Japanese sweet potato balls さつまいも茶巾しぼり

Japanese Sweet Potato Balls

This recipe comes from the same cookbook as the 5-coloured glutinous rice balls in milk soup I made earlier, a book of Japanese autumn & winter wagashi entitled 《和果子.和甘味 (秋冬篇)》 (in Chinese and English).

It’s also part of my attempt to make teatime snacks from a variety of ingredients as part of food rotation to deal with food intolerances.


200g yellow core sweet potato [used orange flesh type instead]
200g purple core sweet potato [found this Thai-origin variety at Sheng Siong]
4 Tbs butter [used coconut oil for added flavour & aroma, but effect was rather strong]
2 Tbs milk [used more than this]
4 Tbs granulated sugar [omitted as sweet potatoes already sweet]
1 Tbs rum [omitted]


1) Peel, rinse and slice sweet potatoes and steam until well cooked, about 15 mins

2) Separate the two kinds of sweet potatoes and mash them in two separate bowls.

3) Divide other ingredients into two portions and add to each bowl of mashed sweet potato. Some varieties of sweet potatoes (such as Japanese sweet potatoes, satsumaimo) have lower water content and more milk is required to get a smooth paste. For the purple sweet potato, I had to use quite a bit more than 1 Tbs. Added a bit at a time until the texture of the puree looked OK.

4) Sieve each colour of sweet potato puree by forcing through a large sieve with a wooden spoon so as to remove coarse fibres. I found the orange sweet potato to be especially fibrous. Be careful not to contaminate the sweet potato with the other colour.

5) Take a wet cloth and put 10g of each kind of sweet potato in the centre. Wrap up and twist the top then shape the sweet potato into the shape of a ball. Repeat until all the sweet potato is used up.

Verdict: I enjoyed the subtle natural flavours of the sweet potato, but the 2Tbs of coconut oil was rather overwhelming, perhaps I’ll use half butter next time.

The sieving took some patience but the hardest part was carefully forming the dual-coloured balls into a presentable looking shape. The balls are very soft so once you have removed them from the cloth, you can’t touch them again or their beautiful shape will be destroyed. I made up just enough balls for immediate consumption then stored the leftover sweet potato puree in two separate containers in the fridge.

Okara oatmeal cookies

I had to find something to do with the okara leftover from making soya bean milk to go with glutinous rice balls, and it so happened that I also needed to make something dry and snacky. Hence I chose this Okara Oatmeal Carob Chip Cookies recipe.

Okara oat cookies

I have carob but not any carob chips, nor any nuts as required by the recipe so I decided to leave those out. When I actually started to make the cookies, I had a closer look at the recipe and thought to myself that 1/4 cup vegetable oil & 1/2 cup honey really didn’t look like enough to hold together 2 cups of okara+flour+oats (not including 1/2 cup worth of carob chips & nuts) but I decided just to wing it anyway. So making this cookie was a bit of a rollercoaster ride!

Here are the ingredients I used:

  • 1 cup okara (soybean meal)
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1-1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil [ended adding much more]
  • 1/2 cup honey [ended adding much more]
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

The oil and honey just wasn’t enough to bind together the dry ingredients so I kept adding gradually more of both oil and honey until it all started clumping together – don’t ask me how much extra I added but it was probably more than 1 cup full of liquids in total in the end. It turned out a little bit too sweet for my taste and honey is high in salicylates (hence a chance of an intolerance reaction in me) so I wish hadn’t added so much.

However, even then, I couldn’t get it to stay in drop cookie shapes on the baking tray so I gave up and pressed the whole thing into one large sheet on the cookie tray. Put into oven at 170°C. Whilst baking, the baking soda made the dough swell up and this helped all the ingredients stick together. Had to watch the ‘cookies’ very carefully as I didn’t follow the shaping instructions. When they started to look brown, I took the tray out of the oven. The ‘cookies’ seemed very soft and oily at this point though.

Then I recalled that the Anzac cookies I made before behaved in much the same way. They were also difficult to shape (but easier than these ones) and were terribly soft when removed from the oven. Upon cooling, they hardened into proper cookies.

So I left the tray of cookie mixture, which looked a lot like muesli or granola at this point, to cool. It hardened nicely then when I attempted to cut it with a knife, it broke into lots of small pieces and oats. However, breaking it by hand into cookie-sized shapes worked very well.

They turned out as quite nice cookies in the end and have been rapidly gobbled up by other members in my family too.

2/2/08 update: see also my attempt at rolled oats, okara and almond bars.

Soy bean fibre (okara)


After making soya bean milk to go with glutinous rice balls, I had plenty of soya bean fibre, (Japanese: okara; Chinese: 豆渣 , leftover from the process of making soya milk. I’ve only recently learnt that okara is commonly used in Japanese cooking.

One of the Japanese wagashi cookbooks I have, 《和果子.和甘味 (秋冬篇)》, has recipes for Soybean Fibre and Dried Shrimp Cracker as well as Honey Soybean Fibre Cookies. Just Hungry’s instructions on how to make soya bean milk also tell us about okara, and she also has suggestions on how to use okara in savoury foods as well as baking. Zlamushka explains how she makes soy milk, okara and yuba (soya bean skin) and the many ways she uses okara, such as to make breakfast cereal.

