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Rice

Autumn Food, Blog

菊の節句 Chrysanthemum Day


Chrysanthemum Day 
菊の節句 Kiku no Sekku also known as Chōyō no sekku (重陽の節句is the last of the five ancient sacred festivals of Japan (Gosekku 五節句).

The 9th of the 9th is said to be very auspicious in Japanese culture . It coincides with the blooming of the chrysanthemum and is a time when festivals took place at the Japanese imperial court.

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.

Chrysanthemum Day is observed by drinking chrysanthemum sake sprinkled with chrysanthemum petals. This is known as Kikuzake. These flowers were said to bring longevity, so drinking the sake was a symbol of a long and happy life. I have served the sake here with some chestnut wagashi ( recipe for this can be found on my autumn recipe pages.

Other things  for this day we’re bathing with chrysanthemum flowers much like the bathing with Yuzu for the winter solstice  A practice of covering the flowers over with a cloth over night outside and wiping your face with the dewy cloth in the morning for young looking skin was also observed.

On this day it is tradition for people to eat chestnut rice “Kurigohan”. In order to celebrate the harvest, people will cook the kuri (chestnut) and Japanese rice with dashi, and then enjoy such kurigohan as a traditional food, other foods eaten today could be eggplant and In some regions, soba and amazake are also enjoyed.

I thought it would be nice to make Gomoku Gohan a five ingredient rice which included chestnuts to celebrate the last of the five seasonal festivals. There are also recipes for this and takikomi Gohan (mixed rice ) on my recipe pages. For this I added chestnuts, aburaage,carrots, kiriboshi daikon and shimeji mushrooms. I soaked the rice in a kombu shiitake dashi including some of the water from reconstituting the dried daikon adding tamari and mirin to the soaking water. Just add the ingredients on top of the rice but do not mix. Cook the rice and when done gently fold in the ingredients then put the lid on to steam for a further ten minutes. Serve with a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Another food to eat on the auspicious day is eggplant so to go with the rice I simply steamed a whole peeled eggplant and made a delicious sesame miso dressing for it. Served as a Teishoku set meal on a tray with chilled tofu and a simple broth with vegetables, pickles, chilled tofu and for dessert the September seasonal  star figs with a sweet miso glaze.



As they are such auspicious flowers, chrysanthemums often appear as a motif on pottery So why not use this pottery today to serve your food. 

I have spoken before in previous posts about the Japanese word Fu-bu-tsu-shi the little things that signal the changing seasons. The key part of focusing on the here and now and celebrating the passing of time. I think this micro season is one of my favourites, already there is a mist across the fields in the early morning the name of this micro season (Hakuro meaning white dew breaks).  The sky is dappled with altocumulus clouds ( also known as mackerel sky) they are a sign of changing weather.

With the arrival of the autumn equinox and the moon viewing festival Tsukimi, it will be time to make Ohagi and Dango once again. So much to enjoy this month. Celebrating the abundance of nature’s harvest with late summer early autumn vegetables and fruit. In Japan the rice fields will begin to turn gold and the spider lilies will bloom once more.

Blog, Summer Food

Yama no Hi

Yama no Hi ( mountain day ) is japans newest public holiday, only starting in 2016. Much like marine day another public holiday is for taking the opportunity to appreciate the ocean this holiday is to honour the Japanese landscape with its many mountains and volcanoes. Mountain day normally falls on August 11th the reason this day was chosen is that the kanji for the eighth month looks like a mountain 八 and the number 11 signifies two trees. If this day falls on a Sunday the following Monday is observed. This year the date has been changed to coincide with the closing of the 2021 Olympics. With over 73% of Japan being mountainous if you have ever been to Japan I’m sure you have either visited, hiked or at least seen one mountain when you have been there. Mt Takao is one of the easiest mountains to visit from Tokyo and is the most visited mountain in the world with around 2.6 million every year, Mt Fuji is the most climbed in the world with 300,000 people climbing the sacred mountain each year in the short period between July and August. I have visited Mt Fuji a few times on my trips to Japan and finally on my last trip back in December  2018 was actually able to see it with out clouds covering it.


I also went to Mt Kurama by taking the Eizan Kurama line from Denmachi-Yanagi station which takes around an hour to reach Kuruma a rural town in the northern mountains of Kyoto city. Kurama-dera temple is a Buddhist temple located on the steep wooded mountainside, it takes about 45 minutes to climb up the mountain to the temple, there is also a cable car going up ( one way ) to part of the way there if you wish to take it.


Known for its spirituality and breathtaking natural beauty, it is the birthplace of the holistic healing art of Reiki and is said to be the home of Sojobo king of tengu. Tengu are long nosed legendary creatures found in Japanese folk stories that represent the mysterious power of the mountains and are believed to be the mountains guardians. You will find a large Tengu statue at Kurama station.


The temple is also associated with the annual fire festival which takes place in October. As you climb up the mountain you will come across Yuki Shrine which has a 800 year old towering cedar tree, it is believed if you pray to this tree with all your heart your wish will come true.


I visited this temple on a very cold December day, as we climbed  flurries of snow started to fall and a temple gong could be heard. I can’t explain the feeling this temple gave me it was such a profound feeling of spirituality. I do not have any reiki training but if anyone is sick I often try to think of this temple and the healing energies I felt and try and send it to that person.


