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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Togarashi condiments pepper up Japanese cuisine

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

Togarashi is the Japanese word for red chili peppers and the generic name for a family of condiments that blend chili pepper with other ingredients. Shichimi or ichimi togarashi is common in island homes and casual Japanese restaurants. Nanami togarashi is a close cousin, with a slightly different formulation featuring citrus peel.

The mixtures are sprinkled over noodles, yakitori (grilled dishes) and nabe (one-pot meals) and used in soups and stews. The sharp, hottish flavor and slightly gritty texture of the togarashi mixtures is seen as a great contrast to fatty and fried foods such as unagi (eel), tempura (batter-fried foods) or shabu shabu (meats and other ingredients cooked in bubbling rich broth).

Shichimi is also called "seven spice" because shichi is seven in Japanese, and seven ingredients are generally used. According to manufacturers' Web sites, the exact spices vary slightly by maker but usually include a combination of powdered red chili pepper, black pepper, sesame seeds, dried mandarin orange peel, green nori (seaweed) flakes, sansho, hemp seeds and poppy seeds. The chili used is a small, hot red one. Sansho is a mildly hot seasoning made from the berry of the prickly-ash tree (Zanthoxylum piperitum) and it's either the same thing or a close relative of Szechuan peppercorn (which has been banned here because the berries can carry a citrus disease).

You can make your own shichimi togarashi, but the trick will be finding the sansho, though you could make it without, substituting black pepper: Measure 3 teaspoons sansho, 1 teaspoon laver or nori flakes, 3 teaspoons dried tangerine or orange peel, 3 teaspoons ground chili pepper, 1 teaspoon black sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon golden sesame seeds or poppy seeds, and 2 teaspoons minced garlic. Grind the seeds with the sansho and chili powder (in a suribachi — the grooved Japanese mortar, or a small spice grinder). Stir in the nori, peel and garlic. Store in airtight container in refrigerator; will remain fresh for a month.