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Japanese Micro Seasons Part 6

Ritto is the beginning of winter. We have already had what’s called daylight saving time in the UK, something that Japan doesn’t have. At this time we turn back our clocks and the evenings are even darker. It’s a time to draw within our selves a time of reflection. I think the final few months this year I am finding myself reflecting back over the past ten years as a decade draws to a close. Within this time I have found myself in Japan five times. Always fleeting holidays and always returning longing that my trip had not been so short. My last trip to Japan was last November / December and I was so surprised to see the camellia flowers blooming. This is our first micro season of this subdivision. November 7th-11th Tsubaki najimete hiraku ( camellias bloom).

Camellias have different varieties the first start to bloom now and the rest in Spring.


The next subdivision is November 12th-16th Chi hajimete karu ( land starts to freeze)

The last of this micro season subdivision is November 17th-21st Kinsenka saku ( daffodils bloom ) this is a strange one for me as living in the UK our daffodils bloom in March.

As the weather gets colder now, I think this is a good time to start making all those winter hot pot dishes. In Japan they are called Nabemono or simply nabe. Everything is cooked in one pot, which means all the flavour of the vegetables come through into the broth. It’s a staple Japanese winter food that is hot and comforting and easy to make. On the winter recipe section of this website I have recipes for such dishes ( just search Nabe ) there you will find perfect vegan one pot meals to make this season like this Damako nabe rice ball hot pot 
or why not try making your own Oden


Full of tasty ingredients like Mochi filled aburaage pouches known as kinchaku, succulent tofu, daikon and mushrooms, bamboo shoots or vegan sausage. Let’s kick start winter with a Japanese hot pot .

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Kabocha Chocolate Truffles

I decided to make a treat for Halloween . These pumpkin truffles are so easy to make with just a few simple ingredients.

All you will need is half a small kabocha pumpkin, 100g of almond flour, one tablespoon of maple syrup and one large bar of vegan chocolate.
Steam your pumpkin and when it’s done scoop out the flesh into a bowl and mash with a fork and leave to cool. Break up your chocolate into a bowl and melt under hot simmering water.
Empty the almond flour into the bowl with the cooled pumpkin and add maple syrup. Cream this all together, you could also add orange essence or vanilla for extra flavouring if you wish.
Place some parchment paper onto a tray. Take large tablespoons of your pumpkin mix and roll it into a ball. I pushed a hazel nut inside each one, you can do this if you wish. Then dip each ball in melted chocolate and place on the tray. Keep doing this until everything is used up. I then added a sprinkle of chopped hazelnuts on top. You could do this or add another topping of your choice, maybe coconut.

Chill to set in the fridge. Happy Halloween.

Autumn Food, Blog

Vegan Nikujaga ( meat & potatoes )

Niku Jaga, is a home style cooked dish made from beef and potatoes. Niku is meat in Japanese and Jaga is short for jagaimo which means potato. The meat and potatoes are stewed in a soy sauce broth with mirin and sugar with onion, carrot and green beans or snow peas. Konnyaku ( konjac ) noodles known as Shirataki  which means white waterfall and refers to how the noodles look are also added as part of this meal. They are thin translucent noodles made from the konjac yam and have almost zero calories made up of water and fiber. Don’t be put off by the smell when you open them just drain the liquid and wash the noodles well under cold water then blanch for a few minutes in boiling water this will get rid of the fishy smell. Drain and leave while you prepare the rest of the items you need.

You will need dashi not the kind made from bonito flakes but a vegan dashi made with a piece of kombu soaked in water over night. Around 2-3 cups.

For the meat substitute I have chosen gorgeous maitake mushrooms. They have a meaty texture and  give the soup the most amazing flavour .