From Kurama-dera temple you can normally take a hiking trail which continues on through the forest for about one hour which leads to Kifune shrine. However there had been particularly bad typhoons and the path had been closed so I went back down the mountain and followed the river up passing places which are popular to stop at in the summer to enjoy the natural beauty and escape from the heat with a cold drink.


As it was winter all these places were closed and I carried on until I reached the well worn flight of stone steps lined with red wooden lanterns which lead up to Kifune-jinja (also known as Kibune). This shrine is dedicated to the god of water and rain the source of life energy.


Another mountain I have visited is Mt Rokko accessed by the Shin Kobe ropeway which offers panoramic views of the city as you climb up the mountain. When you reach the top there is japans largest herb garden with around 75,000 herbs and flowers plus spectacular views out to Kobe.



Did you know that the popular Japanese snack onigiri which can be round, barrel or triangle shaped, when shaped into a triangle represents a mountain ? It is said when you eat it you are taking on the power of the mountain?
I found this out watching the NHK anime series Kiyo in Kyoto about two friends in a maiko house and the food that is prepared.

They actually discussed another onigiri from Yamaguchi prefecture which is coated in kinako soy bean flour and another similar one which had azuki beans then rolled in kinako originating from Kyoto. These onigiri are very similar to the Japanese wagashi ohagi.
With that in mind I decided to make a special mountain day Ohagi onigiri to represent Mt Fuji.

I used a mix of sweet Mochi rice and Japanese rice but I didn’t pound it sticky I just kept the rice grains intact. Inside each I put some sweet red beans and then rolled the onigiri in black sesame and kinako.


Maybe you could make onigiri to take on a walk or hike for mountain day to enjoy at the summit, or just relax with a tea at home.

Here are some more onigiri ideas to inspire you or just search onigiri and find more on my recipe pages.


Summer Food

Vegan Unadon (Eel Rice) 鰻丼

Doyo-no-Ushi-no-Hi 土用の丑の日 falls this year in Japan on the 28th of July. This is a day when it is tradition to eat unagi (freshwater eel) starting in the Edo period. Apparently this is said to help give relief from the fatigue of intense summer heat and humidity  during the Japanese summer. Unaju is one of the most traditional popular ways to eat it. Grilled eel served with a sweet sticky soy sauce glaze and sansho pepper placed on top of steamed rice  and served in a lacquerware box called Jubako.

Also called Unadon when placed in a bowl of rice short for unagi donburi.

The over consumption of eel has made it endangered but illegal fishing still goes on. So why not make a vegan version instead. Over the years I’ve made vegan versions using eggplant and tempeh, this year I made a vegan eel using tofu and taro potato.

First make your sauce add to a pan two tablespoons of mirin, one tablespoon of sugar and one table of sake and heat gently to dissolve the sugar then add two tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce. Simmer on a low heat to reduce and set aside.

You will need to use firm tofu for this. Drain a pack of tofu from its liquid wrap in a paper towel or muslin cloth and microwave for one minute, this will help to dry out the tofu without pressing. Mash the tofu then tip it into the middle of a cotton cloth so you can use to it to squeeze out the liquid, a nut milking bag is especially good for this.

Squeeze out as much liquid as possible then tip the tofu into a bowl and set aside.

I used three peeled and grated taro potato as a binder. It has a sticky texture when grated. I used a Japanese Kyocera ceramic grater to grate it fine, they are also perfect for grating ginger and daikon so definitely well worth adding to your Japanese kitchen utensils.


Add this to your tofu along with a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of kombu dashi powder or grated kombu. I used a Japanese Oroshigane wasabi stainless steel grater to do this. If you do not have either grater try to use a fine grater setting. Mix to combine. Finally add a tablespoon of Japanese potato starch and mix together.


Then cut two pieces of nori and place shiny side down. Spread the tofu taro mixture over the nori, I pushed a chopstick into the middle to make it look more authentic but you don’t have to do this. Add a shallow layer of oil to a frying pan and cook tofu side down until golden.

If you like make your nori crispy by flipping it over.
Place your warm cooked vegan eel on to steamed rice and drizzle over your sweet soy sauce glaze . Finally finish with a sprinkle of sansho pepper.  Serve if you like with miso soup and simple pickles.

 

Blog, Summer Food

Marine Day Poke Bowl

Marine Day (海の日) (Umi no Hi) also known as Ocean Day or Sea Day it is a Japanese national holiday normally celebrated on the third Monday in July. The purpose of this day is to give thanks to the ocean and consider its importance. Many people on this day may take advantage of it being a public holiday and go to the coast. I myself did just that and have spoken about my trip in previous posts to Enoshima island that I made on this day on one of my visits to Japan.

This year the date has been moved to Thursday 22nd July to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics which makes it a long holiday with Sports day normally in October being moved to Friday the 23rd for the opening of the games.
How about making one of my recipes that do not contain fish and leave the marine wildlife where it belongs in the ocean. You could make my tofu fish and chips for instance or my crab cakes, tuna mayo donburi or takoyaki.
This year I made a special poke bowl.

I started first with the rice, making a vegan Kani Gohan (crab rice ).