This website suggests several ways in which to use okara:

  • Use to add body to soups, stews, mashed potatoes, and cream sauces.
  • Mix with cottage cheese and chopped vegetables and seasonings to make a spread for bread.
  • Stir a little into porridge and weaning foods.
  • Use in mashed vegetables and nshima.
  • Add to bread dough and other baked goods. Substitute up to 1/3 of the flour in a baking recipe with okara, but be sure to reduce the liquid ingredients to compensate for the moisture content of the okara.
  • Use for dips and spreads by adding your favorite herbs and spices.
  • Use as a base for making patties, meatloaf, meatballs, sausages, burgers, and polenta. When using okara for patties or meatballs, add the sauce at the last minute, as it does not have the texture to hold up in liquid.

More information on okara:
* Read more about the history and use of soybean fibre in China, Japan, Indonesia as well as Europe and America here.
* Nutritional values of okara here.
* Important tips on using raw or cooked okara in baking here.

Some okara recipes:
* Okara stew, okara rice fritters, okara dumpling soup, okara corn soup, okara oat flakes pancakes, homemade soy noodles

* Soy okara muffins, okara nut bread

* Okara almond cookies, okara rice burger, okara & vegetables, okara waffles

* Okara oat coconut cookies (in Chinese)

* Okara cookies with sesame seeds (in Chinese)

Chewy pumpkin cake 南瓜餅

Project no. 2 in learning how to use alternative flours and different carbohydrates as part of food rotation to deal with food intolerances.

After the unsuccessful shredded yam cake, I tried out this Chewy Pumpkin Cake (Lam Gua Paeng 南瓜餅) which used mainly glutinous rice flour, which I’d already got plenty of practice with making glutinous rice balls, and wheat starch, which I was keen to try out for the first time.

Chewy Pumpkin Cake

The recipe is from Dim Sum by Chan Chen Hei, the same recipe book I got the shredded yam cake recipe from. Again I did some major adaptation of the recipe. The original has a filling of desiccated coconut, sugared melon strips, ground peanuts, white sesame seeds and sugar, but I decided to make mine without any filling.

Ingredients for the chewy pumpkin dough:

pumpkin flesh – 150g, steamed & mashed
glutinous rice flour – 150g
wheat starch flour – 55g
sugar – 20g (reduced from original 75g given in recipe book)

sesame seeds for coating

Started by combining the dry ingredients thoroughly, then adding enough water to form a pliable dough. The texture was different from the glutinous rice balls, not so powdery. The wheat starch gives the dough a glossy sheen when cooked (it is also what helps to produce the translucent skin for har gow prawn dumplings).

I then cut the dough into 25 portions, using the same method as with the glutinous rice balls: rolling the dough into a cylinder which I divided into five sections, then rolled out each of those sections and cut into five pieces again (with the help of my cutting sheet with measurements). After shaping the pieces into round balls, I flattened each of them.

The next step was to steam the cakes for 3 minutes (I didn’t time, just checked the colour through the glass lid of my wok). I forgot to oil the steaming plate first, and it was hard to peel the chewy pumpkin cakes off the plate when they were done!

According to this information, when it comes to glutinous rice flour, steaming creates a chewy texture and boiling a softer texture. The glutinous rice balls I have been making are all cooked by boiling.

The instructions say to let the pumpkin cakes cool before coating in sesame seeds. I found that they were more sticky when hot, allowing more seeds to stay stuck on.

I then ended up making with two versions:
1) Pumpkin cakes coated in unroasted sesame seeds then pan-fried, as directed in the original recipe (photo below). Stored unfried pieces in the fridge, to be fried only at the time of eating. Frying gives the cakes a crispy exterior. Bearing in mind the horrible results from using too little oil to fry my shredded yam cakes, I shallow fried the pumpkin cakes in about 0.5cm depth of virgin coconut oil. This was my first time using coconut oil, and it added a very fragrant overtone. (Read the current thinking on health and coconut oil here.)

2) Pumpkin cakes coated in pre-roasted sesame seeds (photo above). Fragrant and chewy — delicious. Stored leftovers in fridge and reheated in microwave when I wanted to eat. This version is less oily of course and just as delicious.

Chewy Pumpkin Cake Fried

Verdict: super-easy to make & tastes excellent! (^_^)

Chinese shredded yam cake 芋絲餅

This was the first of my attempts at learning how to make Asian snacks as a way of rotating foods and reducing consumption of wheat flour, as Canton Pixie suggested in the comments here.

Shredded yam cake

This recipe from a Dim Sum cookbook was attractive because I already had the ingredients at home and the instructions seemed very straightforward. In the book it’s called Fried Shredded Yam, or Wu Xi Paeng 芋絲餅 in Cantonese. The original recipe calls for

shredded yam – 800g
minced pork – 150g
cornflour – 75g
salt – 55g
sugar – 55g [can omit]
five spice powder – a pinch
sesame oil – a dash
cooking oil

I decided to leave out the pork to make it less of a heavy, savoury dish. And that was the start of my cooking disaster!! I forgot that I would need to reduce the amount of cornflour to accommodate the omission of 150g of minced pork. The result was a rather hard and unpalatable cake.

