Charting life's circuitous path


Gluten Free Japanese Curry with Tempeh Katsu

This is the beginning of our third week going gluten and dairy free. Our grocery bill is beginning to finally level out (no longer $200 a week… 😮 ) and the hubby’s headaches are decreasing.  I’ll take that as a win. 🙂 In fact, I’m going to try going without my allergy pill this week to see how I react.  Fingers crossed and wood knocked on for the best!

However, here are three truths of going gluten and dairy free.

  1. You won’t believe what products in your cupboards have gluten and dairy.  Here is just a sampling: Soy sauce, yeast, curry sauces, corn flakes, vegetarian Worcestershire sauce, french fries, and almost anything processed. AND if it says dairy free, it isn’t necessarily casein or whey free.  AND if you’re trying to buy groceries in a hurry, you’ll find yourself looking at labels for a LOT longer than you’ve anticipated.
  2. The sticker shock is, well, shocking.  A tiny packet of gluten free all purpose flour costs $3.99.  A loaf of bread?  $5.99.  A packet of 4 hamburger buns?  $5.79.  Want to make your own?  Be prepared to buy at least four different flours and starches just to make flour and they cost between $3.50 – $8 a packet.   Let’s just say no more potlucks for us!
  3. The food you do make is really delicious.  There’s this strange notion still floating about that gluten and dairy free food is mediocre at best.  Even those who are gluten free propagate this myth and it’s just not true.  I about laughed out loud at my local Trader Joe’s as the worker gushed about how “surprisingly good” their gluten free chocolate chip cookie mix was and how close to a “normal cookie” it resembled.  🙄


Luckily for us, I’m game for cooking new recipes.  I’ve had to ditch our weekly pizza (so not paying $11 for a small pizza from Whole Foods) and replace it with new quinoa recipes and our weekly curries are now homemade versus store bought.  I made my first batch of saag and basmati with fabulous results!  This week is Japanese curry week and since I had to throw out my packet of Golden Curry it was time to look up a good homemade version.


I’ve made homemade curry before with just okay results.  It didn’t resemble Japanese curry but more Indian curry.  The roux was a wrongly spiced and while it was good, it didn’t quite work as a replacement.

So, I found a new recipe that looked right and subbed out the regular flour with sorghum flour and xantham gum and the beef stock with vegetarian.  The result?  Nearly perfect!  In fact, it was so good, I’m going to make it my go-to recipe.  It was a tad bit spicy, so next time I’ll be upping the apple and lessening the amount of spice.

We like to have our curry with tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets) and potato croquettes.  Our Japanese panko is made from wheat, so I bought Ian’s gluten free panko.  It’s more “breadcrumb” like than the original panko, but it did coat well and tasted fine – not quite as flaky as the original, but it was still good.  I coated thinly sliced tempeh and fried them for a minute or two for my own “katsu” and it was delicious!  Crispy, tasty and a great companion for the curry.


Here’s my tweaked recipe for gluten and dairy free vegetarian Japanese curry.  And if you need any more prompting, it was just as fast to make this homemade as it was to make it from a packet.  I’m not kidding!

Oh, yes, and katsu can also mean “to win”.  Coincidence?  I think not. 😉

Japanese Curry (Gluten and Dairy Free)

(Note:  You can find the original recipe here.  Below is the recipe as I made it.  Tweak spice to fit your taste and have fun with the veggies.)


  • 2 potatoes, peeled and largely diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and sliced in ½ inch chunks
  • 1 onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/2 apple, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 cup mixed vegetables (optional, but we like a lot of veggies in our curry)
  • 1 cube vegetable bouillon
  • 5 cups water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 4 tbsp margarine (or butter – I used Earth Balance Buttery Sticks)
  • 4 tbsp sorghum flour
  • ¼ tsp xantham gum
  • 1 – 2 tbsp SB curry powder
  • 1 – 2 tbsp garam marsala


  1. Place first 7 ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.  Cook until potatoes begin to soften and then start the roux.
  2. Melt butter in a pan until bubbly.  Add flour and xantham gum and cook for a minute or two – keep stirring the mixture.  Add spices and cook for another minute.
  3. Add roux to the vegetable pot and stir to mix.  Once the roux is mixed completely with the vegetables, cook another 5 – 10 minutes before serving.