I often use jackfruit as a crab substitute you could also check out my vegan crab sushi salad.
For one person:
First wash one rice cooker cup of rice and add it to your rice cooker with one cup of kombu dashi, one tablespoon of sake and one tablespoon of soy sauce or tamari. Let this soak for half an hour. While the rice is soaking drain a can of jackfruit and shred the jackfruit pieces taking out the seeds and set aside. I also had some maitake mushrooms or you could use shimeji. After soaking the rice add the jackfruit and mushrooms and cook with the specified rice cooker setting for your cooker.
While that’s cooking prepare your poke bowl toppings. A poke bowl is normally raw sashimi with other vegetables. This time for the sashimi I steamed sliced red bell pepper until tender then poured  over some soy sauce to marinade with a squeeze of lime. You could also use one of my favourite marinades from the wasabi company ( sudachi ponzu ) in the past I’ve also used marinated tomato or even watermelon for my sashimi substitute.
Then prepare any other toppings, you can use anything you like from tomato, avocado, edamame, sliced green onions to cucumber, sweetcorn, carrot, even some fruit thrown in like melon or mango.
Spoon your finished vegan Kani  Gohan into a bowl and add your toppings. Finish with vegan mayonnaise a sprinkle of furikake and sesame seeds. Finally pour over the marinade from the peppers.

I hope that even if you cannot visit the seaside today that you will start to think about the impact we have on our marine life and oceans. Happy Marine Day.

Autumn Food, Blog, Spring Food, Summer Food, Winter Food

Simple Meals Inspired By Shinya Shokudo

“When people finish their day and hurry home, my day starts. My diner is open from midnight to seven in the morning. They call it “Midnight Diner”.Tonjiru is all I have on my menu. But I make whatever customers request as long as I have the ingredients for it. That’s my policy. Do I even have customers? More than you would expect.”

If you follow my Instagram you will know I’m a real big fan of Midnight Diner & Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories. Last year I did some recipes inspired by the Netflix series. Although numbered series 1+2 in fact these are the last in the series as they started back in 2009 with MBS called just Midnight Diner. There are three seasons in this plus two films before Netflix took them over. If you don’t know Midnight Diner or “Shinya Shokudo” is a tv series about ordinary people who eat at a diner based around the Golden Gai district in Shinjuku.


The small restaurant opens from 12 midnight until 7am. The only thing on the menu is tonjiru but customers may ask the chef known as “master” for what they want and as long as he has the ingredients he will make it for them. It shows the relationship of the characters with the food they order. The dishes are normally simple Japanese home cooked style meals which may envoke a memory for the customer. This  is a lovely heart warming series and if you love Japan as much as I do it doesn’t matter that most of the food cooked isn’t vegan. This is why I decided to take the first three seasons and choose some of the simple meals you can make plant based.

Season 1 Episode 3 Ochazuke

Three women Miki, Rumi and Kana often frequent the diner and always order Ochazuke with different toppings.
Ochazuke is one of the most simple traditional Japanese meals often eaten to settle your stomach or a quick snack with left over rice.
A one-bowl meal  of steamed rice with green tea poured over (sometimes dashi broth) and an assortment of toppings. Ocha refers to green tea, and zuke means “submerged”. You can use various kinds of green tea such as Genmaicha, Sencha or  Hojicha. Spoon some fresh warm rice into a bowl and add your toppings. I added chopped red shiso leaves, umeboshi plum shredded nori (kizami), a sprinkle of daikon furikake and toasted brown rice. Finishing off with a garnish of a few mizuna leaves . Brew your tea and pour over the rice. Eat straight away so the rice doesn’t go soggy.

Season 1 Episode 4 Potato Salad

I do already have a potato salad recipe on my recipe pages in fact it was probably one of my very first. The Japanese version is a little different to the normal potato salad you might be used to. It’s a kind of mashed potato salad rather than potato chunks. Creamy Japanese mayonnaise is used plus vegetables like carrot and cucumber. In the midnight diner episode “Master” recommends you boil the potato with skin on and peel when they are done this apparently keeps in the flavour. He then mashes the potato with a fork adds slices of cucumber julienned carrot and diced ham (you can use vegan ham if you like). Mix the carrot and cucumber in while the potato is still warm this will help to soften them. Add kewpie mayonnaise ( there is a vegan version it just depends if you can get it where you are) or you could either make my recipe for kewpie which is on the other potato salad recipe or just use vegan mayonnaise.

Season 1 Episode 5 Butter Rice ( An arrogant food critic comes to the midnight diner to find something as simple as butter rice to win his heart and resurrect memories )

I must admit I had never tried this and if you haven’t either I seriously urge you to do so. Use good quality Japanese rice when it’s freshly cooked spoon it into a bowl and top with vegan butter. I use the one by Naturli. When the butter has melted a little adds dash of soy sauce or tamari and that’s it. Simple but so so delicious!

Season 2 Episode 5 Tuna Mayo Rice Bowl or Tuna Salad

This is another donburi (rice bowl) meal. In some of my previous recipes like crab cakes and sushi salad I have used jackfruit. It doesn’t taste of fish but gives you that shredded crabmeat tinned tuna type texture. For this tuna salad I did the same. Just simmer a tin of drained jackfruit in water for about 20 minutes then drain and pull the pieces apart and place in a bowl. Add to this mayonnaise a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, 1/2 a finely diced white onion and a teaspoon of sweet white miso. Mix all together and top on to freshly made rice. I also added a little sliced pickled myoga ginger on top for colour and extra flavour. You could add some diced green onion if you like. This works just as well as a sandwich filling or on a warm jack potato.