Then you will need potato ( I used taro and normal potato ) peel and cut into large wedges use what is called the mentori technique by rounding off any sharp corners. This will stop the potatoes from bumping into each other and breaking up. Put the potatoes in some cold water to remove the starch while you peel and chop one large carrot into rolling wedges. Cut one small white onion into large wedges. Then heat some toasted sesame oil in a large pan and add your onions and maitake, if your maitake come in large clusters just break them up into smaller pieces. Sauté the onion and maitake until the onion is tender then place on top ( do not mix in ) your potato, carrot and Shirataki group them together so all the carrots together all the potato together etc and make sure they are flat Then mix into your dashi 4 tsps of mirin 4 tbsps tamari or soy sauce and 1 tbsp of sugar . Pour this over your vegetables until they are covered. Place a otoshibuta on top this can be in the form of a smaller lid that sits inside your pan or you can use foil with a hole. This will stop the vegetables moving while they simmer but help the flavour . Simmer until tender then leave to stand so the flavours really soak in. Heat to serve adding your snow peas or green beans. I can’t tell you how delicious this was and I can recommend having a chunk of nice rustic bread with it to soak up that lovely broth. Perfect for a cold day it’s hearty, comforting and filling and the maitake are rich in vitamin D which is great for the winter months .

Autumn Food, Blog

Ginkgo Festival Tokyo

Last year I was in Tokyo late November to mid December. One of the festivals at that time is the Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival. Starting this year 2019  November 15th and running until December 1st. The famous 300 meter long avenue lined with 146 Gingko trees turn a spectacular golden . The day I visited the sky was pure blue and was a gorgeous backdrop for the golden leaves.


It reminded me very much as I walked through the crowds of people of cherry blossom viewing in the spring. People would stop and take selfies or pictures with their loved ones with the leaves.

People would gather leaves and throw them into the air to capture that special shot, or even take pictures of their beloved pets against the carpet of already fallen leaves.

Did you also know that the Gingko tree produces edible nuts called (ginnan)?

They are shelled, skinned and boiled and are a popular snack at autumn time or can be used in dishes like chawan mushi a savoury egg custard for which I have a vegan recipe for on my autumn recipe section or cooked with rice to make takikomi Gohan. They are very nutritious and high in vitamin C, iron,copper, manganese,potassium,calcium, zinc and selenium. They are some times salted and had with beer as maybe an izakaya snack. However these nuts should only be eaten in limited quantities no more than 8 a day to enjoy them safely as they can be toxic in larger amounts.
I made a meal using some of the ginnan in an obanzai style like the ones at VegOut Cafe in Kyoto. Seasonal ingredients are used and have a small selection of different dishes on one plate.
Kabocha loaf ( recipe on my autumn section )
Kabocha salad
Avocado & Potato salad
Simmered eggplant with miso
Salad & Pickles
Vegetable Soup with ginnan
Rice with ginnan and cut out carrot ginkgo leaf shapes
As a dessert I made a tofu persimmon mousse with candied chestnuts.

Why not try to make seasonal meals for yourself , check out my seasonal recipe section for ideas.


  1. The lovely Gingko tenugui cloth is from www.nugoo.jp
Autumn Food, Blog

Japanese Micro Seasons Part 5 Soko ( Frost Falls )

October 23rd-27th first frost (Shimo hajimete furu ) As the weather starts to get colder we might wake up to frost covered mornings.

At this time I always think a warming breakfast to keep you going through the cold mornings are very comforting. Why not try to make a hot bowl of oats with pumpkin it’s great if you have some steamed pumpkin left over from a meal. Just use one cup of oats mixed with half water and half soy milk, add a few tablespoons of steamed pumpkin and mix in to your oats then add some sweetener like maple syrup and some spice like cinnamon or pumpkin spice. Cook your pumpkin on a low heat. Spoon into a bowl and add some toppings like sliced persimmon, flakes of almonds, pumpkin seeds etc. Maybe a dusting of nutmeg to finish. Sit and enjoy before you start your day.

