Blog, Spring Food

“Mono no aware” The fleeting beauty of Japanese sakura & recipe for tofu sakura cheesecake .

 

The term mono no aware (物の哀れ) was brought about by Motoori Norinaga, the eighteenth century literary scholar, by combining aware, which means sensitivity or sadness, and mono, which means “things.” It literally translates to “the pathos of things.” But more loosely, it could also mean “the beauty of things passing.”

In traditional Zen Buddhism Japanese aesthetics mono no aware is study of beauty and the impermanence of such beauty. Impermanence is all around us and the sadness connected to it, knowing that everything doesn’t last forever.  The changing of seasons are not to be mourned, but cherished and appreciated in their impermanence.

The cherry blossom is a common symbol of mono no aware it’s meaning symbolizes both life and death, as the coming of spring promises new life, at the same time, their short lifespan is a reminder that life is fleeting.

Would we be in such awe of the cherry blossom if we could see them every day ?

This is why the season is celebrated so much in Japan. Every spring, cherry blossoms, or sakura as they are known, bloom across Japan at different times, depending on their variety and location. People from all over the world visit Japan to partake in Hanami 花見 the spring tradition of admiring the sakura and celebrating its beauty. (hana) means “flower,” and (mi), means “to view.” together, hanami literally means “to view flowers.”

The sakura flowers are symbolic for the people of Japan, representing hope and new life. During this season in Japan, people like to have cherry blossom parties with colleagues, friends, and family basking under the splendor of the cherry blossoms while enjoying eating and drinking. There is also something quite romantic about viewing the cherry blossoms in the dark. Many blossoms are illuminated and it is a time that couples especially can enjoy yozakura “viewing cherry blossoms at night”

Taking a moment to stop and admire the flowers is one of the most beautiful parts of spring.

Japan has over 200 types of sakura trees, Somei Yoshino makes up almost 80% of them with their light pink flowers with five tiny petals.

Other varieties are Kawazu-zakura an early blooming cherry blossom, Shidare Zakura, weeping cherry trees, Yaezakura. Yaezakura with their double pink blooms and Yamazakura which typically grow in mountainous areas in Honshu.



This is the Japanese character for sakura
The (ki) on the left side means tree/wood and developed from a pictogram of a tree, with the horizontal line as branches and diagonal lines as roots. Sakura is derived from saku , which means to bloom, or alternately to smile/laugh. The in 咲 indicates an open mouth.

Are you a Sakura-bito 桜人(Cherry blossom lover?). Such is the flower’s significance that in Japanese there are a multitude of words to describe them. Here are a few of my favourites.

Sakura-fubuki (桜吹雪) – this means “cherry blossom snowstorm”. Often cherry blossom petals fall in the spring wind, which from a distance can look like a snow storm of pink petals.

(Hana gasumi)花霞

Literal translation: “flower mist”

This describes the way that the huge number of sakura grouped together look like a big pastel cloud, or a pinkish haze when seen from a distance.

Hazakura (葉桜) – cherry tree leaves. Once the flower blossom has fallen, small leaves start to appear on the trees.

Sakuragari 桜狩り means ‘Sakura Hunting’. Will you be hunting out the best places to view cherry blossoms this year?

Sakura signals the beginning of spring, a time of renewal and optimism. Like the blooms bursting with possibilities it is the start of the Japanese new financial and academic year, which, in Japan occurs on April 1st. This is a time when there are new hope and dreams starting studies at school or in a new career. Sakura, is a symbol of good luck and hope for the future.

In ancient Japan the arrival of cherry blossom was celebrated as a signal of the start of the rice-planting season and to cast good luck over the year’s harvest. Originally, sa referred to a rice paddy god, and kura meant “a seat for a god.” Japanese people believed cherry blossoms were dwelling places for mountain deities who transformed into the gods of rice paddies.

This relationship between specific plant flowering events and agricultural practices is known as phenological indicators. Because the arrival of the sakura was a seasonal indicator for the planting of rice, sake is often drunk to ask the gods for a fruitful year ahead. You will often find people drinking hanami-zake 花見酒 under the cherry blossoms the term is used for sake drunk while viewing cherry blossom this is normally enjoyed with specially prepared food or bento. Do you have any plans this year to enjoy the spring weather under a beautiful blossom tree?

Recipe for Sakura Tofu Cheesecake

This year I wanted to create a very special recipe that you could share with friends during this time. My creation is my no bake decadent silky smooth tofu vegan cheese cake with a hint of Sakura.

Full list of ingredients needed:

Preserved Sakura flowers, beetroot powder, digestive biscuits, vegan butter, raw cacao butter, x2 Shizenno Megumi soft tofu, cashew nuts, vegan honey or agave, Ume Su vinegar.

You will need a 7 inch base spring form cake tin and parchment paper to line it.

Step 1 make your flavouring

(do this a week before you make your cake you can omit this part if just colouring your cake pink or you can use sakura syrup instead to add flavour. 

Ingredient quantities & Method:

As I wanted to flavour the cheese cake with the unmistakable flavour of Sakura I looked at buying some Sakura powder. However on researching it didn’t appear to be vegan, and I also wasn’t sure how natural Sakura syrup was either so I set about making my own. The cheese cake takes a little forward planning because of this. You can however just colour the cheese cake pink omitting the flavour if you wish, or add sakura syrup.

To make the sakura powder I first used the pickled preserved salted sakura you can buy already pre done. It is sometimes sold as Sakura tea but has no tea leaves with it.

These come with a lot of salt and the last thing you want is a salty cheesecake so first wash the flowers and pat them as dry as possible with kitchen towel. Lay the flowers out on a clean dry sheet of kitchen towel and place another on top, press down and leave to dry in a warm place for a few days.

After this time pick the flowers off the kitchen towel and place them on a dish. At this point they still might not be completely dry, you can test this by trying to crumble them between your fingers. If they do not crumble leave them somewhere warm for a few more days. I placed the dish on top of a radiator to completely dry out.

When the blossom are dry snip off the stems and add the flowers to a grinding bowl called a suribachi and begin to grind the flowers into a powder.

If you do not have one it will take you a little longer to do this. You could also try using a clean coffee grinder.