Tempeh Katsu


  • Tempeh, very thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp gluten free flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill AP Gluten Free Flour)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ¼ cup Ian’s gluten free panko (or your own panko)
  • (adjust flour and panko amounts to fit the amount of sliced tempeh)


  1. Place the flour in a dish, the beaten egg in a bowl and the panko in another dish.
  2. Dredge tempeh slices in flour, then dip to coat in egg and finally coat with panko.  Set aside and repeat with other slices.
  3. Fry slices for a minute or until golden brown.


Ozoni – Japanese New Year’s Mochi Soup

2014-Year-of-horse-1When I was young, my brother and I used to receive otoshidama from family during the new year. These would be small white envelopes with cash given to children for the Japanese New Year. I can’t recall how much we used to get (my mom would always take the envelope and I wasn’t old enough to really care about money), but it was like a second birthday.  Now we’re both way too old for that sort of thing (not that I would complain!), but there are a lot of Japanese New Year traditions that I hadn’t realized were culturally specific until I was older.

Like tearing down the Christmas tree and cleaning the house of all things “old” to welcome in the new (this is called susuharai). Wrapping paper, decorations, boxes and broken things all get tossed.  I can’t fathom having any of the old December decorations lying about the place once Jan 1st nears, and I’m usually the first person to get it all down before a few days have past Christmas.  My brother’s family does things differently since in his wife’s family it’s customary to put up the tree the day before and leave it up through January.  Me, I have to get it all cleaned up because the New Year is all about starting new and fresh.

Growing up we always watched NHK’s Kohaku – a multi-hour long singing contest between the genders that feature all of the top music acts of the year.  It ends right at midnight with everyone signing together at the end.  We don’t have NHK but my mother still tapes it for us to watch later and I never go a New Year’s eve without hearing about who’s singing on Kohaku and what silly outfits they’re wearing.

But out of all of the little rituals and celebrations leading up to New Year’s, my favorite by far is the ozoni soup that tops off New Year’s breakfast.  It’s a simple soup featuring gobo, carrot, spinach, tofu and mochi.


This year we made 10 cups of rice into mochi using sumo.  Sumo (yes, our mochi machine does have a name), did a fairly good job, but it certainly worked really hard to give us the 10 cups of mochi.  I don’t think we’ll do quite so much next time since I was worried it would hurt the machine (it’s the max amount listed in the pamphlet).  I think 7 or 8 cups is plenty, but my mother wanted enough mochi to feed all of us this year and so 10 cups it was!

The mochi from Sumo was soft and wonderful in the ozoni.  I ate three pieces of mochi and it was the perfect way to begin the new year.  Apparently eating mochi brings good luck through the year and I can definitely attest to feeling like I had the best meal possible to start that good luck streak!  The wonderful thing about the mochi from Sumo is that my hubby can even eat it and enjoy it.  Usually he isn’t so keen on mochi in ozoni since he finds it too chewy to eat.  We make fairly soft mochi by adding splashes of water as it “pounds” the mochi and he found that a lot easier to eat.

However you celebrate the New Year, I hope you have had a great start to 2014!

Vegetarian Ozoni

(Note: I make this any time of the year – it’s by far one of my favorite meals. You can use pre-made mochi just fine, but it will take a bit longer to cook than fresh. Be careful to watch your mochi as it cooks.  Once it starts to “melt”, it can go quickly! This makes enough for two people – scale up for more.)


  • 1 inch by 4 inch slice of tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (or however large you like your tofu)
  • 1/2 cup gobo and carrot, diced into matchsticks
  • 1 1/2 packages of Konbu Dashi
  • 1/2 – 1 tbsp (or so) of soy sauce (possible more or less, depending on taste)
  • Mochi
  • 1 green onion, diced
  • 1 handful spinach leaves, cut into 1 or 2 inch pieces


  1. Boil 2 cups of water in a pan with dashi.
  2. Add gobo, carrot, tofu and soy sauce.
  3. Bring to a boil and cook until carrot is softened (if water evaporates down significantly, add more to make up the difference).
  4. Add mochi (however many you want, but be considerate of your pan size and the water to mochi ratio)
  5. Once close to being done (mochi is soft all the way through), add green onion and spinach and allow to wilt before serving.


Introducing Sumo (Review of Tiger Mochi Maker)

mochi 2

Sumo steaming the mochi rice.

I would like to introduce you all to Sumo, my Tiger SMJ-A18U 10-Cup (Uncooked) Rice Cake Maker.

I don’t normally name my appliances (that distinction is left to the computers in my life), but the name popped out of my mouth one day and stuck.  Sumo embodies a sumo wrestler – a very strong, rather bulky power machine that makes you happy as it defeats its opponent. (This time unsuspecting rice, next the world!)

