Chestnuts are very popular during the colder months in Japan, as well as many Asian cultures. Being so busy these past few months, we’ve missed out on a lot of seasonal activities, including eating chestnuts, and it just hasn’t felt the same because of it! I had almost given up on eating them until next season, so when I happened upon some chestnuts in the corner of the store the other day, I just couldn’t pass them up!
One popular way to enjoy chestnuts, or kuri in Japanese, is simply with rice. Chestnuts and rice beautifully complement one another, and adding a little bit of sweet rice to the mix adds a delightfully chewy texture. Sprinkle some sesame on top, and you have a very satisfying, festive dish to celebrate the season with!
While it’s called sweet rice, the rice isn’t sweet in the sense of a dessert. It’s still just rice, but it has a slightly sweeter flavor than regular rice. Sweet rice is also a shorter grain rice than regular rice, so short it almost looks round, so it has a different, slightly chewier texture. Mixing the two together brings a noticeable difference to the flavor, and is common to do when cooking festive dishes. If you can’t get sweet rice, you can just use all regular rice, but I urge you to buy it at least once if you ever come across it!
Recipe – Chestnut Rice:
– Wash the rice the same way you’d prepare regular rice:
– Put the rice in a large bowl and soak with water for at least 30 minutes. Rub the rice together with your hands, giving it a good scrubbing. Pour out the water and rinse the rice a couple of more times until the rice turns clear, then transfer the rice to a mesh sieve and let drain for 15 minutes.
– Peel the chestnuts, piercing the top of the nut carefully with a sharp knife, then peeling away the outer shell. The shell is hard, but not too hard, so handle your knife carefully. Chestnuts are notoriously difficult to peel, so if it is difficult at first, don’t worry, you just need some practice. (And an excuse to eat more chestnuts!!
– Once the outer shell has been removed, you’ll see the inner skin covering the nut below. Peel off the inner skin if you can, or if you’re having difficulty, try roasting them in the oven at 400 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes. The inner skin will become really dry and easily flake off!
– One the chestnuts have been peeled, chop them up into big chunks. Put the rice, water, salt and sake to a medium pot and mix well, then add the chestnuts on top.
– Turn the burner on high, then once the rice starts to boil, turn the burner on low and cover. Let cook for 20 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Turn off the burner and let sit for another 10 minutes.
– Fluff the rice with a spoon and fold the chestnuts into the rice. Enjoy the rice hot with sesame seeds sprinkled on top, or you can use the rice to make chestnut rice balls!