October 28th-November 1st Light rains sometimes fall (Kosama tokidoki furu )

I Remember fondly walking through Kyoto in the rain in Autumn, the sound of rain on the temple gardens gave the ground a beautiful fresh smell and the stone shines like glass. There is something quite magical about temples and shrines in the rain.


November 2nd-6th Maple leaves and ivy turn yellow (Momiji tsuta kibamu)

The maples turn the most vibrant colours in autumn in Japan . The way the light shines through the leaves no wonder it’s celebrated just a much as the cherry blossoms in the Spring.

I have been to Japan a few times in Autumn . I love all the autumn foods and the way all the shops decorate their shop windows with seasonal displays. The changing seasons in Japan are so important and is so much more beautiful than the tacky plastic Halloween displays in the UK.

Autumn Food, Blog

Kabocha & Kaki Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Who doesn’t love a sweet and fudgy brownie ? Autumn is the season for my favourite fruit persimmon, known as kaki in Japan . There are two types one is called Fuyu  this one is the one I love it has a squat like shape and is so sweet and jewel like inside . It can be eaten like an apple . The other is Hachiya which has a longer shape with a little point at the bottom ( almost heart shaped ) this one is so nasty if you don’t wait for it to be over ripe so much so that I just avoid them altogether. The perfect Fuyu just yields slightly to the touch .

It’s also the season for lots of different types of pumpkins and squashes, in Japan the one you see most often at the farmers market is kabocha, a winter squash and this is what I will be using for my brownies along with kaki.

First  half a medium size kabocha, scoop out the seeds and steam until the skin is falling away from the flesh. This should yield about 1 cup of kabocha when you scoop it away from the green flesh. Leave to cool.

Then add this to a food processor with x1 over ripe kaki ( persimmon ) also in the UK known as Sharon fruit ) you will need to cut it in half and scoop out the sweet flesh ( do not put the outer skin in ).

Then add 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, 2 tablespoons of almond butter, 1 teaspoons of vanilla essence/extract, 2 tablespoons of melted coconut oil/butter and the water from a can of chick peas. Blend this together until smooth. Then add 200g of almond flour ( if you have a nut allergy use oat flour ) 1 teaspoon of baking powder and 1/2 a teaspoon of baking soda, a pinch of salt and 4 tablespoons of raw cacao powder. Then blend again until mixed. Then fold in if you like some chocolate chips or walnuts ( I actually added both ). Spoon out into a brownie pan lined with parchment paper and evenly spread out. I added a few more walnuts to the top. Bake in a moderate oven until the brownie is crispy on the top. Take out the oven and allow to cool before cutting into squares.

This brownie I think is best served warm with soy cream or ice cream and makes a lovely dessert.

Autumn Food, Blog

Tofu & kabocha Pie

I’ve  wanted to make a pumpkin pie for a while now but instead of using canned pumpkin purée I steamed a whole small kabocha and used that  to make this pie. It’s full of sweetness and spice just like a pumpkin pie should be.

Cut your kabocha into quarters and steam until soft and the rind is basically falling off the flesh. While the kabocha is steaming, in a food processor add one drained block of silken tofu ( I used clear spring ) but any is fine as long as it’s the silken kind. Blend until smooth with two tablespoons of pure maple syrup , two tablespoons of coconut palm sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Add what ever spice you like nutmeg, cinnamon, or pumpkin spice,I added a tablespoon of pumpkin spice to mine.

Then add your cooled pumpkin and blend until smooth.

In a bowl add one tablespoon of kuzu with a little water to make a paste then add 1/2 cup of water and mix .

Emty your kabocha mix into a pan and heat gently then add the kuzu and mix until the consistency is thicker and smooth.

Then to what ever pastry case you choose either a raw nut base or a store bought pastry case or home made pastry that has been already baked, tip out your filling and smooth the top. You can then decorate if you like with pumpkin seeds or maybe pecan nuts.

Chill in the freezer and thaw out 1/2 an hour before serving

I actually froze mine and half way I cut it into pieces so you can take it out a slice at a time .

