The first time I had kuzumochi was a revelation—it was so different from its mochi flour cousins, which are tenderly chewy and slowly melt as you chew. Kuzumochi has a bit more bite and spring to it, resistant to the teeth at first, but slowly giving way as you bite down.
That was my only experience with kuzu until I came across a recipe for a vegan, gelatin-free panna cotta–like dessert in Atsuko’s Japanese Kitchen by Atsuko Ikeda. Almond milk, the main ingredient, has always been my favorite nondairy milk, so the recipe was an easy sell for me. Ikeda tells me that gomadofu (sesame tofu), a recipe from shojin ryori (Buddhist temple-style cooking), inspired her to develop this recipe. “Gomadofu is made from sesame milk which, in turn, is made out of ground sesame seeds and kuzu starch, to create a silky and delicate texture that is very similar to panna cotta,” she explains. While gomadofu is typically served as a savory dish, usually with flavored soy sauce or a sauce made with miso and sake, Ikeda decided to give it a sweet, nutty twist with almond milk.
So just what is kuzu starch? “Kuzu is derived from the roots of the kuzu plant, which is a type of vine that is native to Japan and China,” Ikeda tells me. Workers harvest the roots in autumn before washing, crushing, soaking them to remove all impurities. Then they dry the roots (either in the sun or in low temperature ovens before grinding them into powder. The entire process takes several days to complete, with most of the time dedicated to the drying stage.
Kuzu (sometimes spelled “kudzu”) is a natural thickening agent, similar to other starches like cornstarch, potato starch, or arrowroot powder. You can find it in small plastic packets in Asian markets or online. Ikeda tells me that cooks typically use it to thicken sauces, soups, and desserts. It’s one of just three ingredients required to make kuzumochi—water and sugar are the other two. Unlike other mochi, which are typically filled with things like anko (sweet red bean paste), custard, and/or fresh strawberries, cooks serve kuzu mochi in unfilled cubes, coated with kinako (toasted soybean powder) and kuromitsu (black sugar syrup). “I definitely love its smooth, silky, slightly springy texture! Because it has a distinctive texture, it is hard to describe, but you will love it too if you love a mochi-ish texture,” Ikeda says.
Ikeda brings some of that springy bounce to her almond tofu dessert. Since gomadofu is so similar in texture to panna cotta, she knew that a sweet version of the classically savory dish would be a hit. “People normally associate this texture with dessert rather than savory, so I adopted the classic Japanese technique to create a vegan version of the classic Italian dessert recipe,” she explains.
The kuzu texture had me hooked—I knew I had to try Ikeda’s recipe. As for kuzumochi, you only need four ingredients (and a pinch of salt) to make the panna cotta–like base: unsweetened almond milk, kuzu powder, and agave syrup. Simply stir the ingredients together in a saucepan, cook over medium heat until the kuzu dissolves, lower the heat to a bare simmer and stir continuously until it thickens (I recommend firing up a podcast, or staring blankly into the middle distance for this part). Once the mixture reaches the consistency you’d expect of a finished pudding—if you draw a line with a spoon on the bottom of the pan, it should not immediately disappear—pour the mixture into a square container (or individual ramekins), cover, and let it cool to room temperature, then chill for at least an hour. Ikeda includes a simple blueberry sauce recipe made with blueberries, lemon juice, and more agave syrup. Do not sleep on the blueberry sauce—it adds a bit of tartness and deep berry flavor that pairs beautifully with the creamy almond custard.
The final dessert is smooth and creamy like you’d expect from panna cotta, but with a slight spring and bounce. Like Ikeda says, the texture is somewhat difficult to describe, but it’s also such a pleasure to experience. Ikeda mentions that you can use any nondairy milk to keep this recipe vegan, but she favors the almond milk for the nuttiness that pairs so well with the blueberry sauce. I also tested her method with dairy milk to great success—you can also add different flavorings, like a splash of vanilla extract or a few drops of almond extract to really highlight the nutty flavor, a dash of cinnamon, or other toppings, like fresh strawberries, chocolate sauce, or warmed cherry preserves. Whether you decide to make the recipe as is or add your own bit of flair, this nutty, creamy dessert will put a little spring in your step too.
News Source: https://www.epicurious.com/expert-advice/how-to-make-gelatin-free-panna-cotta