After moving to America many years have past without preparing chestnuts rice in the fall. My excuse was that I couldn’t find the chestnuts, which have the same sweetness, quality and meaty fruit as the Japanese one. Chestnuts was my father’s favorite fall dish, so my mother made the chestnuts rice often during chestnuts season. I watched my mother making it every time and was always awed by her love and dedication to us. Delicious chestnuts rice did not come easily. Peeling hard shelled chestnuts was more than a pain process. It was a labor , and was time consuming. That is why I have been avoiding to look for a good chestnuts in the past years.
Then, last Friday Buzz found local chestnuts sold at greenmarket at Union Square. It is the American chestnuts. The vender promised that it is sweet. The fruit is very small, but is plump and meaty. Buzz suggested that I should make no excuse but prepare chestnuts rice.
My mother soaked chestnuts in water in a bowl overnight in order to making the peeling process next day a bit easier. After removing the hard shell she peeled off the tough-to-remove inner, astringent brown thin skin one after another. I wanted to make my mother’s way a bit quicker and easier, so cooked the chestnuts with little water in a container in the oven after making X marks with a knife on the flat surface of each chestnut. In this way hard shell and brown thin skin can be peeled off quite easily. Anyway, even with my improved approach I ended up spending over half an hour in the kitchen peeling the chestnuts. While peeling chestnuts I thought of my Mom. Her stories about her childhood memory, meals which she prepared for the family, our neighbour vegetable monger, ……, and, in general, life, art and love vividly rushed back to my mind. Cooking is love. Cooking is sacrifice. Cooking is labor. Cooking is time consuming. Cooking makes family very happy and healthy. My mother proved all
The American chestnut which I cooked with rice was sweet and flavorful. Buzz was extremely happy that my mother’s chestnut rice are back again to our table. Hope you will enjoy the recipe (from The Japanese Kitchen) below.
1 1/2 cups (2 rice cooker cups) short-grain or medium-grain white rice
20 to 25 peeled chestnuts
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds, toasted and mixed with 1/2 teaspoon salt
Rinse and soak the rice. Drain the rice and let it stand in a colander for 20 minutes before cooking. Into a cooking pot put the rice 1 3/4 cups (2 1/2 cups) water, salt, sugar and sake. Put the chestnuts on top of the rice and cook the rice, covered.
Toss the rice gently to distribute the chestnuts. Serve the rice garnished with the mixture of black sesame seeds and salt, making sure a few chestnut pieces are visible in the bowl.