When the blossoms are powder add a few teaspoons of beetroot powder, this will be what adds the colour to your cheese cake.

Step 2 Preparation for filling.

Add 2 cups of cashew nuts to bowl and pour over boiling water. Leave while you make your base.
Add 90g of raw cacao butter to a bowl under a pan of simmering water to melt while you make your base. When melted leave over the hot water so they do not solidify until you need to use them.

Step 3 Make your biscuit base
Ingredients & Method:

You will need 20 vegan digestive biscuits which is around 250g and 100g of melted vegan butter.

Method:

Add the butter to a bowl under simmering water in a pan and gently melt the butter.

Add the biscuits to a food processor and process into fine crumbs.

Line the bottom and sides of your cake tin. (To line the bottom release the spring and take out bottom, place some parchment paper underneath the ring, then put the base back on underneath and tighten the spring then cut around the edges. Brush the sides with a little oil and cut two strips to go round the edges ,the oil will help it stick to the sides.

Remove the biscuits from the food processor and add this to a bowl, then pour in your melted butter.

Mix well, it will be the consistency of wet sand.

Tip out the base mixture into your prepared lined pan and press it down well and a little up the sides. I used a jam jar to press it down. Place the base in the fridge while you make your filling.

Step 3 Make your filling.

Ingredients & Method:

Drain your soaked cashews and add these to a food processor or blender. I was using my nutri bullet so ended up making the filling in two batches. Add to this 1/3 cup of vegan honey, agave or light coloured sweetener. You will need one and a half blocks of Shizenno Megumi soft tofu. Drain the liquid well from the tofu and add this to the cashews.

The delicate hand crafted soft tofu is perfect for making desserts like this, which is made using traditional Japanese techniques by a small group of passionate members bringing traditionally made tofu to the U.K. If you  want to know more about this tofu why not check out my previous recipes using “Shizenno Megumi” tofu.

Add to the tofu a tablespoon of Ume Su plum seasoning which is used in the preserved sakura process so this will add to the sakura flavour of your cheesecake. You can instead also use sakura syrup but again I am not sure how vegan friendly and natural this is. It really depends on your preferences.

Blend everything until smooth then add your melted cacao butter. Finally add two teaspoons of your sakura flavour beetroot powder. Give it all a final process until smooth and silky.


Remove your base from the fridge and pour your filling into the cake tin. Put this back into the fridge and leave over night to completely set.

To remove release the spring and push the bottom up from the pan. You can slide the parchment paper to put your finished cheese cake onto a serving plate.

Why not decorate your cheese cake with fruit and maybe add some delicate sakura blooms.

Unlike other cheesecakes which do not stay firm unless they are frozen this one is perfect just kept chilled until you need to slice it.

After that time it can be transported in a container to your hanami party to be enjoyed with friends and family.

How about trying a variety of different flavours just use the basic cheese cake ingredients and add Japanese ingredients like Yuzu juice, matcha or  black sesame. You could also make lemon, strawberry or blueberry cheese cakes in a similar way. Which ever flavour you try I just know you are going to love this indulgent special cheese cake recipe that all your friends and family will enjoy.

Blog, Spring Food

Shinshun “New Spring” The Season Of New Beginnings & Sakura Tofu Taiyaki


There is a saying in Japan, April is finally here, a new life begins. (
Iyoiyo shigatsu de, atarashii seikatsu ga sutāto shimasu.)

いよいよ4月で、新しい生活がスタートします

April 1st marks a fresh start and new beginnings in Japan. Just as the Sakura start to bloom It marks the beginning of 学年 (gakunen, 学年 the new academic year). Students start their new classes wearing their new seifuku, 制服 school uniform and maybe using their randoseru,ランドセル school backpack for the first time. I’m sure you have seen many school children carrying these very recognisable backpacks. The academic year is different to schools and colleges in the U.K. that start in September. In Japan, the first day of school is known as “Nyugakushiki”, 入学式 which means “entrance ceremony”. This day marks a new chapter in the lives of both the students and their families as they will attend a formal ceremony along with their teachers, and classmates.

Apart from the academic year, April also marks the beginning of the fiscal year 年度 in Japan. This is a time of new beginnings in the corporate world . Companies and businesses in set their budgets and make plans for the upcoming year. Employees may receive a promotion or change jobs and businesses may recruit new graduates at this time. This is a crucial event for graduates to attend job fairs and interviews bringing a fresh start for the future.

April is now truly a season of new beginnings and even if you are not starting a new job or school it maybe a good time to start a new journey and set goals for the future. How about learning a new language “Japanese maybe”, or  starting an evening class or new hobby. Maybe the birth of new life might inspire you to try something new or set a goal for the rest of the year.

Even the smallest changes can have an effect, many years ago I decided to take up studying Japanese cuisine and culture as a way to give myself motivation and purpose. Little did I know that this would lead me to work with and meet some wonderful people.

One of these people is Shunzo who had his own new beginning arriving in the U.K. in April 2022 from the parent company Hikari Miso. Born in Kawasaki his first job out of university was working for House Foods America one of the largest Tofu manufacturers in the world and in 2019 joined Hikari Miso Co Ltd. Dragonfly Foods Tofu original brand since 1984 was bought by Hikari Miso in 2015 and decided to upscale production capacity by shipping massive equipment made in Japan and set up a new purpose built facility for making traditionally made tofu in Devon in 2017. You can choose to buy from their range firm, extra firm and soft tofu. The first two are perfect for making any tofu meal the soft is better for desserts smoothies miso soup etc.

 

I have been using such tofu named “Shizenno Megumi” meaning natures best for many of my recipes and I wanted to use tofu again for a very special recipe to mark Shinshun “new spring”.

I decided to create a recipe for Sakura Taiyaki, with a sakura flavour bean paste filling and pink colour to celebrate the blooming of the Sakura and blossoms not only in Japan but where ever you may live.

But why Taiyaki? Well let’s talk about this popular fish-shaped snack that is eaten warm and freshly baked from street food vendors, taiyaki shops and cafes.

I ate my first vegan Taiyaki on a trip to Japan one sakura season back in 2013. I visited a Taiyaki shop in Ebisu Tokyo called Taiyaki Hiiragi たいやきひいらぎ who opened their shop in 2006 selling taiyaki, a traditional Japanese baked sweet in the shape of a fish filled with red bean paste.