Serve with soy whipped cream and a dusting of nutmeg. Maybe even some sweet red beans on the side in a true Japanese dessert style.

If you have any filling left over they make great little cup desserts or just use this if you don’t have a pastry case you could  add some crushed biscuits for a base if you like. And  just chill in the fridge.

Autumn Food, Blog

Kabocha Yaki Onigiri

This is a delicious onigiri and super easy to make .

Steam some kabocha until tender and scoop out the flesh from the rind and mash the flesh . Mix in some white miso and put aside .

Cook your Japanese rice and make your rice balls, then take your kabocha mixture and smooth some on top of your onigiri. Sprinkle a few sesame on the top and put them under a hot grill until the kabocha goes slight crispy on top.

Eaten warm they are comforting and filling, making a nice lunch with a miso soup or part of a teishoku meal.

 

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Japanese Micro Season Part 4 Kanro Cold Dew

As explained in my further posts the Japanese have 24 major divisions for the seasons which are then broken down further into 72 micro seasons . Seasons are changing weekly so the Japanese believe you cannot break seasons down just in to four .

We are entering Kanro or cold dew. I can definitely feel the colder air now as the cold dew sits on the leaves in the mornings .

The sub divisions for this division are

Oct 8th-12th Kogan Kitaru wild geese return. With the swallows departing we are now saying hello to the wild geese letting go of the swallows of summer and embracing the new season.

Oct 13th-17th Kiku no hana hiraku Chrysanthemums bloom. At this time of year in Japan you may find chrysanthemum petals in your food or simmered or pickled forms . The chrysanthemum is the symbol of the emperor of Japan and is the official flower of Japan.. You will see it on the imperial seal, you will find it on the Japanese passport, the 50 yen coin, and you may see the emblem at shrines like the one on the gates at the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo. Chrysanthemum growing is a much practiced hobby with people entering contests for the best blooms. It takes lots of love and care to grow the perfect flower. It reminds me of my childhood where my grandfather would win big silver cup prizes for best in show on his chrysanthemums. Often he would cut them for my mother to take home on our regular Sunday afternoon visits .

There are chrysanthemum displays and festivals going on at this time of year like at Meiji shrine and the Yanaka Kiku Matsuri . Kiku is the Japanese name for Chrysanthemum. And you can often see their blooms used in Ikebana at this time.

The flower is full of symbolism being the symbol of the sun and longevity. Colours have symbols also so be careful as white chrysanthemum are displayed at funerals and graves.

These are some beautiful  chrysanthemums I took photos of at the Shinjuku Garden in Tokyo.

The final sub division is Oct 18th-22nd Kirigirisu to ni ari  Crickets chirp around the door. Apparently this was a time when people used to mend their clothes ready for winter and the crickets chirping were said to keep the rhythm going while people stitched. I guess this is the concept of Wabi Sabi . Enjoying the simple things in life and finding the beauty in that old top you forgot you had but needs a bit of tlc. I think for me one of the reasons I love Japan so much is their love for the changing seasons, this is why I like to make seasonal recipes relating to Japanese culture. I hope you can maybe take a look at my recipe section and try a seasonal recipe for yourself.

 

 

Autumn Food, Blog

Japanese Micro Season Part 3 Autumn Equinox & Making Ohagi


We are now heading in to the shorter days of Autumn. Monday the 23rd is the Autumn Equinox. In Japanese micro season it is known as Shūbun. This season is broken into three parts.

September the 23rd-27th Kaminari sunawachi  koe o osamu ( thunder ceases )

September the 28th- October 2nd Mushi Kakurete to o fusagu ( insects hole up underground )

October 3rd-7th Mizu hajimete karuru. ( farmers drain the fields )

The equinoxes are a special time for Buddhists they believe that this is when the worlds between the living and dead are at their thinnest, thus at this time people pay respects to the deceased .

