my mom has been watching a lot of those japanese health programs lately and, in the endless quest to lose weight (all ten extra pounds of it, if that), has latched onto the latest trend in japan - tokoroten. previous faddish and short-lived drastic dietary regimes have included: drinking huge glasses of ground up carrots before every meal (she hates carrots, can you imagine?!!), eating nothing but thick, pulpy fruit puree for two weeks, rubbing this spot on her stomach exactly ten times a day in order to "clean" the blood, and the list goes on. and on. and on. so this tokorten fad did not alarm me at all. in fact, i was quite happy since i like the stuff myself.
for the un-initiated, tokoroten is a noodle made from seaweed derived gelatin, called kanten. i use powdered agar agar, which may or may not be exactly the same thing. it tastes the same, which is to say that it has absolutely no flavor whatsoever. this is a good thing, as martha stewart might say. it is the ultimate blank canvas. you can make sweet jello-like desserts if you add sugar, fruit or fruit juice, or you can go the sour way and make noodles doused in a soy-vinegar dressing.
i don't follow any particular recipe for either making tokoroten or the deserts, but the general rule i follow is 2 teaspoons to 1 Tablespoon of agar agar powder to 2 cups of water (or fruit juice). for a firmer jelly (or if you are using acidic fruits), use the larger amount of powder. bring the water to a boil, whisk in the agar agar and boil for a minute or two. pour the liquid out into a mold. for noodles, a long narrow flat bottomed plastic container is what i use. for desserts you can use the same mold if you're going to cut the jelly into squares, or for more fun you can use those rubber ice cube trays that come in different shapes. the liquid does not have to be refrigerated in order to set and should be ready in as little as a half an hour. loosen the jelly from the container edges and invert. it should just drop right out. now you'll need the tool. if you don't have the tool, you can lay the jelly out on a cutting board and slice into thin noodle shapes. this is what i do since there is only one tool between me and my moms, and she's not letting it leave her house. then you prepare the sauce. i just use rice wine vinegar and soy sauce (sometimes a little lemon too) mixed together to taste. it should be like a vinegar-y dressing. pour over the noodles and slurp up. if you let it sit in the dressing the flavorless noodles will absorb some of the sauce and be tastier. i like to serve these with a battery of condiments: karashi, green onions, and grated ginger, a few drops of sesame seed oil.
the noodles pictured above were made in the classic way, but as i brought the water to a boil i added some matcha powder. then the agar agar. then i strained out the matcha (you could use regular green tea leaves) as i poured the liquid into the mold. the noodles came out with a beautiful speckled light green color and a delicate tea flavor, which was lost once i drenched them in the soy-vinegar sauce. i'll have to work on an alternate sauce to go with the tea flavored noodles.
so jump on the crazy japanese health program bandwagon and eat a bowl before every meal!