There regular bean paste one being vegan. I was hooked by the perfectly crisp waffle / pancake outside and sweet warm bean filling! Sadly not all Taiyaki is vegan.Taiyaki たい焼き(鯛焼き) translates literally as “baked sea bream”, Tai (sea bream) is a type of fish often considered king among fish in Japan, and yaki can mean fried, baked, or grilled. Don’t worry there is no fish contained in this snack the name actually comes from the fish-shaped mould that the snack is baked into.

The origins of Taiyaki can be traced back hundreds of years to the Edo  period to imagawayaki (今川焼) (called oobanyaki (大判焼き) in the Kansai region of Japan.) Imagawayaki was first sold  near the Kanda Imagawabashi bridge (神田今川橋) in the Kanda district of Tokyo, which is where it got its name.

The shape was first a round-shaped cake similarly served warm and filled with azuki sweet red bean paste. During the Meiji era, seabream was an expensive dish that had long been considered a symbol of good fortune in Japan. In fact, even the name tai is considered auspicious because it rhymes with the word medetai, which means joyous or prosperous. Thus taiyaki could be seen as an inexpensive way for ordinary people to enjoy this lucky fish.

As the name tai forms part of the word medetai, which means lucky, Taiyaki became a popular snack for new students and employees in April to eat to bring them luck in their new future. So I decided creating a Taiyaki for April would be the perfect snack.

I have never come across a recipe that uses tofu in the batter but I thought the soft Shizenno Megumi tofu would be the perfect replacement for the milk and eggs often used in the batter mix.

You may come across many different fillings for Taiyaki in Japan like sweet potato or custard, some might be seasonal like chestnut in the autumn. With that in mind I wanted to make a sakura flavour sweet white bean paste.

My creation was a sakura bean paste and tofu taiyaki to bring you good luck and prosperity this spring.

Sakura Shiroan 白餡 Filling

Ingredients & Method

First you will need to make your white sakura sweet bean filling. For the sakura flavour I used a mixture of a few salted sakura blossoms that had been rinsed with water to get rid of the salt and dried for a few days between kitchen towel and a finely chopped preserved salted Sakura leaf. The flowers are easier to get than the leaves. I do have a recipe to make both yourself on this website but obviously that takes forward planning a year previous. You can find both however already pre-made on line.

You can if you wish omit this and just fill your Taiyaki with traditional red bean paste.

You will need 200g of already cooked and drained butter beans (also known as Lima beans). A 380g carton with a drained weight of 230g yielded the correct amount.

Blend your beans into a smooth paste adding a little water to get them moving then add them to a pan with 150g of sugar and your chopped sakura and leaf. (If you would like to colour your bean paste you can add a 1/4 teaspoon of beetroot powder. Because I used organic unrefined granulated sugar which isn’t white I added more beetroot powder. If you are using white sugar you will get a pretty pink.


Turn on the heat to medium low and let the sugar dissolve. Keep stirring for about 15 minutes until the beans become a smooth paste.

When it’s thick and you can scrape a line in the bottom of your pan it’s done. To stop the sakuraan being too sweet I added one tablespoon of ume su plum vinegar for extra tang and two fresh sakura flowers with the salt rinsed off for extra flavour.

Transfer to a container and refrigerate overnight. This will keep in the fridge for at least a week.

Tofu Batter Mixture

Ingredients & Method

You will need x1 pack of Shizenno Megumi soft tofu drained of liquid and added to a blender or food processor with 1/3 cup of soya milk. Blend this until smooth.

In a bowl sift 1 cup of plain all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of potato starch, then add 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar and give it a mix to combine. Pour in your tofu mixture and give it a good whisk to combine, then leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.


Just a note:
(I added 1/4 teaspoon of beetroot powder with the idea of making them pink but the colour got lost in the baking process. I would be reluctant to add more beetroot powder incase it either went red or the colour just didn’t look nice in the baking process. I decided you will probably not need to add beetroot powder as the pink from the bean paste is a nice contrast.


To make authentic Taiyaki waffles at home you will need a special Taiyaki pan. You can buy these quite easily on line. The one I have is a cast iron pan made by Iwachu keeping the 400 year old tradition of making Nambu iron ware alive. You can buy these from one of my favourite companies on line to ship authentic kitchen ware from Japan called Global Kitchen.

When you are ready to make your taiyaki, heat up the pan (this can only be done on a gas burner) then brush the insides of the taiyaki pan with oil. Pour in your batter to 60% full and add your pink sakura bean paste filling to the middle.

Then cover over the bean paste with more batter. Close your pan and immediately turn it over and cook for 2 minutes, then flip the pan over and cook for a further two minutes. Check to see if it needs any further cooking.

You may find that the batter has run over the sides when you open the pan. Wait a minutes for the batter to cool slightly and ease the taiyaki out of the pan. You can then cut round the taiyaki into a better shape. For this I like to use my Japanese red super chef kitchen scissors made of high quality 420 stainless steel which are great for snipping herbs and doing things like this.

You can change the recipe by adding a different filling . Popular fillings include sweet potato, custard, sweet bean paste and chocolate spread (like Nutella). Some shops even sell taiyaki with okonomiyaki, gyoza, cheese or a sausage inside so maybe you could create your own.

The taiyaki are at their best eaten straight away but be careful of that lava hot filling. Alternatively you can reheat them back to crispness under the grill or in the oven.

Blog, Spring Food

Zunda Botamochi for Shunbun (Spring Equinox)


The bi-annual days of the vernal equinox are upon us once more. You can see the signs of life awakening from their winter sleep.
In Japan it is a Buddhist festival known as higan. In the spring it is known as haru no higan . To celebrate I always make Botamochi. This is a traditional confectionery made of sweet mochi rice pounded and shaped with a red bean centre . It is traditional to take these with flowers and incense to the graves of ancestors at this time. In the spring the sweets are called Botamochi named after the tree peony botan . In the fall the same sweets are called ohagi named after the clover bush hagi.


This year I wanted to make something that represented the bright green shoots and buds of spring. When I received some early broad beans in my organic vegetable box I had an idea to use them for not only the colour but that fresh taste of spring.


