The past couple days in Tokyo have been cool and cloudy. All signs point to fall. Finally.
In Minnesota, fall would be filled with caramel apples, hot cider, and campfires. In Japan, it is filled with hot pots, warm bowls of ramen, and the sweet, nutty scent of sweet potatoes. I’ve rambled on about how much I love the smell of Japanese sweet potatoes before and this year is no different. The only change is that instead of waiting to walk through the doors of the grocery store to find that beautiful aroma, I created it in my own kitchen.
Daigaku imo are probably the closest thing to caramel apples here in Japan. Chunks of sweet potato take the place of the apple, and a combination of sugar and soy sauce coats the outside creating a sticky, crispy, umami coating. Black sesame salt decorates the top beautifully, creating a lovely and festive appetizer for Halloween parties.
This is the perfect fall treat, not only because of the beautiful presentation, but because of the perfect combination of flavors. The sweet, nutty taste of the sweet potato is enhanced by the sweet-salty, toffee-like glaze and sesame salt. You can find daigaku imo (Japanese University Sweet Potatoes) at many of the autumn festivals that occur at various school campuses, as well as food stands around Tokyo but they are just as easy to make in the comfort of your own home. I haven’t tried this yet, but I’d be willing to bet you could use almost any potato or even squash to make this recipe. I’d like to try adding a little cinnamon to the glaze next time, just to mix things up a little and add a little of my own touch. The basic recipe is quite easy and lends itself well to creative license.
I have to thank my facebook followers for a swath of new Japanese recipes to post here. The other day, I asked what readers would like to see here on the site and got some great feedback! Thanks to Lisa for the suggestion to do daigaku imo! If there is anything you would like to see on Tokyo Terrace in the coming days and weeks, feel free to leave suggestions here in the comment section or on my facebook page.
Based on a recipe from Just Hungry
Oil for frying
2 T sesame oil
2 T white sugar
1 T corn syrup (you can also use honey, but this will alter the flavor and texture)
3/4 tsp. soy sauce
Black sesame seeds, lightly toasted and combined with a touch of course sea salt
Clean the sweet potato and remove any stringy bits. Cut the sweet potato into cubes about an inch or so in size. Place the potatoes in a bowl of cold water.
Meanwhile, combine the oils together in a large saucepan. You should have enough oil to give you just over an inch in the bottom of the pan. Test the oil with one piece of sweet potato that you have dried thoroughly with a paper towel or tea towel. If the oil starts to bubble about 2 seconds after you add the potato, it is ready. While you wait for the oil to heat, carefully and completely dry the sweet potato pieces. Add the sweet potatoes to the oil and fry until golden brown and crisp. This should take no more than 4 or 5 minutes, depending on the exact size of your pieces.
As the potatoes cook, combine the sugar, corn syrup or honey, and soy sauce in a small, heavy saucepan. Place over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is heated but not bubbling. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside but within reach while you work with the potatoes.
Remove the potatoes from the oil using a slotted spoon and shake carefully (the oil is HOT!) over the frying pan before transferring them to the pan holding the syrup mixture. Toss immediately to coat all of the potatoes and sprinkle with the sesame seeds/salt. Serve immediately.