Strawberries and red bean paste fill these delicate mochi desserts. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)

Strawberries and red bean paste fill these delicate mochi desserts. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)

On the strawberry patch: The zen of Mochi

This delicate Japanese sweet takes patience to master

I thought I was dreaming when the cranes woke me early Sunday morning.

I looked out on the ice and saw the little family of three padding along and joyfully announcing their return to their summer home. I remembered the birth of their little chick, the fluffy, gangly baby who has grown into the majestic adolescent I see now, and I am so grateful to witness life’s circle turning.

It has been a trying springtime for me and my family, a time of urgency and painful transition, but the return of the cranes has sparked new hope in me.

In Japanese tradition, the crane is a symbol of love, good fortune and longevity, and it is said that a person who folds 1,000 origami cranes will be gifted one wish by a deity.

I have never been patient or meticulous enough to master the art of paper folding, but I am willing to try for the chance that my wish might be granted, and the cloud over my heart might be dissolved in a ray of sunshine to be carried away on the wings of the cranes.

This Japanese dessert is also meant for good luck, and requires the zen of experience to master. It is a fitting challenge for a time dedicated to growth and acceptance of the order of life.

Strawberry Red Bean Mochi

Ingredients for red bean filling:

1 cup dried red azuki beans

¾ cup brown sugar

Pinch salt

Directions for bean paste:

Boil beans in water for 2 hours until mushy.

Drain and press through a fine mesh strainer to remove the skins.

Allow the excess water to separate from the bean solids, then gently pour out the excess water.

Add sugar and salt and stir to combine.

Note: If you can find a can of sweet red bean filling in an Asian grocery store you will save yourself a lot of time, but the flavor will be slightly different.

Ingredients for mochi:

1 cup sweet rice flour

¼ cup sugar

1 cup water

Cornstarch for dusting

8 strawberries (small to medium sized, washed, thoroughly dried and top removed)

Directions:

Mix the rice flour, sugar and water in a microwave-safe bowl.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes.

Remove and stir, cover again, and microwave for another 30 seconds.

The dough will be very sticky and hot.

Generously dust your surface with cornstarch and turn the dough out onto it.

Cover the top of the dough with cornstarch as well.

Use a sharp knife or pastry cutter to divide the dough into 8 equal portions.

Gently flatten one portion of dough into a disk.

Spread about a teaspoon of bean paste onto the center of the disk, then place your strawberry in the center.

Very gently wrap the dough up to cover the strawberry. Use plenty of cornstarch on your hands to prevent sticking and handle them delicately or the dough may tear.

Roll the ball in your hands for 30 seconds to be sure it is sealed.

Store the mochi seamside down.

Repeat with the rest of the dough and strawberries.

Store in the refrigerator and eat within three days.

The leftover bean paste is delicious on toast and pancakes or stirred into oatmeal for a sweet protein boost. If you want to skip the red bean paste entirely, chocolate hazelnut spread would be an outstanding substitute.

For ice cream mochi, use a small scoop to portion balls of ice cream onto a tray and freeze solid before wrapping in mochi dough. Return immediately to the freezer and store frozen until ready to serve. Green tea ice cream and mango sorbet are popular choices for this application.

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