Broad beans or fava beans are called sora-mamé
ソラマメ ( ) or “sky beans” in Japan. They are called sky beans as the bean pod’s point upwards toward the sky when they are growing. Not only tasty but packed with protein and vitamin A.

The word “Zunda (ずんだ)” means the green paste as a result of hitting or mashing. Zunda is often made with edamame and is the boiled beans mashed with sugar and a specialty of Sendai City in Miyagi prefecture. Using the same method as when using edamame I utilised what I had to made Spring Green Zunda Botamochi. The result is pounded mochi rice with a sweet bean paste filling and sweet sora mame paste on the outside. I served them with a pink sakura soy latte. If you want to know how to make the latte just search in my recipes.

How I made Zunda Botamochi

1/2 a rice cooker cup of sweet mochi rice & 1/2 Japanese rice. Wash the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear, drain in a sieve and leave to air for ten minutes, after this time add this to your rice cooker or pan with 2 rice cooker cups of water. (The cup is equal to 180ml) Leave the rice to soak while you make your Zunda.

The beans first need to be taken out of their original outer long pod. You first need to blanch them in a pan of boiling water and boil for two minutes.

After this time drain and drop the beans into ice water to stop them over cooking.

Now here’s the magic. You need to remove the out skin of the bean this is known as double podding. When you do a vibrant green bean will emerge from the dull skin. Now that’s the colour of spring!

Next you need to mash the beans I do this using my suribachi (Japanese mortar and pestle).

Then add two tablespoon of granulated sugar. Grind this all into the bean mixture really well. Then place in the fridge to firm up.

Put your rice on cook.

When the rice is done you will also need some sweet bean paste.
Remove the Zunda from the fridge.

Start to mash your rice it will become sticky due to the sweet mochi rice we used. You want to be able to see some of the grains so don’t mash too much.

Then scoop out about a tablespoon of rice and with wet hands roll it into a ball then flatten it. Roll a small ball of sweet bean paste and put this in the middle of the rice, then fold the rice over and make it into a ball shape again.

Take some of your Zunda and start to form it around the mochi rice ball you can do this with a piece of plastic wrap if you wish.

Keep doing this until you have made the desired amount.

Maybe finish by decorating them with a pickled preserved salted Sakura flower.

If you like you can also make some of the more traditional Ohagi by rolling the rice balls in kinako and ground black sesame.

If you have some Zunda left why not make Zunda dango mochi which is a treat you will see often in Sendai using edamame.

We can now look forward to longer days and the chill of winter turns into warmer weather. Who is ready for Spring? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog, Spring Food

White Day Tofu Pudding Dessert Pots


It’s time for Gyaku chocolate 
逆チョコwhich  means “reverse chocolate”.  If you read my Valentine Post you would know all about the different kinds of chocolate given by women on Valentines Day. One month later on March 14th is what’s known in Japan as “White Day”.

White Day is a specific Japanese concept, claimed to be invented by a Fukuoka based candy company Ishimura Manseido in 1976 for men to give something white back to the women who gifted them chocolate on Valentines Day. The owner got the idea when he read a letter in a women’s magazine where a reader pointed out the fact Japan has a custom of something called “okaeshi” or returned gift. At first the day was called “Marshmallow Day” as they created a new sweet with marshmallow paste stuffed chocolate for the occasion. Eventually the name was changed to White Day to be less restrictive but still referencing the fluffy marshmallows. By the 1980’s White Day had taken popularity all over Japan. Much like on Valentines Day the gifts are categorised depending on the romantic partner or returning gifter. Traditionally the gifts should be white maybe a gift of cookies or candy  or other white items.

Lately pudding has appeared to be the next must get item so with this in mind I decided to make these tofu vanilla and chocolate dessert pots with a popular Valentine fruit of the season strawberries. These I think would make the perfect finish to a romantic meal as they are light and not too filling.


White Day Tofu Pudding Pots 

Mousse Ingredients:
x2 250g packs of “Soft Shizenno Megumi Tofu”

x2 tablespoons of lemon juice

x1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

x2 tablespoons of vegan honey or maple syrup

x2 tablespoons of melted flavourless coconut butter

1/3 cup of soy milk

pinch of salt

Other ingredients:

1/3 cup of sifted cacao powder

Fresh strawberries & grated vegan chocolate to serve.

You will also need some small glass cups or pots to display the mousse

Method:

Drain the tofu from the packaging and add to a blender. To that add all the mousse ingredients and blend until thick and creamy. Pour half the mousse into a bowl and set aside. To the remaining mousse add to the blender the cacao powder and blend again until combined.

Wash, pat dry and slice your strawberry relatively thinly and place them on the sides of your glass pots. Fill the pots with the vanilla tofu mousse and then top with the chocolate tofu mousse. Finish with some more strawberries and grated chocolate then put them in the fridge for at least a few hours to set.


These pudding pots are great any time of the day for a delicious treat or are perfect to serve at the end of a meal.

 

Blog, Spring Food

Sanshoku 三色団子 Tofu Three Colour Dango For Hinamatsuri


上巳の節句
on March 3rd is the second in the five main seasonal festivals of Japan. Sometimes called Momo no Sekku (Peach festival ) or (dolls festival) but more commonly known as Hinamatsuri 雛祭. This festival originally celebrated both boys and girls but over time the celebration ended up being just for girls when Tango no Sekku became popular known as boys day, celebrated in May. Dolls are still displayed and are now said to represent the emperor and empress. The dolls are displayed to ward of evil spirits and are often bought with the birth of a new child or past down from grandparents.

The day now celebrates the growth and good health for parents with girl children. Hinamatsuri is a symbolic date for spring signalling the blooming of blossoms and the start of a new season.

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, inari sushi and chirashi sushi to name a few.

Often you will see dango in these three colours which are popular at this time. These are also called hanami dango 花見団子 or Sanshoku 三色団子 dango, which literally translates to “three coloured rice dumpling”.

Hanami 花見 means flower viewing which is something that Japanese people love to do to mark the changing of the seasons.? From the Ume blossom in early spring to the Sakura then wisteria and Ajisai in June. Japanese people often have picnics to admire the cherry blossom in spring and one such food that is enjoyed is hanami dango. It is also popular to eat this confectionery at Hinamatsuri celebrations as it is a spring celebration.