Season 2 Episode 7 Hakusaizuke (pickled napa cabbage) or Asazuke

I always make sure I have some kind of tsukemono (Japanese pickles) with my meals . This one is so easy using just salt and no vinegar. I thought it would taste salty but it didn’t it was super sweet. Slice a napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage ) in half length ways and then do the same again so you get four slices. Wash and leave to dry. Add your slices to a bowl and add salt. Rub the salt into the cabbage. You can also add some shredded kombu kelp slices of red chilli pepper and some lemon zest if you fancy. Place a plate over the bowl so it sits just inside, then pile on more plates for a weight or what ever you want to use. Leave in a cool dark place. Then next day give them a massage and cover again. After three days they should be ready. Slice and serve. The rest will keep a few days in a container in the fridge.

Season 3 Episode 5 Harusame Salad

Harusame are dried Hokkaido potato starch noodles which were originally made from mung beans.

Harusame kanji characters are 春spring and 雨 rain. I thought being the rainy season at the moment in japan it was a nice one to make . This simple recipe has a few ingredients julienned cucumbers and carrots (which are first salted left for ten minutes after rubbing in the salt then rinsed ) wakame seaweed that’s been soaked in warm water then sliced and vegan ham with a awase-zu dressing. In midnight diner master adds shredded omelette so for colour I just added some sliced yellow bell pepper. It’s a perfect salad for summer. The noodles take only a few minutes to cook (see packets or cooking instructions) drain and rinse in cold water to remove the starch. Add to a bowl with your other ingredients then pour over your Awase-zu Kyoto style dressing 3 tablespoons of brown rice vinegar, 2 1/2 tablespoons of soy sauce or tamari, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of mirin, pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and 1 tablespoon of Yuzu juice if you like. I like to add the Yuzu it gives the dressing a lovely citrus flavour that’s great for a summer salad.  You can also use this as a vinaigrette if you just add some olive oil instead of sesame oil with salt and pepper.


I hope this will inspire you to make some of these simple home cooked style meals for yourself, you may also like my post on Natsukashii & Ofukuro no aji ( a taste of home ). If you haven’t already watched Midnight Diner & Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories I can definitely recommend it.

Blog, Spring Food

Live by the (Shun) 旬 The philosophy of Seasonal eating part 2 Spring Equinox

When you see Sansai 山菜 on a menu in Japan it is a sign that Spring has arrived! When people think of Spring in Japan of course the beautiful Sakura is the first thing that comes to mind, but delve a little deeper and there is something emerging from the soil towards the warm spring sunshine up in the mountainous regions. A variety of edible wild green shoots start to push through the soil these are nature’s bounty known as “Sansai”. People can forage for these edible treasures to use in Japanese cuisine. Often seen in Shojin Ryori Buddhist temple food. Nowadays you can see cultivated varieties  also in the supermarkets of Japan. Although thought to be many varieties these are the most commonly used ones.

(thank you to my friend Masami Instagram (veggylife_m  in  Japan for the images) udo, nanohana  and warabi 

Kokomo (こごみ 屈) Ostrich Fern can also be (Kogomi or zenmai ) known as fiddleheads 

Fuki no tō (ふきのとう 蕗の薹)

Yomogi (よもぎ 蓬)

Nanohana (なのはな 菜の花)

Wasabina (わさびな 山葵菜)

Take no ko (bamboo shoots)  (たけのこ 竹の子

Yama udo (やまうど 山うど)

Shungiku (しゅんぎく 春菊)

Field Horsetail 土筆 

Warabi (bracken shoots ) (蕨)

Below are some lovely young wasabi leaves and flowers in season at the moment, you can buy them from the Wasabi Company the link is either down the side or at the bottom of the page depending on your browser. They are delicious in salads or pickled in vinegar.

I have often been intrigued by these vegetables not only because of the shape of them but every spring there is an explosion of people in Japan cooking them and sharing their creations on Instagram.
I did manage to get some precooked packages of sansai vegetables and also some lovely other ones fresh from the Japanese vegetables growers I use Nama Yasai Farm.

Shungiku ( edible chrysanthemum leaves )

So using a mixture of fresh and packaged sansai I wanted to create three  meals you can make easily using what ever you can find. Even if you cannot get mountain vegetables you can use other vegetables for instance : Udo is also referred to as Japanese mountain asparagus so I will be using asparagus instead.
You may also be able to find the parboiled sealed packet variety of bamboo shoots ( I do not recommend the tinned variety as they have other ingredients added).

Nanohana is related to the broccoli family and is the young shoots of the rapeseed plant so I suggest using tender stem broccoli instead. The boiled packet of mountain vegetables I got from the Japan centre has bracken, bamboo shoots kikurage, enoki and nameko mushrooms and carrots.
The first meal is a simple rice bowl with these vegetables mixed in known as Sansai maze Gohan. If your using the packaged vegetables they are precooked and ready to use just drain and rinse under running water.


