Kanten Jellies: Summer Jewels

Cucumber and Carrot Agar-Agar

At my favorite Japanese grocery I know it’s summer because I see a colorful variety of shimmering desserts in their refrigerated cases. These cool and refreshing jellies, made with kanten (agar-agar), have captured my culinary imagination. Think about how wonderful it would be to eat cherry jewels, raspberry gems, all manner of sparkling summer-fruit bijou. Consider the essence of melons, green grapes, strawberries, apricots condensed and concentrated into edible crystals!

Give up your memories of horrible Jello salads, made with artificial flavorings, garish colors, too much sugar, and molded with shreds of celery and coconut… Last summer I was telling my co-workers about my agar-agar jellies: matcha mousse, mango, and pomegranate. They thought that all sounded good (well, they thought green tea was odd) until they asked what agar-agar is. Seaweed????!!! eeeeeeuuuu! Well, I said, it’s got no flavor and works sort of like Jello—and besides, regular gelatin is made from boiling down bones and ligaments. more groans. Bet they give up eating Jello, but don’t know ’cause they stopped talking to me. They never did invite me to any pot-lucks…

Cucumber and Carrot Kanten

This summer I’m going beyond those three jellies. The avocado sashimi I made recently got me thinking about using other vegetables. I bought some carrot juice, a nice big cucumber, a bunch of dill, and a lemon. An all natural layered salad of orange and green! I had a half stick of kanten left, and plenty of powdered agar-agar. Because this is an experiment, I thought why not compare how each type works? Note on my experiment: The layers separated, so perhaps it’s not a good idea to use two kinds of kanten? or perhaps I should not have let the cucumber layer set so much? The cucumber layer made with the stick kanten was much stiffer than the carrot layer made with the powder. More trials are needed, but it looked and tasted good, so have no fear if you make the recipe.

Cucumber and Carrot Agar-Agar

Cucumber Jelly

  • 1/2 stick bo kanten, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
  • 1 large (cheap) American cucumber
  • 1 bunch of fresh green dill (you won’t use all of it)
  • salt to taste
  • a splash of rice vinegar

Peel the cucumber, but don’t cut out the seeds. Cut the cuke into chunks. Wash and dry the dill. Discard the stalks; you should have a generous 1/4 cup of delicate leaves. Put the vegetables and about 1/4 teaspoon salt into a small food processor and pulse them to a slurry. Strain the juice through a double layer of cheesecloth. It did not seem to hurt the clarity of the juice to squeeze the slurry. You should have about 1 cup of juice. Taste it and add some rice vinegar and more salt. Mr. Tess came home as I was doing this, so I asked him what it smelled like; he didn’t know but said it smelled really good. It smells wonderful!!!
Squeeze the soaking water from the kanten and shred it into small pieces. Put the kanten into a small cumcumber kantensaucepan and add 1/2 cup water. Cook over low to medium heat to melt the kanten. Don’t rush—you don’t want to burn it—stir gently until it is smooth and clear. Add water if it evaporates faster than it melts.
Stir in your cucumber juice and bring it just up to a boil. Pour into your prepared dish or plastic mold.

Carrot Jelly

  • 8 ounces bottled carrot juice*
  • Juice from 1/4 lemon
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tube of powdered agar-agar (about 1 teaspoon)

In a small bowl or large measuring cup, mix the carrot and lemon juices. Salt to taste. When you like it, pour it into a small saucepan with the agar-agar, and cook on low heat stirring to dissolve the powder. Cook gently, stirring for 5 minutes.
The cucumber jell should have just begun to set by the time your carrot jell is ready. Pour the carrot layer over a spoon on top of the cucumber layer.
*(my daughter left her juicer here, but it’s so difficult to clean: lazy Tess! but I’ll bet there are lots of vegetables I could reduce to juice with it!)

Let the carrot juice set, then chill until ready to serve.Carrot and Cucumber Kanten

Because I had a few green beans left from another recipe, I made:
Green Bean Tsukemmono

  • 10 green beans
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • pinch of salt

Slice the beans into thin disks. Blanch. Toss with the dressing. Cool. Chill. The vinegar made the beans and dill turn to dull green. Serve with the Cucumber-Carrot Jelly.

Here is an interesting site with some other agar-agar treats to inspire your imagination.

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5 thoughts on “Kanten Jellies: Summer Jewels

  1. You did it, Tess! The jellies are very pretty and I especially love the combination of cucumber and dill.

    As for your coworkers, do they not eat sushi? Perhaps they don’t know that nori is seeweed, but from what you say, they may not be adventurous enough to even eat a California roll. Oh, dear.

    Well done, in any case.

  2. Hi Marcia,
    Thanks for your vote of compliment. (pun)

    The cucumber and dill recipe was really very good by itself. Easy, too. I’m thinking that it would be interesting cut it into little cubes and add to an American salad with lettuce and halved grape tomatoes. Dressed with “That Delicious Shoyu Dressing,” of course:
    ( https://1tess.wordpress.com/2008/02/04/that-delicious-shoyu-dressing/ )
    It would be a little visual surprise that tastes like cucumber and dill (not scary).

    As to my co-workers, they are not foodies. Sushi scares them! I once brought California rolls to a picnic and they would not touch them until I reassured them that nothing was raw. They peeled the black stuff off (nori) and said they were “nice!”

    Keep in mind that I grew up and still live in the middle of “america” so this is all very exotic. eh?

  3. You have such good ideas – excellent thought about cucumber and dill cubes in a traditional salad. I may well try that with “That Delicious Shoyu Dressing”, of which we’re already fond.

    As for your co-workers, I do understand the limitations of the location, but I feel that we’re in the boonies now in South Jersey. One of my daughter’s friends from further north in the state where we lived for many years, called it the sticks, which I thought appropriate, and we actually have two good sushi places in town.

    There is a difference, of course. We’re in a university community and only about half an hour outside of Philly. It seems like another world from the NYC metro area and becaise of that, I don’t take certain things into consideration.

    Black stuff – how sad for you. Mr. Tess surely must appreciate your cooking. He’s a fortunate man.

  4. Marcia,
    The sushi incident was a few years ago; these days even supermarkets sell sushi. Ann Arbor is a foodie town in many ways: Zingerman’s, Whole Foods for 20 years, Trader Joe’s, a slew of excellent local competitors for that specialty food market share, lots of ethnic grocery stores (especially Middle Eastern), and well, the U of M casts a big shadow. But some people just are not “foodies.”

    Having grown up in the UP, fresh mushrooms seemed exotic to me when I first came here!

  5. How could I have forgotten that you’re in Ann Arbor, which is surely a foodie mecca? There are people who aren’t foodies in all kinds of places. I was raised by food obsessed parents, and I do forget.

    For people of a certain age (ahem!), fresh mushrooms WERE exotic. We ate canned mushrooms for many years of my childhood and those were exotic to many. LOL.

    You’re already off to other topics…I do believe that you may be a human dynamo.

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