It is said that hanami dango was first served to guests at a hanami party Daigo no hanami which refers to the blossom-viewing party held in grand style at Daigoji Temple in Kyoto on April 20, 1598 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi attended by about 1,300 people . After this time it became popular to serve this confectionery when viewing cherry blossoms.

There are three specific colours associated with Hinamatsuri green for health, white for purification, and pink for luck. Some times the colours are referred to as : Green colour of spring. White the last snow that is melting away. Pink spring flowers, such as cherry blossoms and peach blossom.

Traditionally the pink dumplings were coloured using purple shiso (赤紫蘇) . However be careful if you are vegan in Japan as often any food that contains pink food colouring is not suitable for a vegan diet as it may contain carmine (made from cochineal insects) other names for this pink food colouring are E120 Cochineal, Crimson Lake or Natural Red 5. If you would like to make these simple traditional Japanese sweets for yourself you can with natural food colouring, like strawberry powder or beetroot juice.

Dango is often described with an onomatopoeia in Japanese called “mochimochi”! ‘Mochi-mochi’ (meaning chewy, elastic, soft, plump). So what is the secret ingredient to make these Sanshoku dango so soft with that mochi mochi texture for yourself ? In my recipe I’m using the soft “Shizenno Megumi”Organic Tofu by “Hikari Miso”. The authentic soft textured tofu called “Kinughosi Tofu” in Japan achieves a softer but chewy dango and adds sweetness without adding sugar.

To make these three colour dango which signify purification, health and luck you will need a pack of “ Shizenno Megumi Organic tofu, you will also need equal proportion: 50% rice flour and 50% glutinous rice flour. Known as Shiratamako (白玉粉) – Japanese short-grain glutinous rice flour, also known as sweet rice flour and Joshinko (上新粉) – Japanese short-grain rice. For this recipe I used two and a half tablespoons of each in each bowl. Shiratamako can come in quite large chunks so it is advisable to grind them down into more of a powder.

You will also need bamboo skewers, matcha powder and pink natural food colouring, I used beetroot juice.

First drain you tofu from the packet and section into three equal pieces and divide into three bowls, then mash the tofu. Add one tablespoon of shiratamako and one tablespoon of Joshinko to each bowl. Next add colouring to two bowls I used one teaspoon of matcha for green and one teaspoon of natural beetroot juice for pink.

Cream the tofu in each bowl then add another tablespoon each of shiratamako and joshinko to each bowl .

It needs to form into a stiff dough (people say to think of what an ear lope feels like and this is what dango should feel like when you press it). You may need to add one more half tablespoons of each flour to each bowl to get this texture. I like to add it in stages like this so you get the correct consistency and you can use your judgment as you go rather than weighing it out and tipping it all in at once.

Make your dough into three separate log shapes and section so you can make equal sized balls of each colour.

Heat up a large pan of boiling water and drop your white and pink dango balls into the boiling water, when they float to the top give them a one extra minute and they are done.


Scoop them out using a strainer and drop them into iced water for 30 seconds. Transfer to a plate lined with parchment so they don’t stick and do the same again to the final matcha dumplings so no colour runs. 


Take each ball and begin to slide them onto skewers. Remember to start with sliding on the green first then white and finally pink. If you would like to store your Dango you can pack them in an airtight container and keep at room temperature for 24 hours. You can also freeze the dango for about a month, so it’s nice to make plenty and freeze them in advance. When you want to eat them thaw them naturally at room temperature. 


I’ve displayed the dango here in a dish shaped like a hagoita (
羽子板) which is a paddle used in a game with a shuttlecock a bit like badminton. The game is called Hanetsuki (羽根突き) and was often a game played by girls. It was believed that playing the game would drive away evil spirits because the movement of the hagoita is similar to harau action a Japanese expression meaning to drive away. Thus playing hanetsuki with hagoita is often used as a charm against evil.

Tofu dango is sometimes served with kinako powder to dip them in or with anko sweet bean paste. I recently saw a wagashi store in Kanazawa called “Cafe Murakami” one I visited on my recent trip to Japan that serve up warm dipping chocolate with their Dango. I thought this was such a lovely idea. All you need is an oil burner with a night light candle. The store In Kanazawa used strawberry white chocolate in keeping with spring colours. 

As I have no children it has also been suggested to me that girls day is a nice day to spend with girl friends or sisters. Maybe if you have no girl children you could plan a day out or go for a meal or celebrate women in general.

One of the best memories I have in my life is visiting Japan at Sakura season.

If  you have never been lucky enough to witness it, seeing the blossom and the way people in Japan celebrate Hanami is just breathtaking.

I think I miss Japan the most at this time of year.  I always like to celebrate Japanese customs and traditions it helps me feel close to Japan  when I cannot be there.

How about making some tofu dango and sit with these and a bento under the blossoms and if like me you cannot be there just dream you are.

Blog

Kinkan no Kanroni & Kinkan Daifuku

Kumquats are tiny tart little citrus fruits which pack a lot of punch when it comes to flavour and nutrition, having high amounts of dietary fibre, Vitamin C and vitamin A.

Known as kinkan in Japan they are eaten whole skin and all throughout winter and enjoyed as an auspicious food over new year. Kinkan has a symbolic meaning that involves wordplay. Kinkan (金柑“kumquat”) is a homonym of kinkan (金冠), or “golden crown.” So it is thought that eating kinkan will bring you wealth. “Homonym is a word with identical pronunciations but different spelling”.

As well as eating kinkan raw it is popular to candy the fruits in syrup this is known as kinkan no kanroni 金柑の甘露煮. Which are popular all over Japan.

To make these you will need:

x1 cup of washed kumquats/kinkan

x6 tablespoons of sugar

x1 cinnamon stick

x2 cardamom pods

x2 cloves

100ml of water (after simmering the first three times)

Method:

First wash and take out the little pip at one end of the fruit, then with a tooth pick pierce each fruit twice on opposite sides.

Place the fruit in a pan with just enough cold water to cover them.

Bring the water to a simmer and boil for 2 minutes and then drain the water. Do this again for another two times making it x3 in total.