All you need to do is cook up some rice I recommend adding a little mirin and soy sauce to the liquid you cook your rice in . You could also use kombu dashi . Just soak a piece of  kombu in water over night. Rinse your rice as normal and put in your cooker or pot. Add kombu dashi and 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and mirin to each cup of rice used. This will add a nice flavour to your rice. Once the rice is cooked mix in your vegetables Maze Gohan means mixed rice . If you are using other vegetables steam them before mixing in except leaf vegetables which can be just mixed straight into the hot rice. I added some extra shimeji mushrooms and strips of aburaage ( fried tofu ).

The rice also can be used to make onigiri. This is an omusubi (meaning gently pressed not squeezed).


The next is a country style meal originating from Tsugaru region Aomori prefecture. A nutrious soup with miso or just a soy sauce broth with mountain vegetables and other vegetables added like carrot, gobo and daikon. Also to give the soup extra sustenance deep fried tofu (aburaage ) or freeze dried tofu (Koya-dofu) is added.  This soup is called Kenoshiru. The vegetables are normally cut into chunks and as well as tofu sometimes beans like fava or lima are added. Just use a kombu dashi again for your broth. I sautéed in sesame oil then simmered  any uncooked vegetables in dashi  first then add tofu and any precooked veggies. Finally add your miso or soy sauce and any greens which ever you prefer.

Served up with some warm crusty homemade fresh bread spread with shio-koji tofu (see post for recipe) and some tsukemono, there are pickled wasabi flowers in there.

The final meal you could try is Ankake Mountain Vegetables. Ankake basically is a thick starchy sauce, this dish uses the mountain vegetables with dashi, soy sauce and potato starch from Hokkaido.

This is nice served either with rice or udon noodles a typical dish from Iwate prefecture or Kyoto style with some tofu. Cook up any uncooked veggies first maybe add daikon and carrot other mushrooms like shiitake or shimeji to a pan and sauté with a little sesame oil then add in dashi around 2 cups simmer until your uncooked vegetables are almost ready then add your precooked veggies, and  any leaves like shungiku or mustard greens and aburaage strips (fried tofu cut into strips ) finally to your dashi add tamari or soy sauce and mirin a tablespoon of each also a little ginger juice is nice too. Now turn off the heat.  Mix a few teaspoons of potato starch into a bowl with some water to form a slurry this is called katakuriko and gradually add this to your pan. Now turn the heat back on and carry on simmering and stirring until the sauce becomes thicker. Add a final dash of sesame oil for extra flavour.

I added a sprinkle of mizuna flowers for extra colour. Served with rice, tsukemono, Japanese potato salad and a Botamochi for dessert.

As we now look forward to longer days and the chill of winter turns into warmer weather with the Spring Equinox or Shunbun we could make a popular wagashi made at this time in Japan called Botamochi, in the Spring named after the tree peony Botan, in the autumn the same wagashi is called Ohagi named after the clover bush hagi.

The equinox is a Buddhist festival in Japan known as Higan or in the spring Haru no Higan, at this time the wagashi maybe taken along with flowers or incense to ancestral graves as offerings. The wagashi is eaten to call to the ancestors for protection of the rice fields. The confection is made from pounded sweet Mochi rice with a red bean filling. They are often rolled in kinako ( soy bean flour ) or ground black sesame, some are reversed so the red bean paste is on the outside. If you would like to make these for yourself please check out my previous posts for Ohagi and Botamochi.

As the wheel of the year is turning once more seasonal bounty ingredients in Japan include sansai ( list above), asparagus, spring cabbage, new potatoes, broads beans, broccoli, shiitake and wasabi.

I hope no matter where you are in the world you can think about your own Shun ingredients see also my first post on this (Live by the Shun the philosophy of seasonal eating part 1 Winter ) and make some seasonal foods for yourself.
Happy Spring Equinox!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog, Spring Food

Chirashi sushi Scattered Sushi for Hinamatsuri

On March 3rd in Japan it is Hinamatsuri a special girls day festival held every year for parents to celebrate their daughters if they have them and pray for their health and happiness. It is the second in the five seasonal festivals this one also known as peach blossom festival or dolls day. The peach blossom are blooming at their peak now and ceremonial dolls are displayed in households.

There are many traditional foods that are eaten on this day for instance, hina-arare bite sized crackers, a fermented sake drink called shirozake, strawberry daifuku, Sakura Mochi, Temari sushi, kompeito small candy sweets, Dango and inari sushi to name a few. You can find out more about these in previous years posts. This year I have decided to make a special sushi known as Chirashi Sushi or Chirashizushi. This starts with sushi rice, lovingly preparing the sushi rice as normal washing it thoroughly  until the water runs clear and then cooking it in my rice cooker. When it was done I added ume plum vinegar to keep in with the theme of the blossoms at this time carefully mixing it in and fanning it cool. Then scattering over  some organic toasted sesame seeds to set the base for the rest of the toppings. Some of the ingredients were prepared in advance like sliced lotus root, cut into flower shapes and pickled in shiso vinegar for a week before hand. Chirashi Sushi  translates to scattered sushi. You will often find the one made for Hinamatsuri decorated with lotus root and slices of omelette, known as kinshitamago, I made a vegan omelette and this was my first topping. Then I scattered some kiriboshi (dried daikon) that had been soaking in warm water to reconstitute. It is tradition to add fish like salmon roe, crab meat and maybe shrimp but as I am making a vegan sushi I added, peas, sliced shiitake, snap peas, pickled daikon flowers and carrot flowers, preserved salted Sakura and shredded nori known as kizami nori.