I also halved the amount of sugar (which I plan to completely omit next time, I didn’t feel it contributed to the taste) and put in about a fifth of the amount of salt, which was just nice.

The preparation method involves mixing the main ingredients together, and adding just enough water to bind the mixture together. Spread thinly in a baking tin and steam over boiling water for 25 minutes.

My steaming also didn’t go so well and took ages. I think it was because I used a pot into which the round cake tin I used fit just exactly, so there wasn’t much room for the steam to circulate around and above the yam cake.

In the final step, the recipe says to let the steamed cake cool down, cut into pieces, then pan-fry until ‘crisp and fragrant’. You can see the result in the photo above – it tasted dry and hard on the outside, rather than crisp, possibly because I didn’t use enough oil. For subsequent pieces, I decided not to fry the yam cake at all (which also means less oil).

Verdict: try again!! *sigh*

Food Rotation and ‘exotic’ foods

Food rotation is something I have been thinking about for some time, but have never tried to implement it in any serious or organised fashion.

Recently, I came across the Special Foods website, a company which specialises in “products are for persons with food allergies and/or intolerances, chemical sensitivities, mold allergies, for persons on rotation diets, for persons interested in incorporating Special Foods!TM into their diets for a variety of nutritional and health reasons, and for the adventuresome gourmet.” The website doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2002 so I’m not sure if the business is still functioning.

In any case, I found the sample of a seven-day rotation diet to be very interesting because of the number of “exotic: foods included which really aren’t exotic to residents of the Malayan peninsula. See how many familiar foods you can spot:

Food Rotation 7 days

[N.B. ‘jicama‘ is actually our humble bangkuang; cassava = tapioca; malanga= I’m not sure but the photo sure looks like the mini yams found in the supermarket.]

All this is quite inspiring because it means that it’s quite possible to manage a rotation diet based on familiar tastes and everyday foods in Singapore. Entirely new ingredients can be confusing to cook and disconcerting in taste. Although I love soba, which is made from buckwheat flour, in my experience, buckwheat grains do not make an easy substitute for rice :P.

The meat section on this list looks a bit harder but it really shouldn’t be because even Carrefour sells crocodile meat :)!! Common Singapore dishes already include a large variety of fish and shellfish as well as lamb and goat. (An excuse to eat oyster omelette and sup kambing?!?…need to find a way round the various spices and garnishes, and given how oily both these dishes are, not recommended for regular consumption!) The oil section is definitely the most difficult. Unusual oils can be extremely expensive for one thing. I’ve not tried most of the oils on the list — I wonder if they have any strong and distinctive taste?

Since so many of these ‘exotic’ foods are already common in the local diet, perhaps we are already naturally rotating our foods a fair bit? As I have been on an extremely restricted diet for a while, I’m now trying to gradually expand my range but also to avoid triggering food sensitivities by making more of an effort at food rotation. Learning how to use non-wheat flours is first up on my list.

Fermented bean paste & Japanese organic products

The miso fish & pumpkin recipe I recently wrote about is actually quite close to a fairly common Chinese fish dish, as you can see here and here. Instead of miso, Chinese fermented soy bean paste (豆酱 or tau cheo in Hokkien dialect) is used instead. A typical jar looks like this.

Concerned about additives and my food intolerances, I have avoided commercial supermarket-shelf Asian sauces for some years now. However, miso is a great substitute for tau cheo, which my family has successfully used even in traditional recipes like Mee Siam, and organic miso is also widely available, in many varieties. I’ve seen a huge range of miso at reasonable prices at Organic Paradise (including macrobiotic grade Mitoku and repackaged Muso brands), plenty of unusual varieties by South River brand at rather exorbitant prices at Brown Rice Paradise. Do choose miso made entirely from soya beans if you want a taste as close as possible to tau cheo.

One thing I’ve noticed is that organic products from Japan can also be found in regular supermarkets, hiding amongst the non-organic products. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve found.

miso organic organic miso (in Isetan supermarket)

Udon organic organic udon (in Meidi-ya)

ocha organic organic ocha (in NTUC Fairprice Finest, Bt Timah Plaza)

Kikkoman organic shoyuKikkoman organic soya sauce (in NTUC Fairprice Finest, Bt Timah Plaza) [N.B.: I am unable to discern the production process of this product, but in my experience of trying different brands of organic shoyu, the twenty-four month fermented Johsen Shoyu from Mitoku really stands out with a rich, deep flavour I have never encountered with any other soya sauce.]

roasted-corn-tea.jpg Korean corn tea at Korean grocery store in Novena Square2.

Look out for the kanji or hangul words meaning organic:

udon youji miso youji ocha youji Korean yugioh

as well as organic certification

udon certification miso certification ocha certification organic certification OFDC