Then add the 100ml of water, sugar, cinnamon and cloves to a pan and stir on a low heat to dissolve the sugar, add the fruit and turn up the heat to a boil then turn down to low and simmer for 30 minutes. After this time discard the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom pods and add your fruit to a sterilised jar.

These delightful citrus candies can be used chopped on yogurt or ice cream and the syrup drizzled over. To use as a cold remedy add one candied kumquat to a mug with a teaspoon of the syrup, a little ginger and top up with hot water.

The fruit also lends itself well to adding to baked goods like cookies and muffins. I decided to make a perfect wagashi treat to serve with Japanese tea.

Kinkan Daifuku(金柑大福)

Whole kinkan wrapped with sweet red bean paste and soft mochi rice cake.

Ingredients: makes x4 daifuku

x30g Shiratamako glutinous rice flour

x30g Joshinko fine rice flour

x50g sugar

41/2 tablespoons of cold water

x30g sweet red bean paste

Potato starch for dusting

Method:

Mix the Shiratamako flour and water stirring well to combine, then add the Joshinko flour and sugar and mix well to a paste.

Take a metal pancake ring and add this to a steamer basket over boiling water. Place inside the pancake ring some muslin cloth and pour in your mixture. Put the lid on the steamer and steam for 15 minutes.

While that’s steaming take your bean paste and roll into four balls. Flatten the balls and add a single candied kumquat inside each ball. Fold the bean paste over the kumquat and roll back into a ball.

When your mochi is ready scatter some potato starch on a work surface and tip out your mochi.

When it’s cooled a little flatten it out and cut into four pieces. Take each piece and stretch it out then add a single kumquat covered in bean paste to the middle then fold over the mochi into a ball.

Finish with a dusting of potato starch.

Perfect enjoyed for a Japanese teatime.

 

Blog, Spring Food

猫の日 Neko no Hi (Nyan Nyan Nyan Day)

Japans National Cat Day (猫の日 Neko no Hi)

If you love cats today is for you !

 

Cat Day in Japan is also known as “Nyan Nyan Nyan Day”. “Nyan” is the Japanese equivalent of “meow”, the noise made by cats, and “ni” is the Japanese word for number two. February 22 (written 22/2) is pronounced “ni ni ni”, which apparently resembles “nyan nyan nyan”.

Let’s talk about Japan’s favourite cat the “calico cat”. In Japanese culture, calico cats are symbols of good fortune and are believed to bring prosperity. According to Japanese folklore, a calico cat is a symbol of the goddess of mercy, who is said to bring good fortune to those who take care of her. Calico cats have a unique tri-color pattern, thought of as being typically 25% to 75% white with large orange and black patches. Calico refers to a colour or pattern of a cat’s fur it is not a breed. They are almost exclusively female except under rare genetic conditions. A cat needs two X chromosomes to present with the tri-color calico pattern. If a cat has an XX pair of chromosomes, it will be female. Male cats have an XY chromosome pair, so they can rarely be calicos. There’s less than a 0.1% chance of a calico cat being born male which mean’s approximately only one in 3,000 calicos are male. Did you know calico cats were first documented in the early 1700s in England, where they were considered a symbol of good luck.

You will probably know the Maneki Neko 招き猫 a traditional Japanese cat talisman based on a calico Japanese bobtail thought to bring good fortune and wealth. It originated in the Gotokuji temple in Tokyo. There, a priest named Hojo Tokiyor adopted a friendly stray cat. One day she raised her paw to beckon him to come over to her. As he moved a lightening bolt struck where he was standing saving his life. Grateful for the cat’s warning, the priest became convinced that it was a lucky and divine animal. When the cat eventually died, the priest created a statue with one paw raised in honor of her. He placed the figurine in front of the temple and it soon became a symbol of good fortune and protection from misfortune. If you now visit Gotokuji temple in Setagaya ward  you will see hundreds of Maneki Neko.

Cats are also viewed by Buddhist monks as mindful and spiritual beings having calm, observant, and restful zen like qualities.

The Maneki Neko is almost always calico. This lucky talisman is common in businesses and homes throughout Japan. Maneki Neko, also known as the “beckoning cat” Maneki” means “beckoning” or “inviting” in Japanese, while “neko” means “cat.” If the Maneki Neko has a raised right paw she bestows good luck and wealth to who owns her, If the left paw is up, the cat brings in customers and good fortune.

In Japanese culture the welcoming gesture represent the importance of hospitality, kindness, and happiness. Nowadays, people all over the world love having the Maneki Neko as a decoration, often placed somewhere prominent. Place near the entrance or facing a doorway it is believed to attract good fortune into a home, shop, or other business to bring good luck and attract good things.

You may see Maneki Neko figures in other colours as well as the calico, white cats are generally believed to bring happiness, purity, and positive things to come, while gold cats promise wealth and prosperity. There are also regional ones in Kyoto it is said people favour black cats for their shops while those in Tokyo feel that black is unlucky.

You may see figures with a large gold coin. This can be traced back to one specific cat at Eko-In Temple in Tokyo. A tombstone was erected to a cat believed to have delivered gold coins to a fishmonger left unable to work due to illness.

One things for certain Japan sure do love cats! Japanese people don’t have much extra space for pets. So having a cat is the perfect choice. You will see cats all over Japan from Hello Kitty, Cat Bus & Pokémon.

I have spoken about Yanaka in previous blogs a Shitamachi old quaint neighbourhood known for its cats. There are also many stores selling cat themed items and seven lucky cat statues hidden in the area for you to search for.

There is even a street named Cat Street in Tokyo. A pedestrianised street running between Harajuku and Shibuya. The street is full of fashion boutiques and was actually named an alley for cool cats who aspire to strut the catwalk. Even though cat street has nothing to do with cats the sign has a cat on it.

Cats are popular even in fashion in Japan, fitting in with the whole kawaii culture perfectly.

Just recently a new cat appeared on a giant curved LED shinjuku 3D billboard which gained popularity. billboard opposite Shinjuku Station’s east exit is where you’ll find the larger-than-life calico cat who sleeps, wakes up and stares at passing pedestrians. This was Tokyo’s first 3D billboard and features a curved LED screen that can display 4K images and play sounds. So when  the cat meows, swats at passersby, jumps, plays or naps, it feels like she’s really a giant cat living on top of a building.