This is the perfect meal to make and share at a party or gathering.
In Osaka Chirashi Sushi is known as Barazushi or Gomoku Sushi sometimes topped with unagi eel. In Tokyo it is known as Edomae taken from Edo and features an assortment of sashimi.

It is also traditional to make a clear clam soup known as ushio-jiru to go with a Hinamatsuri meal. As I wanted a vegan soup I made a similar clear soup known as Suimono. Starting with a cold water dashi the day before with kombu kelp, dried shiitake and Yuzu peel then the next day discarding  the kombu and slicing the shiitake adding  just mirin, tamari and a little salt to the broth. Pouring it over silken tofu (kinugoshi) and adding pretty fu flowers,with a few other ingredients bamboo shoot, shiitake, broccoli stem and mitsuba. The flavour is very delicate but full of umami.

To make the meal extra special some seasonal desserts, pink tofu dango topped with a rhubarb sauce, Sakura Mochi and a white peach sherbet jelly from the Japanese wagashi shop Minamoto Kitchoan.

Happy Hinamatsuri 🌸🌸🎎🌸🌸 I hope you can make a special meal or something to celebrate the beginning of spring even if you do not have a daughter.

Blog, Spring Food, Winter Food

Setsubun & Risshun 2021

Setsubun on February 2nd marks again the changing micro seasons. It is said to be the New Years Eve of old, welcoming in Risshun the beginning of Spring. Wait isn’t Setsubun normally on the 3rd ? Astrologically it moves this year for the first time in 124 years. In fact over the next few it will flit back and forth. Next year going back to the 3rd then back to the 2nd in 2025 then every four years there on.

This is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Even though we are in the coldest days, in Japan you will start to see those signs that spring is near by. The days are just getting slightly longer and you can see the start of life emerging from the earth. Ume blossom is starting to bloom, giving those well needed splashes of colour to the brown landscape and maybe you might see  flashes of a little green bird known as Uguisu (bush warbler or the Japanese nightingale) another symbol of spring.
It is a good time to find comfort in the seasonal bounty of root vegetables, creating positive energy by cooking up stews and soups to warm the body.

Another thing I like to do is make warming comforting drinks, one of my favourite being a Houjicha soymilk latte. Houjicha or ( Hojicha ) is Japanese green tea that has been roasted rather than steamed. This alters the colour from green to brown and tastes earthy and nutty, it also makes this tea very low in caffeine. I like the Dark roast or Gold Houjicha both from Kyoto Obubu tea farms and would definitely recommend trying out their tea selection.

Why not make this on a cold afternoon, perfect for a snow day relaxing at home. Just use around one – two heaped tablespoons of Houjicha in a pan and simmer on a low heat with a cup of soy milk adding a little sweetener if you like ( rice malt syrup is especially nice ). Let the soymilk simmer slowly for around ten minutes do not boil.


Then transfer to a milk frother or blender. I like to sprinkle a little powdered Houjicha on top.

It is custom on Setsubun to make a long sushi roll known as Eho-Maki and eat it in silence facing the years lucky direction (this year being south-south east) and make your wish for the year ahead.


Maybe if we all wished for the same thing it may come true! I think we all want the world to heal so we can get back to normal. I’m definitely missing my travels to Japan like many of you.

The fat sushi roll must include 7 ingredients after the seven lucky gods (shichifukuji) This year I decided to use atsuage, violet cabbage, komatsuna, daikon tsukemono, baby corn, asparagus and carrot.     If you want to know more about Setsubun customs just search Setsubun for more information. Let’s welcome in the Spring.

 

Autumn Food, Blog, Winter Food

Japanese Thanksgiving & Kondate-Zukushi Meal

Niinamesai 新嘗祭 is a Shinto celebration held on the 23rd of November, nowadays it has been rebranded as Labour Thanksgiving Day. It is a very important day in Shinto religion as it is the annual day to give thanks for the newly harvested rice. This is known as the celebration of first taste.In Buddhist temples it is known as The Autumn Festival and is normally a ceremony of the gratitude for everything nature provides. It is also a time to pray for a prosperous and fruitful New Year.

I decided to make a temple style meal to celebrate doing something a little different. These days due to modern cultivation methods, vegetables are grown all year round and no one seams to know a vegetables true season. In temple cuisine it is believed to be important to follow the flow of nature and eat foods provided by the season. This makes sense as each season provides us with the nourishment we need, consider summer vegetables tomatoes, cucumber and melon all have a cooling effect on the body. Autumn and winter root vegetables give us warmth and nourishment to warm the body with soups and nabes.

I had just received a box of kabu from an organic Japanese vegetable farm. Robin & Ikuko run Nama Yasai farm in East Sussex.

