Today's sweet is brought to you by poor planning and wishful thinking.
While teaching English in Japan in 2000 I read about Ki no Zen, a kanmi dokoro (old-fashioned parlor serving tea and sweets) located near Iidabashi station at the the bottom of the Kagurazaka slope, one of Tokyo's historic geisha districts. Of the countless versions of kakigori (shaved ice with various sweet toppings) that make Japanese summers bearable, Ki no Zen specializes in anzu kori, ice topped with sweet-tart apricot syrup. The article described Ki no Zen's anzu kori as so popular that on hot afternoons a telltale line of waiting OLs (young "office ladies") spills out the unremarkable front door and into the street.
I longed to join them, but for some reason (possibly my days off coincided with Ki no Zen's?) I never made it. When I went back to Tokyo last summer Ki no Zen was near the top of my list of spots to visit. But there were so many distractions; I put it off a little longer, a little longer, until finally I made it there too late. It was the end of September and still sweltering, but Ki no Zen's menu is based on the calendar rather than the thermometer, and they had long since served the last anzu kori of the year.
As Seattle began to heat up earlier this month, my thoughts returned to anzu kori and I resolved to try making my own version based on the descriptions I'd read. One article mentioned dried apricots (which seemed a little odd given that summer is the season for fresh ones) so I started with a modified stewed fruit recipe. The result was tasty but not at all what I had in mind--dark brown, nearly opaque, and totally lacking the tang of fresh apricots: essentially, highbrow baby food.
So back to fresh apricots, then. While I don't in any way claim that it's in the same ballpark as Ki no Zen's, my homemade anzu kori was simple, pleasant to look at, and quite refreshing. I added only a touch of sweetness and a squirt of lemon juice to underline the apricots' natural tartness and protect their glowing color.
Freestyle Anzu Kori
1 lb fresh, just-ripe apricots
3/4 c water
2 tsp lemon juice
1-3 Tbs honey
Dice the apricots and remove the pits. Bring the apricots and water to boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer until the apricots are soft and their skins are totally indistinguishable from the pulp (15-20 min). Remove from heat. Mash the apricots further with a fork or potato masher; leave some small chunks for texture. Stir in lemon juice and honey to taste. Chill and serve over bowls of unsweetened shaved ice.
(As I mentioned in Montezuma's Reward, I'm currently sans food processor, so for my shaved ice I froze 2 Tbs of vodka in 2 1/2 cups of water, then used a fork to grate the soft-set ice.)