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

Korean glutinous rice balls in red bean porridge

Just came across this wonderful food blog, 小小米桶的寫食廚房, by a Taiwanese housewife and published food writer, whose nickname is “Xiao Xiao Mitong” (Tiny Rice Tub). The large collection of recipes, including Japanese and Korean ones, is accompanied by plenty of stunning photographs, and annotated with Mitong’s cooking comments.

With Winter Solstice just a couple of days away, the latest posting is for a Korean variation on Chinese tang yuan in red bean soup. Mitong also has a numerous archived recipes for glutinous rice balls, which are also traditionally eaten on the 15th day of the Chinese New Year, Yuan Xiao. See her 2007 recipes here and 2006 ones here. They include filled glutinous rice balls, Hakka savoury tang yuan as well as Japanese-style ones.

Click here to see Mitong’s instructions (in Chinese) and her her delectable photographs for Winter Solstice red bean porridge 冬至紅豆粥 / 동지팥죽.

Unlike the tang yuan in red bean soup I made earlier, the red bean here has been combined with a porridge of glutinous rice (cooked in the liquid from cooking the red beans), and the tang yuan added to this mixture. See also my other postings on glutinous rice balls.

22/12/07 update: Mitong has very kindly allowed me to put up my English translation of her recipe; just in time for Dong Zhi 冬至 today!

Red Bean Porridge with Glutinous Rice Balls

NB 1: The photographs here show a chunky red bean soup, however the in the original Korean recipe, the red bean soup is meant to be a smooth paste. Use a blender to pulverise the cooked beans if you prefer a smooth texture.

NB 2: Do not add anything to the red beans as they are cooking. When serving, you can add a bit of salt or sugar to taste into the serving bowl.

Serves 2-3

Red beans…. 2 cups
Glutinous rice (a.k.a. Japanese sweet rice)…. 1 cup [can substitute with 1/2 glutinous rice, 1/2 regular white rice]
Brown or dark brown sugar OR salt (to taste)
Glutinous rice flour…. 1 cup
Warm water… enough to form the glutinous rice flour into balls

1. Wash red beans, soak in clean water for half a day. Put in pot and boil until soft. Separate the cooked beans from the liquid. Process the red beans into a paste by passing through a sieve or using a blender. The smoother the better.

2. Wash the glutinous rice, soak in water for 2 hrs. Then put into the red bean liquid from (1) and boil until the rice is thoroughly cooked. Occasionally check on the rice while it is cooking and add more water if required so as to control the consistency.

3. When the glutinous rice has been cooked to a porridge consistency, add it to the red bean paste and mix evenly.

4. While the rice porridge is cooking, prepare the glutinous rice balls by mixing the glutinous rice balls with a bit of warm water. You may wish to add 1 small spoonful of ginger juice to the warm water as this will enhance the flavour of the glutinous rice balls.

5. Finally, cook the glutinous rice balls by putting them into the red bean porridge mixture and heating up the porridge. Alternatively, you can cook the glutinous rice balls in a separate pot of hot water, then add them to the red bean porridge.

Korean Roasted Corn Tea

I’d never heard of oksusu-cha before, and simply chanced upon it in the new Korean grocery shop in Square 2 mall at Novena.


Close-up of the roasted barley grains.

Surfing the net, I’ve also just learnt that in Korea, it’s common to mix roasted barley (bori-cha; Japanese: mugicha) with roasted corn to make tea.

My Korean friend tells me that the packet says “Yu-Gi-Nong” (my rudimentary knowledge of hangul tells me that they are the biggest words in the centre of the packet), which can be written in Chinese characters as 有機農 – i.e. organic agriculture.

This website also lists the product I bought as organic, and states the health benefits of roasted corn tea as:

1) Fatigue relief.
2) Reduce high blood pressure.
3) Ease the stomach pain resulting from digestion

Apparently, Korean teas are very different from Chinese and Japanese teas because of the focus on medicinal benefits and the effects on qi. Here’s a page about different kinds of Korean teas. Here’s another article which explains that the establishment of Confucianism as the national religion in the Chosun Dynasty (1392-1910), and corresponding suppression of Buddhism, was the reason for the diminished popularity of camellia sinensis teas, because production of the latter was closely tied to Buddhist temples.

However, besides barley and corn, rice and wheat can also be used to make roasted grain teas, and you can roast them yourself at home. This article tells you how to do so, and also describes the health benefits associated with each type of roasted grain tea.

Roasted grain beverages are common not only in Korea, but also much closer to home. Our Indonesian domestic helper tells me that in her home village, to make the coffee last longer, they roast corn and rice, then grind it and mix it with the coffee and it has a lovely fragrance. No wonder she was so tickled to see the packet of Korean oksusu-cha when I brought it home.

Here are instructions how to brew the roasted corn tea:
A final word of warning: if brewed really strong, oksusucha can be a speedy laxative!

Tea for the caffeine-sensitive person

I love teas but have had to refrain from black teas because of my increasing caffeine-sensitivity. Mainly I get gastric irritation, against which there are some tips here.

Some solutions:

1) Go for low-caffeine or no-caffeine teas: genmaicha, kukicha, houjicha; and teas not made from the camellia sinensus plant: mugicha, Chinese chrysanthemum tea or herbal teas. Korean grain teas are also not made from camellia sinensus. I used to love black tea chai, but have since switched to YogiTea’s Classic India Spice – same fragrant spices, no black tea.

2) Use the cold-brewing method.

3) Discard the first brew (about 30secs). Subsequent brews are significantly lower in caffeine as it would have leeched out in the first brew. However, only fine teas maintain their taste after repeated brewing, and most of the beneficial antioxidants of green teas would have been lost in the first brewing. See also instructions at Steepology tea blog.

Actually, the subject of caffeine in green tea is a complex one; it depends also on the type of leaf and how it is prepared, among other things. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, so perhaps the best thing to do is really try and just see how your own body reacts to different teas brewed in various ways.

Read more:
Seven Ways to Drink Green Tea Without Caffeine
The Truth About Green Tea Caffeine Content