This is also part of the silver week holiday in Japan starting with Respect the aged day  and finishing on equinox day.

Buddhists call Autumn Equinox O-Higan or Aki no Higan, and it is tradition to make ohagi at the time a type of Japanese wagashi (sweet) Ohagi おはぎ is named after the Japanese clover bush and these sweets are sometimes also taken to ancestors graves at this time as offerings. They are really delicious and so easy and fun to make.

To celebrate why don’t you try to make them. They are made with sweet half pounded ( hangoroshi ) Mochi rice with an anko filling and rolled in various toppings like kinako and ground sesame. You can also do a reverse one where the rice is the filling and the anko is on the outside. You can either buy chunky bean paste called Tsubuan in packets at Asian grocery store or make your own.

The above shows Mochi rice and bought and homemade tsubuan.

You will need 1 rice cooker cup of sushi rice and 1 cup Mochi rice (Mochimai). First give the rice a good rinse changing the water until in runs clean. Soak your rice in four cups of water over night and then cook in your rice cooker or pan. This does make a lot of ohagi so you can either freeze them or just use half the amounts 1/2 cup sushi rice 1/2 cup Mochi rice and two cups of water. Through experience if your rolling your ohagi in toppings do this after you have defrosted them.

When the rice is done mash your rice but not fully so you still have some grain and leave to cool covered with a cloth so it doesn’t dry out. Divide into balls and flatten out. It is advisable to use plastic wrap but if you don’t want to just have damp hands and a wet clean cloth to hand. In the middle of each flattened ball add a ball of anko and then fold the rice over the anko to make a sealed ball. Carry on making until all are done.

If you want to make inverted ohagi make small balls of rice and add this to the middle of larger flattened balls of tsubuan.

Now choose what you would like to roll your ohagi in . Powdered black sesame ( kurogoma ), kinako ( soybean flour ), sesame seeds mixed with sugar or maybe matcha.

How about making Kurumi which is powdered walnuts with sugar. The balls of sticky rice become easier to mould into balls after they have been rolled in the topping.

They make lovely gifts and are perfect with a green tea.

I know I will be making them to enjoy with a tea while looking out onto my already changing colours of maples in my garden. In Japan they won’t be changing just yet people in Japan will have to wait until late October, November to do what’s called momijigari or autumn leaf hunting which is as much a custom as hanami flower viewing in the spring.

Kyoto

Inokashira park Tokyo

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Japanese Micro Season Part 2 Hakuro

In the next part of Japanese micro seasons we talk about the next set of micro seasons Hakuro meaning white dew breaks down into three parts 8-12 of September Kusa no tsuyu shiroshi ( dew glistens white on grass. 13-17 of September Sekireinaku ( wagtails sing  ) and 18-22 September Tsubame saru ( swallows leave ).

The last one for me is very significant, I always feel the arrival of the swallows marks the start of summer and the swallows leaving definitely means autumn has arrived.

Also during this micro season is the moon viewing festival in Japan called Tsukimi or Otsukimi, it can also be known by the name Jugoya.

It is a time when the Japanese honour the autumn moon and give gratitude for a good harvest. Traditionally offerings are made of seasonal produce like chestnuts, persimmon and kabocha. Rice dumplings ( dango balls ) are made representing the full moon. Eating these are considered auspicious and are said to bring health and happiness . Display 12 one for each month. Pampas grass ( Susuki ) is also displayed at this time. Another symbol of Tsukimi is the rabbit. Japanese people say they see the shape of a rabbit pounding Mochi with a mallet in the moon, unlike others that may see a face in the moon often referred to as the man in the moon.

There is a little pottery store in Kyoto down Pontocho Alley in Kyoto. I’m not sure of the name of the store but the store sells nothing but rabbit items . Maybe it is called simply Usagi ( meaning rabbit in Japanese.) I picked up this rabbit dish last time I was there.