Kabu かふis a type of Japanese turnip, it has an effective digestive aid and is rich in vitamin C, iron and fibre. The leaves are nutrient rich in vitamin A and Calcium.
As the whole part of the vegetable is good in so many dishes from soups and simmered dishes to salad and pickles, I decided to prepare a meal using two Japanese principles. The first is called Ichi Motsu Zen Shoku, which is the use of using a vegetable in it’s entirety. The second approach is called Kondate-Zukushi a culinary practice of making an entire meal from one single ingredient (in this case kabu).

This is my Teishoku meal

Kabu & Soymilk Soup

Chopped Kabu, simmered in vegetable stock until tender adding some greens at the last minute, then add a dash of soymilk and white miso before blending.

Gohan & Kabu greens

cooked Japanese rice with chopped Kabu greens mixed in after cooking.

Simmered whole Kabu with Yuzu miso

Miso roasted Kabu with sautéed greens and baked tofu

Finally what no Japanese meal should be without Tsukemono or pickles. This pickle is known as Asazuke or quick pickle.

Slice a medium Kabu and place in a ziplock bag, add to this some chopped greens, some sliced kombu kelp, 1/3 chopped red chilli a teaspoon of Yuzu zest and a teaspoon of Yuzu juice, a table spoon each of brown rice vinegar and mirin and a tablespoon of salt. Press the air out of the bag and seal it then massage the Kabu so all the flavours are immersed. Then leave in the fridge at least four hours or overnight.

I hope this can inspire you to make your own meal around the Kondate-Zukushi principle.

 

 

Autumn Food, Blog

Fukuyama Uzumi-Gohan うずみご飯

A traditional dish from Fukuyama is Uzumi cuisine.

Fukuyama is near the centre of Seto inland sea which has developed as a main port for the eastern area of Hiroshima prefecture, this dish began in the Edo period 1603-1868. It was created at this time due to frugal politics who’s government forbid luxury items. Uzumi means to bury, people used to hide luxury food items like rare mushrooms or fish under rice.
Now this dish is considered good fortune and people in Fukuyama even have an Uzumi festival to celebrate food from the mountains and sea.
I thought what a nice idea this was to have almost a surprise of food buried under rice . Also now people do not have to hide their food in fear of frugality and it made me feel lucky to have such choice in the foods we now consume. Why not try this meal for yourself using seasonal ingredients. Think of it as a reverse donburi instead of the rice being underneath it’s now on top.

I made two Uzumi the first was soboro style. Soboro is normally minced chicken  and egg ( you can see another post for this on my recipe pages. I made my vegan version and put the rice on top.


The second was a mixture of autumn Japanese mushrooms shimeji, shiitake, maitake and enoki. Sautéed in a teriyaki sauce then placed in the bottom of a bowl and topped with rice. It’s as simple as that .


You could make all kinds of your own variations. What joy to be given an Uzumi rice bowl, digging out delicious seasonal foods, not knowing what lies beneath the rice.

Summer Food

Hiyajiru ( cold summer soup ) & Kohaku-Kan ( Brown Sugar kanten jelly )

Even though there is still ranging heat in Japan I am beginning to see a shift in the seasons here in the UK. The nights are getting shorter and the weather cooler. The swallows are getting ready to migrate and the fields are being harvested. With that said I wanted to make one final summer Japanese dish before I start to think about heading over to making autumn meals.
This is something I have tried making in the past but it didn’t turn out to my liking but when I saw an NHK programme dining with the chef I knew I could try to make a vegan version.

Hiyajiru is a Japanese cold summer soup with rice. Traditionally with flaked mackerel and miso. Instead of the mackerel I decided to use flakes of jackfruit with aonori seaweed mixed in.

First you need to make a dashi, soak a small piece of kombu kelp for a few hours in 150ml of cold water, after bring the water to a simmer over a medium heat for ten minutes ( do not boil) then remove the kombu.

Add to the water, 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce or tamari and mirin then chill in the fridge.

Make some Japanese rice in advance and tip out into a bowl and allow to cool. I used 1 rice cooker cup – 2 rice cooker cups of water.

Emty the contents out of a tin of jackfruit rinse and drain, you will only need to use half a tin so transfer the other half to a container to use in something else ( you could try one of my other recipes like vegan crab sushi). To the other half of the drained jackfruit add a teaspoon of aonori.

Finely grate a 1 inch piece of peeled ginger.
Slice in half a bulb of myoga ginger and finely slice.                            Slice into rounds a two inch piece of Japanese cucumber, or similar.  Half a lemon length ways and remove the skin and any seeds and dice into small cubes.
Chop half a green onion.

You will also need miso around one tablespoon, about a heaped teaspoon of vegan butter and a tablespoon of ground sesame.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the grated ginger and green onion and sauté, then add the jackfruit and miso keep stirring as it burns easily, add the ground sesame and stir in. Sauté for a few minutes then transfer to a dish, add your cubes of lemon and put in the fridge to cool.

Make a ball with your rice ( to fit in the middle of your bowl ) press the rice so it doesn’t fall apart. Pour around the rice your chilled dashi and then add around your rice slices of cucumber and myoga ginger. Finally top the rice with your jackfruit miso mixture, and maybe some sliced shiso leaves. Then add any remaining dashi over the rice. Eat by taking a little rice, mixture and dashi in each spoonful.


Hiyajiru is the signature dish from Miyazaki in southern Japan and  has been selected as one of the top 100 countryside recipes making it the perfect summer meal as temperatures rise.