My hubby generously bought me Sumo for my birthday.  I had wishfully listed it on my Amazon wishlist, but I didn’t seriously think he’d buy it. For one, it’s a bit expensive (clocking in at around $200) and it’s a bit novelty (I mean, how many people do you know have mochi machines?).

But it’s one of the best presents!  😀

I love mochi.  I love everything about it from its uniquely soft, chewy texture to its sweet filling.  I love how you can eat it fresh without any fillings or plop a round into soup.  I love how it signifies everything I love about being Japanese American – it’s a bit different, wonderfully unique, but oh so subtly sweet.

I took Sumo down from its cozy spot on top of my fridge and loaded it up in my trunk this weekend to test it out with my family.  Everyone was also excited to welcome a mochi machine into the family since we all gleefully gobble it up whenever my mom makes a batch from mochiko flour.  I tend not to buy the store kind since it always seems to lack that certain something compared to my mother’s.  This time, though, we were going to make it straight from rice, do not stop at Go.

According to the directions, you soak your premeasured rice in water for 6 – 12 hours.  I carefully gave the instructions to my mother the night before.  She had bought a special bag of mochi rice for me and she woke early the next morning, anxious to get the rice started.  The mochi rice is slightly rounder and fatter than regular white rice.  Each shiny grain looked swollen and almost translucent when I drained and shook the water out 8 hours later.  The rice still had to sit for 30 minutes before we could place it into the maker along with the measured amount of fresh water and the impeller.

The mochi rice being "pounded" the second time.

The mochi rice being “pounded” the second time.

We set it steaming and waited.  Every now and then we would crowd around the machine and just watch as the plastic lid puffed steam.  After about 20 minutes, we grew bored and moved away, every once in a while sneaking back to “check” on it like a sleeping newborn.

Once it buzzed us into excited action (a very loud and continuous buzzer marks the end of the steaming), we hit the pound button and waited with baited breath.  The machine instantly started to vibrate and shake the stove underneath.  The rice wasn’t moving but we were certain that it was working – just really slowly.  After the instructed ten minutes, we turned it off and furrowed our brows.  It looked different (each grain now a bit squished), but it didn’t look anything like mochi.  I grabbed it and plopped it onto the corn starch prepared dish and immediately knew it wasn’t done.  It looked like rice that had been boiled a bit too long and poked at a bit too much by a petulant 5 year old.

With two university brains and one field experienced brain pondering the problem (my mother remembers pounding mochi with the traditional stick in her childhood), we decided to dump it back in, upside down this time, and add a bit more water.

What a difference!  Now the ball of rice was being whipped back and forth and spun within an inch of its previously granular life.  The grains disappeared and the surface began to smooth, glisten and soften.  After a  bit more water and a bit more pounding, our mochi was done.  Total processing time: 50 minutes.

Sometimes it’s good to take risks.  If I hadn’t been with my family, I might not have plopped the undone rice back in for further pounding.  I might not have added quite so much water.  I definitely wouldn’t have had as much fun.  The mochi was delicious!  Soft and flavorful with a heavy dose of home and family.

My mother showing us how to make daifuku.

My mother showing us how to make daifuku.

There’s something about eating food that connects you to who you are and where you come from.  The smells, the textures and the experience meld together into a round disk that packs a punch of memories each and every time.

If you like mochi, I highly recommend the Tiger mochi maker.  It does a wonderful job and while it is a bit bulky and a bit expensive, I can see myself definitely making a batch of daifuku every couple of months – not to mention the extra batches already requested from my brother and mother for new years!  🙂

Daifuku mochi with adzuki filling

Daifuku mochi with adzuki filling

Tips on using your Tiger Mochi Machine

  1. We soaked our rice for 8 hours and drained for 30 minutes and followed the steaming water directions, but the mochi was still too stiff for making daifuku.  Don’t be afraid to add more water as the mochi is being pound.  Try a tablespoon at a time until it reaches a consistency where you can grab a chunk and pinch it off easily.
  2. Don’t be afraid to flip your mochi if it isn’t being tossed within an inch of its life.  Just be sure to hit stop, flip, and definitely reinsert the impeller before hitting the pound button (but be careful – it’s hot!).
  3. Soak and wash your impeller and mochi machine bowl immediately!  I can’t stress this enough.  The mochi gets really sticky and will stick to your bowl and impeller like glue, so don’t wait until you’re done making daifuku or rolling out squares.  Definitely soak in hot water if you can’t wash everything right away.