When I was in Taiwan a few weeks ago, my favourite cold appetizer dish at meal time was the Nagaimo. (山药/淮山) Prepared and served in a variety of ways, they were crunchy and totally refreshing. Long known for its medicinal values, the Chinese have always used them to balance the yin and yang energy in the body. It has been used to treat digestive, repiratory and diabetes problems ... in short, this is a healthy root vegetable and is often featured in macrobiotics diet.
I have not exactly been a big fan of this root until recently. I recall my first encounter with it was at a Japanese restaurant almost 20 years ago. My Japanese boss had ordered a Chirashi Sushi topped with a white gooey blob- the musilaginous consistency of which was not appetising at all. Then many years later, my Taiwanese colleague invited me to his house for dinner. His wife prepared a bland looking porridge with sliced Nagaimo-it was dull and tasteless. I recall her raving about the nutritious value of the root but I was not quite impressed.
When I was in Taiwan a few weeks back, the Nagaimo was in season and we practically had it for every meal as a cold starter. Usually prepared simply by chilling the cut roots, they were served like a salad drizzled with a fruity, tangy plum sauce. With a pear like crunch, it was absolutely delicious. This time round, I became truly hooked. When I got back, I started to look for recipes that feature the Nagaimo. I found a couple in my Japanese cookbook (Delicious Macrobiotic Meals) and I couldn't wait to experiment with them.
The first recipe I have chosen to work on is a dessert dish where the Nagaimo is grated and cooked with soy milk and agar powder. Very low in calorie, this dense, mousse-like dessert is delicious when eaten with a drizzle of maple syrup. 0% guilt and 100% goodness - I have just found a new favourite addition to my diet plan!
Powder agar 1 tsp
Soy Milk 1/2 cup
Maple syrup To serve
1. Peel the skin of nagaimo. (Wear gloves as you do this as the sap on the skin will cause skin irritation) Wrap peeled nagaimo in plastic wrap and microwave for 3-4 mins.
2. Mash (1) while still hot with a fork.
3. In a saucepan, add (2), soy milk and powder agar. Cook over low heat until mixture is smooth and thickened.
4. Pour (4) into molds and chill in refrigerator until set.
5. Demold and serve with maple syrup.