June 16, 2016

Okay, so maybe it's not poor man's mochi so much as lazy man's mochi—or "lazy person's mochi," but that doesn't have much of a ring to it, now does it?

Mochi is a traditional Japanese sweet, typically made from sticky mochi rice. It is a long, labor-intensive process that involves cooking, and then pounding rice into a sticky mush with a gigantic mallet. This recipe, however, is for warabi mochi, which is fast, easy, and just as delicious as rice mochi. What's not to love?



  • 3 C (600 ml) Soymilk1
  • ¾ C (150 ml) Agave Nectar
  • ¾ C (150 ml) Potato Starch2
  • ¾ C (150 ml) Cold Water
  • 3 pinches salt
  • Kinako (for rolling)3

Recipe Notes:
1) I realize that 3 cups ≠ 600 ml, but that's how measuring cups are labeled here, so I'm going with it. The proportions are simple though (4:1:1:1) so it easily scales regardless.
2) So there's some debate about this ingredient. Saki said she used chestnut starch, but the person who's kitchen we were in said the only starch in her kitchen was potato! According to research it's traditionally made with warabi starch, which is from the root of a kind of fern. In the end I think a lot of different starches would work. I made it last night with potato starch, which is easy to find, and it was yummy.
3) Kinako is roasted soybean powder. It is common in Japanese sweets, but may seem unusual to you at first. (I've never heard an american say "can I get some soybean powder for my chocolate cake, please?") Give it a shot though, it's pretty tasty! You should be able to find it at an asian/Japanese grocery store.
** You may want to adjust the amount of agave to taste, and depending on whether or not the soymilk or kinako are pre-sweetened. Another variation is to use different flavored soymilk, or you favorite other kind of non-dairy milk. You can also adjust the starch if you like it a little bit softer (closer to pudding) or firmer (and more chewy).

The process is pretty simple, as you can see in the video to the right (click to play). Mix the soymilk, agave nectar, and salt in a pot. Dissolve the potato starch in a bowl with the cold water. Use your fingers to make sure it's all dissolved (this part feels cool/funny too, because water+starch=oobleck). Mix the starch slurry into the soymilk. Over med-low heat, stir continuously, scraping the bottom with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. The mixture will thicken pretty quickly once it heats up. Keep stirring to make sure it doesn't get lumpy, or burn on the bottom. Once it's thick and gloopy, remove from heat and transfer to a baking dish. Spread it out evenly, maybe ¾" thick, and put it in the fridge for an hour or more to firm up.

Once firm, slice it into squares, and roll them in kinako. It can be eaten as-is, or served in a bit of soymilk and/or topped with some syrup (e.g., agave, molasses, barley malt), as pictured above. So that's it: easy, delicious, and relatively healthy. Enjoy!


I met Saki when she visited the home-stay where I was wwoofing in Fukui Prefecture. She was helping to cater an event, and shared this lovely recipe with us. She lives in Tokyo where she's an apprentice at a vegan restaurant. The restaurant is vegan for interesting reasons, about which I wrote about in "A Daily Feast," but Saki avoids animal products primarily out of concern for health and animal welfare.

Originally she just tried vegetarianism out of curiosity—her father was avoiding meat for health reasons, and it sounded interesting. But because Saki is such an inquisitive person, she started to read a lot of books on vegetarianism, which addressed the topic from many different angles. One that had a particularly strong impact was "The Ultimate Vegan Guide" by Eric Marcus. After learning of the horrific conditions on factory farms—and knowing from experience that it wasn't that hard to be vegetarian, she figured there's no point in "animals suffering like this for the sake of people's diet." And like many people, once she learned of the suffering of animals, and of the alternatives, she decided to eat a plant-based diet.

In the fall she hopes to make it into a food anthropology graduate program to study the ways in which humans, animals, and environment can live more symbiotically through sustainable, plant-based food systems. Thanks, Saki, for sharing your recipe, and passion for delicious vegan sweets!