For dessert why not make Kohaku-kan brown sugar jelly.

Kohaku-kan mean amber relating to the colour of the jelly.

For the jelly we use Kanten which is made from seaweed and traditionally you would use raw cane sugar but I am using coconut palm sugar. This dessert is so easy and quick to make.

Depending on how many people you are making it for just double the recipe. This makes two servings if you decide to put the jelly with other things like sweet red beans and fruit.

For the jelly
125ml cold water

1.5 gram of powdered kanten

30 grams of coconut palm sugar
Plus a small container to pour the jelly into around 3×3 inch

You will also need to make kuromitsu which is a brown sugar syrup, simply made with brown sugar and a little water heated in a pan until it thickens and if you wish some sweet azuki beans to add over your jelly plus any fruit of choice. I added a few pomegranate seeds.

Add kanten to a pan with the cold water and stir to dissolve. Turn on the heat and bring to a boil then turn the heat to a simmer until the liquid looks clearer, then add your sugar and mix in. Turn up the heat and wait until your mixture starts to bubble then turn off the heat.

To a large bowl add some iced water then fit a small bowl inside. Pour your sugar jelly Into the empty bowl this will help to cool it down. Keep stirring this will stop the sugar sinking, when it starts to set at the edges pour into your mould. Allow to cool at room temperature then set in the fridge for a few hours.

Loosen the edges and tip out onto a plate and cut into squares.

Serve in a glass dish or bowl, with sweet azuki beans and pour over kuromitsu.

There you have it Hiyajiru cold summer soup and Kohaku-kan sugar jelly dessert

Let’s say goodbye to the summer and welcome in the new season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog, Spring Food, Summer Food

Yoshoku Caponata

A few years ago I had Caponata in a vegan cafe in Tokyo. Caponata is actually a Sicilian dish and is basically an eggplant hotpot stew. I decided to to make this recipe with a Japanese fusion. When you do this it is called a Yoshoku meaning western Japanese food. I set out to make this sweet and sour Sicilian classic using some Japanese ingredients.

The first thing is salted eggplant, I sliced 1/2 an eggplant in to thick rounds and then divided them into quarters. I then rubbed in Shio koji which is a fermented condiment in Japan made from salted rice malt.


I left the eggplant for ten minutes then added it to a pan with some olive oil and started to sauté. Then I added a stick of celery chopped finely and half a chopped onion. Then I added a tablespoon of mirin, Japanese brown rice vinegar and sugar along with a tablespoon of Yuzu juice. The Yuzu juice will give the sauce a nice citrus taste, I then added one tin of chopped tomatoes. Capers are normally added to this recipe so instead I added a teaspoon of sansho berries. Sansho is a Japanese pepper the green berries come precooked in a jar. They have a citrus fragrance the green berries are a quintessential spring Kyoto being used in the autumn ground into powdered spice.

I then added a tablespoon each of pitted black and green olives and turned down the heat of the pan put on the lid and let in gently simmer for 30 mins.

This dish is very versatile can be eaten over rice Caponata donburi, or cold on a crusty sourdough. How about using it as a topping for jacket potato or pasta, even as an inari filling.

Here I have served it with rice and a salad. Finishing off with a sprinkle of pine nuts some lemon rind and basil.


Autumn Food, Blog, Spring Food, Summer Food, Winter Food

Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories Plum Rice Ball

Episode 3 of season 2 sees Master the owner of the diner Meishiya make plum rice balls for a customer. The series is so heart warming and shows how food has the ability to not only to connect people but to bring back memories. One such memory for me was one Marine day ( a public holiday held on third Monday in July in Japan where many people head off to the coast). We had started our train journey over to Enoshima island in Kanagawa Prefecture and there were lots of families on the train. On the opposite seat was a family the mother got out a neatly packed bento and untied the furoshiki around it. Opening the lid she started to take out onigiri those triangle shaped rice balls wrapped in nori sometimes with a filling, she handed them to her children. The onigiri filled the hands of the small children and I remember how happy there faces were to be eating such a breakfast on the way to the seaside. Onigiri ( rice balls ) are perfect for picnics or in the case of the Midnight diner an evening snack.
The pickled plums used in the series were the hard type called Ko ume, as I only had umeboshi I used those instead. Umeboshi are slightly squashy which are dried and salted plums. They are tart and tangy and I must admit to not liking them at first but now I love them. They have been used in Japan to aid digestion and are a good way to keep the rice fresh for a few hours.

Cook up some Japanese rice and chop up an umeboshi plum. When the rice is done fold in your umeboshi ( I also added some furikake with sesame and dried daikon greens to give it a little colour ).

Wet your hands and make a ball of rice then start to mould the rice by pressing the rice into a point, then rotate the ball pressing it into that onigiri shape.

Do not put in the fridge as they will go hard, the umeboshi will help to keep them fresh for a few hours, if you want just put a damp cloth over them. When your ready to eat them I find a strip of nori ( dried seaweed) makes them easier to hold.

I like to toast my nori in the oven to make it extra crispy. The crunch of the nori and the soft rice then the tang of the umeboshi, just takes me right back to Japan, and for me that is one of the  reasons I make Japanese food.

They are nice just simply served on their own with a sake or a miso soup.