I wanted to introduce to you an artist by the name of Toshinori Mori whose art I have in my own home and was so happy to finally meet him on my last trip to Japan.

He was born in Mitoyo City, Kagawa Prefecture and now lives in Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture. Inspired by beautiful Japanese landscape and his love tofor cats, he created a series of illustrations named ”Tabineko” (たびねこ), which means cat goes on a trip, or traveling cat. The series features a calico and black cat who travel through various places, like city streets or country lanes.

Toshinori is also fascinated by the seasons, which are constantly changing in the Japanese landscape and you can notice this on each illustration. Tabineko” illustration series, which is modeled on his 10-year-old  cat and an outside cat coming to the garden.


I can really feel Japan in his art. The travelling cats are drawn with gentle colours and simple touches against the background of the four seasons of Japan. Needless to say nearly every room has one of his prints in my house.

You can follow Toshinori Mori on Instagram and some of his beautiful works are available for purchase as postcards and prints on Etsy.

This year I decided to make calico cat faced onigiri to celebrate  Japans National Cat Day (猫の日 Neko no Hi.) I coloured the rice with tamari and used nori for the face features.

It was so easy to make the bento by using the Neko Kao Onigiri Set from Bento & Co.



Bento & Co have a gorgeous store in Kyoto which opened in March 2012.


They sell not only an extensive range of bento boxes but everything you need to create all things bento. From kitchen tools to cookware and bento accessories like furoshiki and lunch bags.


If you’re not going to be visiting Kyoto any time soon fear not because Bento & Co have a website and deliver world wide with fast shipping. And if you would like to order from www.enbento&co.com you can use this exclusive code TOKYOPONY 
to receive $10 off your first order. Let’s get planning all those hanami picnics we will be having come spring.

If you love cats why not celebrate with something cat themed today.

Blog, Spring Food

Valentines Day Japan バレンタインデー & Recipe For Chocolate Tofu Donuts

Valentine’s Day バレンタインデー is a relatively new custom in Japan. Celebrated on February the 14th, while its origins are in Christianity the custom was taken on in a unique way by Japan a bit like Halloween or Christmas with a Japanese twist.

Although the tradition of giving chocolate started in the 1930’s it wasn’t until the 1970’s when Japan had an economic boom and more women started to enter the work place that giving chocolates by women to men started to become a custom. These chocolates are known as honmei-choco 本命チョコ, “true feeling chocolate”. This was a way for women to express their emotions and wasn’t something that was done before. The practice of giving chocolate occurred because women expressing their love to men was considered disgraceful, and confectioneries capitalized on chocolate as a way for them to profess their love. This custom then over time changed to not only giving chocolates to love interests but to work colleagues and teachers to show appreciation these chocolates are called giri choco. There are chocolates to friends (tomo choco 友チョコ) where no romantic feelings are involved in gifting the chocolate. Tomo choco is meant to celebrate platonic love between friends male or female so as to not alienate those who do not celebrate Valentine’s Day or have no romantic partner. 

Tomo choco comes from the word tomodachi, meaning ‘friend’ in Japanese. Tomo choco is the exception to the rule when it comes to male-only gift-giving. These are basically chocolates or baked goods that women give to their female friends as an expression of their friendship.

Fami Choco (ファミチョコ): Family Chocolate. This is a chocolate gift for male family members: father, husband, son. Mothers and daughters tend to make baked goods or chocolate or buy sweets that can be enjoyed together at home.

It is also now popular to even just make yourself a gift as an act of self love this is called jibun-choco 自分チョコ“my chocolate”.

It is also popular to hand make or bake gifts showing that you have put even more thought and care into a gift.

Why not trying making a treat for a friend or loved ones or even just yourself.

I decided to share with you my recipe for these delicious tofu baked donuts dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with freeze dried strawberries using Shizenno Megumi Organic Soft Tofu. True authentic soft textured Tofu called “Kinughosi Tofu” in Japan. This soft tofu warrants itself well to making desserts and is often used in Japan as an egg replacement. I got the idea of using tofu in a donut recipe after seeing some unusual yuba donuts for sale when visiting Arashiyama Kyoto.

Let’s make fudgy chocolate brownie tofu donuts for Valentines Day.

You will need:

x1 pack of “Soft Shizenno Megumi Tofu”

x2 cups of plain flour

1/3 cup of cacao powder

x1 Bar of vegan chocolate of choice

x1 tablespoon of melted odourless oil (I always use Tiana coconut cooking butter)

x2 teaspoons of baking powder & x1 teaspoon of baking soda

1/2 cup of coconut palm sugar

x2 teaspoons of brown rice vinegar

1/3 cup of soy milk

Something to decorate the donuts like sprinkles, freeze dried strawberries, coconut etc.

Method:

In one bowl sift the flour, cacao powder baking powder and baking soda then mix to combine.

( preheat your oven to a moderate temperature around 150 degrees centigrade.)

Drain the “Soft Shizenno Megumi Tofu” and add to a blender or food processor. To the tofu add the coconut butter, brown rice vinegar and coconut palm sugar. Blend until smooth.


Add the tofu mixture to the flour mixture and fold in gently to combine. Add the soy milk to make a thick batter, adding extra soy milk if needed.

Brush your donut pan with some melted coconut butter and spoon the mixture into the donut moulds, I find it easy to use two small spoons to do this one to scoop up the batter and one to push it off the spoon into the moulds. Smooth the top as best you can.

Place in the oven for 20 minutes.

Remove from the Oven and with a tooth pick make the hole for your donut, as they will likely cover over in the baking process.

Leave to cool and then remove carefully by using a knife gently on the edges to ease them out of the mould. Turn them over to reveal a smooth side.


Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water.

Take each donut and turn it to dip the donut on the smooth side.

Do this to all the donuts. Placing them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.


Decorate each donut with whatever you wish, I used a sprinkle of coconut and freeze dried strawberries.

Now pop them in the fridge for an hour to set the chocolate and you’re done.

After this time you can store them in an airtight container out of the fridge in a cool place.
Serve to a loved one for Valentines Day or box them individually as gifts.

