https://www.deeplyregionaljapan.com/post/foraging-and-the-japanese-sansai-tradition).
Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) and potato (Solanum tuberosum) are root vegetables of ‘New World’ origin. They were introduced to Japan by the start of the 17th century and became widely cultivated as a back-up to grain crops especially during times of famine—most recently during and after World War II. Until the 1960s, white rice was considered a luxury item in much of the Japanese countryside and it was common practice to steam a mixture of grains (typically white and brown rice, barley and millet) together with pieces of sweet potatoes and other root vegetables—effectively bulking up the quantity of ‘steamed rice’. Apart from the tubers, the softer stems and leaves of the sweet potato plant were also used as green vegetables—the custom still remains in the Okinawan cuisine today. When mashed or processed, both sweet potato and potato provided a source of flour and starch and that supplemented grain-derived flours. It seems poorly known that the Japanese cuisine, alongside the Korean cuisine, has one of the most diverse range of sweet potato and potato recipes of all food traditions around the world.
Here in Australia, both potatoes and sweet potatoes are cheap and abundant—there were mountains of them in shops even during the ‘flour crisis’. They are nutritionally beneficial in terms of their vitamin, mineral and dietary fibre contents. So, why not make use of them for your baking and cooking, rather than looking for that elusive pack of wheat flour?
Over the coming weeks, I will be posting a series of flourless and low-flour recipes inspired by traditional and contemporary Japanese cooking, both savoury and sweet. The recipes not only feature sweet potatoes and potatoes, but also classic Japanese ingredients such as adzuki beans—cultivated by the Japanese since the Jōmon period (14,000–300 BC), ‘mochi’ (sticky rice cake), and even tofu. Several days ago, I kickstarted the recipe series with my post on ‘imo-mochi’, the delicious and very satisfying Japanese sticky potato cakes—if you haven’t yet, please check it out at https://www.deeplyregionaljapan.com/post/the-nugget-effect-imo-mochi-japanese-sticky-potato-cake-memories-of-the-victorian-goldfields. This week, we start off with a few sweet recipes, including a rustic northern Japanese baked rice and sweet potato dessert you can quickly make using left-over steamed rice—with an interesting history that epitomises the frugality of the traditional Japanese culture. For the lovers of sticky desserts, there is the very comforting adzuki and sweet potato mochi, or the potato, bean and tapioca mochi slice. If you are more into Westernised Japanese desserts, give the Japanese creamed sweet potato cake a try. (Apologies for the lean toward dessert recipes this week; more savoury recipes will follow shortly!)
You can download our recipes at https://www.deeplyregionaljapan.com/recipes. I will be uploading more recipes that you’ll never find anywhere else, so be sure to regularly check back at our website. As always, if you have any questions, please contact us via the enquiry form at the bottom of our webpages at www.deeplyregionaljapan.com. Happy cooking!