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Satsuma-imo gohan (sweet potato rice)

November 10, 2010

Satsuma-imo gohan, or rice with sweet potatoes, is one of my favorite things to make in the fall. It’s a type of takikomi gohan, meaning that the rice is cooked with various things in it rather than stirring them in afterward. Steaming the sweet potato along with the rice makes it soft and almost creamy.

Although many people like to cook their sweet potato rice with a combination of regular rice and mochigome, the glutinous rice that is used to make mochi, I prefer to add in some kuromai (black rice) which is a type of heirloom rice. The rice isn’t actually black, though – instead it creates a purple color that beautifully compliments the yellow satsuma-imo.

The kuromai I used this time was given to me by a co-worker whose parents grow their own heirloom rice so it was a bit different than the store bought varieties I have tried in the past. As you can see in the picture a few of the grains still had the hull clinging to them so I tried to pick these out as I was washing the rice. I also felt like this rice was slightly paler in color than the commercial stuff, so your rice might turn out a different color depending on what kind of kuromai you can find. I’ve never tried this brand but it looks promising. If you can’t find black rice, just eliminate it and cook as described.

I’ve made this dish with brown rice and partially polished rice in the past, but I find that white rice works better for takikomi gohan because it’s easier to control the amount of water and ensure that whatever you’re cooking along with the rice is fully steamed, and because seasonings tend to get overpowered by the brown rice in this type of dish.

Some satsuma-imo gohan recipes include other ingredients like yurine (lily bulbs) that are difficult to find even in Japan and probably impossible to find without. I’ve kept this recipe simple, with an optional sprinkling of toasted black sesame or goma shio (black sesame salt) on top. I always serve it Japanese-style with miso soup and often a tofu dish of some kind, but it would be just as good included in a Western-style meal. And if you can’t find satsuma-imo I don’t see why you couldn’t try this recipe with American sweet potatoes or yams.

And since this is the first recipe I’m posting, let me mention a few things about my approach to writing recipes. I’ve converted all rice measurements into American cups since no one outside Japan would understand recipes written with (about 150 grams), the traditional way of measuring rice. I tend to measure dry ingredients and vegetables using grams because I think this is the most exact and efficient way – if a recipe says “1 cup of diced carrot” I almost never bother measuring, but if it says “100 grams of diced carrot” I find it very convenient to weigh the carrot, chop off the necessary part, and then cut as necessary (one also becomes very good at estimating weight after a while). Also, since some of the ingredients I use are somewhat unfamiliar to English speakers and packaging methods and sizes vary by country, I don’t feel confident just saying “1 pack of shimeji mushrooms” or “1/2 medium daikon radish.” I know that most Americans don’t use a kitchen scale but I really recommend buying one because it’s a handy tool to have. All other measurements provided (cups, teaspoons, etc.) are standard American ones.

Regarding rice, all of my rice recipes call for “Japanese rice,” which is a type of short-grain rice sometimes sold as “sushi rice” in America. It has a unique stickiness and texture, so long-grain does not make an acceptable substitute. This type of rice needs to be washed before cooking to remove extra starch. I always cook rice in my Zojirushi rice cooker or in a clay pot so I’m not going to provide instructions to cook rice in a regular pot on the stove for each recipe. If you want to know more about cooking Japanese rice on the stove, Just Hungry has good instructions as does Washoku: Recipes From the Japanese Home Kitchen by Elizabeth Andoh. But even if you don’t eat rice every day a rice cooker is a good investment for cooking all sorts of grains and the ones sold in English-speaking countries often have settings for everything from steel-cut oatmeal to risotto. It’s also the easiest way to get consistent results with brown rice.

Before cooking



Satsuma-imo rice with black rice (Kuromai satsuma-imo gohan)
Makes 4 cups cooked rice

Japanese rice 2 cups
Kuromai (black rice) 2 Tbs
Satsuma-imo 250 g
Water 2 1/4 cups
Sake 2 Tbs
Mirin (sweet rice wine) 1 Tbs
Salt 1/2 tsp
Konbu (kelp) 10 cm square piece
Toasted black sesame seeds or goma-shio, to taste (optional)

  1. Wash the rice. The easiest way to do this is to place the rice in a colander inside a bowl, then rinse it until the water runs clear while “polishing” the rice by rubbing it against the colander with the butt of one hand.
  2. Place the rice into your rice cooker or pot and pour the water in. Let sit for 30 minutes to allow the rice to plump.
  3. Dice the satsuma-imo into 1 cm square pieces.
  4. Add the sake, mirin, and salt, followed by the satsuma-imo and konbu (I usually use a piece left over from making dashi). Set your rice cooker to the “white rice” setting, then turn it on.
  5. When the rice is done cooking remove the kelp and gently fluff the rice with a paddle, taking care not to break up the sweet potato.
  6. Garnish individual servings with toasted black sesame seeds or goma shio if desired.


Any leftover rice makes good onigiri (rice balls) to eat for lunch the next day

6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2010 1:38 pm

    Yum! Those onigiri look especially fantastic. If I hadn’t just had satsumaimo for dinner last night I would be tempted to make this right now! perhaps next week? I would take my chances with the genmai, though, since I don’t keep white rice on hand.

    I think my absolute favorite takikomi gohan is a toss up between kinoko and kuri, though.

    • November 10, 2010 3:33 pm

      You’re of course welcome to be adventurous and try it with brown rice, but I warn you it’s very difficult for the sake and mirin to penetrate the hull of the brown rice (does your rice cooker have a brown rice setting? If so that would probably help the water issue). I’ve had decent luck with hatsuga genmai, but I almost never have that around these days. Either way, I’d be interested to see how it turned out for you!

      I agree – if I HAD to choose one type of takikomi gohan I think kinoko would probably be the clear winner. Next time you come over we should make kinoko rice in my clay pot!

      • November 10, 2010 3:44 pm

        Perhaps if I let it soak for a bit before starting up the cooker? Or would that result in soggy satsumaimo..? Hmm.. I will definitely let you know once I try it, though!

        Yes! we really should. 😀

        Perhaps next week or so?

        • November 12, 2010 9:24 am

          Soaking sounds like a good idea! Some people say you should always soak brown rice for several hours at least, but I of course never remember to do that.

  2. December 1, 2010 1:37 pm

    i love the color combination the black rice gave the dish. i would love to try this. and the rice balls also. can i use black rice if making sushi? i love the color of cooked black rice. it is very much appetizing. i love to make my own twist of your recipe. simple and very much innovative.

    • December 2, 2010 6:50 pm

      Thank you for the comment! I love the color of black rice too. And I’ve had sushi made with black rice before (by the person who gave me this batch of rice) – it was very good, although it doesn’t taste exactly the same. It was certainly pretty though, and definitely worth a try!

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