The word Tsukimi is also referred to for dishes that have a raw egg yolk in them like Tsukimi soba. This one is my vegan version using grated daikon and kabocha.

Many places in Japan 2019 will be holding special moon viewing events this year. Himeji castle Sept 13th, Tokyo Sky Tree will be holding events through Sept and Oct. Sankein garden in Yokohama will be holding events between the 12th and 16th of Sept and Ise shrine will be holding an event on the 13th sept.

Will you be attending any moon viewing events or maybe you could quietly do something at home. Weather your in Japan or not why not pay homage to the harvest full moon and welcome autumn with the changing seasons.

Lovely Seasonal Continue reading…

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Kitsune Soba

I’m really missing Japan . So much so that my heart aches for the place. I do not feel like I fit it to my life in the UK but I always feel I belong when I’m in Japan. It’s like feeling seriously home sick for a place that isn’t your home. I’m hoping this will help. Kitsune soba.

So simple but the secret behind the perfect kitsune soba starts with the  broth. Full of umami flavour,start with kombu kelp,and dried shiitake. Soak over night and then simmer for 10 mins and then discard the kombu . Take out the shiitake and squeeze the water out into the kombu water and put aside. When you heat your dashi add tamari and mirin. Kitsune soba or udon is named kitsune meaning fox after the deep fried fox fur colour of the tofu, others say that the foxes favourite food is aburaage . You may know the shrines inari and inari sushi comes to mind. Foxes are the spirt guardians or ( okami ) of these shrines and you may often see shops selling fried tofu near the shrines.

You can use soba noodles or udon just cook the soba noodles and rinse and put into the hot dashi broth when ready to serve. Also served with chopped green onions and the shiitake which has been sautéed in toasted sesame oil. Just add aburaage and some grated daikon if you like. For extra comfort food I made a yaki onigiri.

( as an extra umami flavour I like to add a slice of Yuzu peel when I’m heating up my broth ) I just sliced the peel off a Yuzu fruit and froze it and anytime I want to add Yuzu peel to a broth I just drop a slice  in. These kind of meals really take me back in spirit . 

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Creation In The Kitchen

There is nothing I enjoy more that creating Japanese inspired food, as I’ve often said somehow it helps me feel more connected to Japan. Even when I cannot be in Japan, using Japanese ingredients to make my food and using the preparation as almost a meditation soothes my soul.

Like most people meals I might start with a list, maybe you have a recipe to follow and you need to get the ingredients. I often plan out what I am going to make and gather the items I need . However when I have a little more time I let the ingredients do the talking. Blindly like an artist might use a blank canvas and paints I look what ingredients I have to hand starting with the fresh produce, then I start to think about what I can make with them using my cupboard stables. I always make sure I have different kinds of miso in the fridge, all my different bottles from mirin,tamari,brown rice vinegar to toasted sesame oil. Sesame seeds, seaweeds,noodles,rice,are all there in my culinary palette. I start to chop and sauté, mix this with that, until I end up with my finished meal. The seasons in Japan play a big part in Japanese life and it definitely reflects in their cuisine, so I like to do the same.

Choosing as much as I can organic and in season and using the least amount of plastic packaging possible, I often pick from seasonal products from a company that offer veg boxes delivered to your door.

This time I used eggplant to make nasu dengaku ( recipe on this website) served with some lovely organic salad. A tofu grain burger and purple sweet potato salad ( potato salad recipe on this website I just used purple potato instead.) Some left over tomato and basil soup from making tsukemen ( see previous blog post ),sauerkraut and an onigiri rolled in furikake with an umeboshi pickled plum. For the salad  I made a sesame dressing and for dessert a single apple crumble using some gifted apples and a slice of fig served with soy cream.

Why don’t you look through the seasonal recipes on this website and maybe make a few things and put them together in a Japanese inspired meal. If you do please share them on Instagram and tag me so I can see them. I’m looking forward to seeing what works of art you can produce in your kitchen.