Day thirty-six: Shiratama Dango
When my jeweler friend Shinji Nakaba’s children were small he used to make them shiratama dango, little boiled rice flour dumplings, as a special treat. Today he made them again for the first time in 15 years, but luckily this seems to be one of those “once learned, never forgotten” skills. Even better, dango-making is an easy skill to acquire; the recipe is simple and quick and the main ingredient, shiratama flour, is often available in Asian groceries outside Japan. Made from mochigome (glutinous rice), shiratama-ko looks like white fish tank gravel and comes in 200g plastic sacks.
To make shiratamadango, pour about 100g of shiratamako into a mixing bowl. Make well in the center of the flour and add about 190ml of cold water (*this seems like a little much to me, but I haven’t had a chance to test it yet). Fold the flour into the water with your hands and once it is well mixed, begin kneading. Add more water a tablespoon at a time until the dough is smooth and of earlobe-like consistency. The dough will be very opaque, almost chalky looking.
The package shows a whole range of serving suggestions, but for shiratama dango á la Nakaba, you’ll need to make a small amount of simple syrup. As the syrup is heating, stir in a good dollop of grated ginger pulp. When it has thickened slightly, remove from heat and chill in an ice bath.
Roll the dough into hot-dog-sized logs. Pinch off 1” sections and roll between your palms to make small balls. Many dango are spherical but Shiji says his cook better if he flattens them by holding the ball in the palm of one hand and poking with a finger (so bobbing around in the water they look like huge white blood cells). If you or any small sous-chefs are so inclined, you can also form the dango into small sculptures of animals, snakes, Presidential candidates, local landmarks, etc.
Gently drop each dango into a saucepan of boiling water. Boil 2-3 minutes, then lift out and transfer to a bowl of cold water (leave a small stream of cold water running into the bowl as you work). Spoon cooled dango into bowls and top with syrup, a few ice cubes, and a sprig of mint.
These versatile dango can also be filled with small amounts of sweet fillings such as sesame or chocolate, served with shaved ice or warm sweet bean soup, or eaten with savory foods like vegetable or chicken noodle soup.