Chilled Sweet Sake Rice & Mint Pudding.

There were days during Ango training in Japan when there was so much okayu (rice porridge) left-over I wondered if there was anything that could be done with it? After some pondering during zazen this was one recipe I came up with that was perfect for when it was super-hot outside. To my surprise the shuso (head monk) asked for the recipe so I jotted it down along with a few other random ideas in a small green note-book and left it in the kitchen at Toshoji. I imagine it’s still there, somewhere tucked between the cookbooks…

This recipe came out of several ideas. Firstly, I recalled some Chinese desserts that were syrupy and soup-like. Then somewhere along the line I’d tasted some sweetened white sake but not sure where, when or how? Lastly, there was all this soft-cooked rice in the fridge from breakfast. The result was “sake pudding” served in little glass bowls during afternoon tea. Nothing was left. Recycling heaven.

The other week, I tried it out on the Zen River residents for the first time, and Gyosei and Shuho heartily approved. Then, at the end of a crowded sesshin when Hojosan and several other Japanese guests were here, I made a bowl big enough to serve fifty. They eagerly took seconds and asked to take the recipe home with them!

If you can find shiso leaves and yuzu zest use those instead, or as well as, lemon zest, orange zest, and mint.

240 ml (1 cup) precooked (sushi or brown) rice
350 ml (1½ cups) cold water
75 g  (⅓ cup)  sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon potato starch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
¼ teaspoon orange zest

160 ml (⅓ cup) sake (rice wine), or to taste
4 large mint leaves 

  • Cover the cooked rice with cold water and loosen the grains so that they separate. Drain well before using.
  • To make the syrup, put the sugar, salt, and the cold water into a pan.
  • Put the pan on a medium flame and bring to the boil.
  • In a small bowl, dissolve the potato starch with a tablespoon of cold water and whisk into the hot syrup stirring constantly to prevent lumps forming. It should thicken quite quickly.
  • When it starts to bubble and thicken, turn off the flame and whisk in the lemon and orange zest. (Note that it will thicken more as it cools in the fridge.)
  • Add the drained rice.
  • Chill in the fridge.
  • Just before serving, cut the mint leaves into thin slivers and stir into the pudding along with the sake.
  • Serve in glass dessert bowls.

Tip: To make the rice from scratch, measure 100 g (120 ml / ½ cup) rice grains, rinse well, drain and put in a small pan. Add about 200 ml (¾ cup + 2 tablespoons) water for white rice, or 250 ml for brown. Cover with a lid. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook on a medium-low flame for about 10-12 minutes for white, or 35-45 minutes for brown. The rice is ready when the steam coming out from under the lid starts to decrease, all the water is, and little indentations appear on the surface. Cool to room temperature before using or it will keep cooking in the syrup and thicken it too much.

Potato starch makes a very clear sauce, however corn starch will  work well too but it’s more opaque and you may have to use 1½ tablespoons to get the same thickness. Kuzu (Japanese arrowroot) is also a good alternative binder like potato starch.

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