Happy Fall Recipe! How To Make Momiji (Fried Maple Leaves)
For whatever reason, both Meg and I have a soft spot for weird Asian stuff. We love exploring Asian marts looking for intriguing foods and ingredients, both because it’s exciting and because Asian cuisine is legit yummy. Last year however, we happened upon one of the more out-there food ideas we’ve come across, a Japanese snack food called momiji. In short, these are just battered, fried maple leaves. That’s it. They’re a Fall tradition hailing from the village of Minoo (mee-nohh) and actually are pretty yummy. Now trust me, I don’t like lettuce or salads at all. But despite the fact fried leaves sounds kind of bland, these are definitely worth your time for both the fact they taste good, and also just the fun whimsy of eating maple leaves during the Fall.
The traditional process and recipe for momiji actually has you placing the leaves in barrels of salt and aging them in there for a few day to a few weeks, to let them dry out and gain some saltiness. We didn’t have access to such large quantities of salt and decided to try it out using plain, fresh maple leaves. Incidentally, the word ‘momiji’ (moh-mee-gee) just means ‘maple’ in Japanese.
First off, the one problem you may run into with this recipe, is obtaining fresh maple leaves. They’re not exactly the kind of thing you can happen upon in Wal-mart or other dopey chain stores like that. Though even so, you might not even find them in local stores or even the almighty organic grocers like Whole Foods. That’s another part of what makes making these things so awesome and charming, you need to just go out and find a maple tree, for harvesting.
But wait! Before you go out and start eating some random leaves on the ground, you need to be aware, these are made with a specific type of leaf. Namely, these are made using the Japanese maple (go figure). If you’re not familiar with them, they’re smaller, almost dwarf-like maple trees that have thinner, more spindly leaves. Don’t worry though, they’re actually really, really common trees found in landscaping, so you have a few options: find someone like a family member or friend you know who has one (which is surprisingly easy), buy your own and plant it in your own yard if you have a yard/space/large pot, or maybe possibly even asking a local gardening store if they’d be willing to let you take/buy some leaves if you can’t actually take the whole tree. Bear in mind, they really don’t get very big, so growing one in a very large pot indoors is entirely possible.
(I suppose it would technically be possible to try this with other maple leaf varieties, though despite my knowledge of plantlife, I can’t guarantee all maple varieties have edible leaves.)
Momiji (Fried Maple Leaves)
- 20-30 clean, freshly picked Japanese Maple leaves
- 1 cup ice water
- 1 cup flour
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp sesame seeds
- ¼ cup sugar
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- In a large bowl, combine the water (remove any ice), flour, and egg and whisk into a batter until fairly smooth.
- Add in the sesame oil and sesame seeds and stir until smooth. Gradually add the sugar in, stirring well to distribute it evenly.
- Place oil in a medium frying pan to no more than 1” deep and heat on a medium flame.
- When oil is hot, begin dipping the maple leaves into the batter using their stems, and fully coat. Carefully dip each leaf into the oil, taking care to spread the leaves out so they retain their shape.
- Fry for approximately 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown. Then turn leaf over and fry for another 1-3 minutes until the batter is fully cooked.
- Carefully remove the momiji from the pan and place on a paper towel to drain, sprinkling salt on top to taste. Serve warm or cool, either plain or with a maple dipping sauce.
You might ask me, “So like, what the hell do these even taste like, dude.” And that’s a very good question. As mentioned, I hate salad. Believe me, I refuse to eat bland, tasteless leaves that you can only make palatable by dumping fat and oils and shit on top of it. However, interestingly enough Japanese maple leaves do have a flavor to them. Raw, they alllmost taste like cranberries. They have a tart, fruity flavor with a little bit of sweetness. And they’re not that watery inside either. When you deep fry them, you’re mostly going to be tasting the delicious sesame oil batter, but you will get a little bit of the tart flavor if you eat them plain. Though, if you use the dipping sauce, welllll, then you won’t really taste the leaves at all since it’ll get lost in all the other flavors, but hey that’s what dipping sauces do.
Speaking of which, there’s a few sauces you can use with these. There’s the aforementioned maple glaze dipping sauce, or you could also try them with caramel sauce similar to you’d use with fruit slices. If you want to serve them more as a side dish to dinner, you could also go with straight soy sauce or maybe even ponzu sauce. Either way, they really taste good no matter what you do with them, and they’re frequently just eaten plain in their native Japan, almost in the same way people eat chips or pretzels. Do whatever you want, they are probably one of the top-tier Fall foods and they will make an awesome addition to any occasion, be it at a Halloween party, family dinner, or just snacking on the couch.