I used 85% dark chocolate for my donut coating but you could use what ever chocolate you like to your preference. For an extra decadent donut why not slice in half an add a layer of strawberry jam.


Don’t forget White Day on March 14th when the women will get returned gifts.

Blog, Spring Food

Tsubaki-mochi (椿餅) camellia leaf mochi

 


Risshun is the first micro season in the cycle of 24 sekki, this season translates to “Spring Rises”. This is the coldest season, but emotionally we are gradually beginning to feel the end of winter and the arrival of Spring. The first blooms of camellias and ume blossom bring positive energies, the days start to get slightly longer and life is starting to emerge from the earth.
Tsubaki-mochi is an oval shaped domyoji mochi, a freshly made rice cake with azuki bean paste wrapped in tsubaki (camellia leaves). This confectionery has been eaten in Japan since the Heian period and is now often served at tea ceremonies as a Kyoto confectionery during the month of February in Japan.

The leaves are not edible but are the same family as tea and traditionally used as a non-stick wrapper for some sticky sweets.

This confectionery has been eaten in Japan for about 1100 years and is believed to be the oldest mochi sweet, often being referred to as the origin of wagashi. This Japanese confectionery was written about in The Tale of Genji (Genji Monogatari) 源氏物語 in the 11th century. Genji tale is the oldest long novel in the world written by a woman writer, Murasaki Shikibu about 1008 in Japan. You can see her statue placed at one end of the Uji Bridge in Uji Kyoto where the tale of Genji was a prime setting.


In Genji tale, young men were eating tsubaki rice cake, citrus fruits and pears in the lids of bamboo baskets after playing kemari; the ancient football game of the imperial court.

When I read that mochi powder (present-day Domyoji powder) was made by drying glutinous rice and grinding it in a mortar and was used to make tsubaki-mochi I decided to try making my own as I have never been able to obtain domyoji powder.

Recipe for x5 tsubaki-mochi:

First grind 1 rice cooker cup of glutinous mochi (you can use a suribachi Japanese mortar & pestle grinding bowl). However this can take a while to grind so I used an electric blender, you could also use a clean coffee grinder. This is going to be your Domyoji substitute. You do not want a powder you just need to break up the rice grains so giving it a few blitz in your blender will be enough.

Note: The plastic rice cooker cup that comes with the rice cooker is 3/4 cup (180ml). In Japan, this amount is called ichi go (一合).

You will also need 25grams of granulated sugar.

Add the ground rice to a bowl with the sugar and add one rice cooker cup of hot water stir and leave over night to soak.

After your rice has been soaking over night.

You will need 100grams of red sweet bean paste smooth koshian or chunky tsubuan and x10 camellia leaves wiped clean.

You will also need to make a sugar syrup 25ml of hot water and 25grams of granulated sugar. (or you can use the syrup that comes with the kuri kanroni candied chestnuts from making Osechi for new year.

I have read that tsubaki-mochi can also sometimes be flavoured with a hint of cinnamon or clove. If you would like to do this that is your own preference.

First make a syrup by adding the 25 grams of sugar to 25ml of hot water and stir to combine heat in a pan or in a microwave until boiling and then cool to room temperature if not using kanroni syrup.

Then make your mochi:

Take the rice that has been soaking in sugar over night and add this to your rice cooker and add one rice cooker cup of water. Set your timer to cook short grain rice.

Roll your sweet bean paste into 20 gram balls makes x5 balls and put to one side and wipe clean your camellia leaves.

When the rice is cooked let it steam for a further fifteen minutes. Take your mochi and mash it to a sticky consistency, I usually use the end of a rolling pin, you could use the pestle from the suribachi known as a Surikogi. Turn the mochi out onto a surface and cut into five equal pieces.

Wet your hands with the syrup and roll each piece into a ball. Place each ball into the palm of your hand and flatten adding one ball of bean paste in the middle, work the mochi over the bean paste making an oval shaped ball.

Keep wetting your hands with sugar syrup or kanroni syrup as you go. Sandwich each mochi ball in between two camellia leaves (not edible) use the leaves to hold the mochi when eating.

These delicious sweets are perfect with a sencha green tea or hojicha please enjoy and savour the coming of Spring.

Blog, Spring Food

How to celebrate Setsubun 節分の日


Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (
鬼は外、福は内).

Demons out, Good Fortune in!” For today is Setsubun no Hi (節分の日) February 3rd.

Setsubun 節分, is a seasonal indicator that marks the day before the beginning of Spring and is now celebrated as a spring festival “Haru Matsuri”. A traditional event marking the official beginning of spring, according to the Japanese lunar calendar.

Setsubun is the day before we start again through the journey of the “Nijushisekki (24 solar terms)” or sekki of Japan when we welcome in Risshun 立春 the beginning of Spring.

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 in Japan. Why not look for signs of spring where you are.

Let’s enjoy Setsubun with Ehou Maki 恵方巻き, Ehō-maki

On this day there are a few customs in Japan one of them is to eat an uncut makizushi called Ehō-maki 恵方巻, “lucky direction sushi roll” while you sit in silence facing the years lucky direction. The “lucky direction” (恵方) of this year 2024 is east-north-east (東北東).
This changes every year depending on the current zodiac. There is actually a chart to work out each year which is the lucky direction. So as 2024 ends with 4 the lucky direction is east -northeast.

Years ending with

Lucky Direction

0 or 5

West – Southwest

1, 3, 6 or 8

South – Southeast

2 or 7

North – Northwest

4 or 9

East – Northeast

The word “Eho” means the auspicious direction where the god of good fortune for the year exists and is also called “Kippou” or “Akinokata/Akihou”.

Originally from Kansai the Ehō-maki must have seven ingredients, these relate to the Seven Lucky Gods (七福神, Shichi Fukujin) from local folklore who are in charge of bringing prosperity in business and good health. It doesn’t matter what you put inside it can be anything you like, but it’s good to have a variety of ingredients. Just eat the whole roll without cutting it with a knife and eat in silence, if you speak, the good fortune will escape.

In 1989, convenience store 7-Eleven started selling futomakizushi especially for Setsubun. Since then, the popularity of ehomaki quickly spread across Japan and supermarket and deparments also began to sell ehomaki.

Even if you’re not in Japan you can still follow Japanese customs.

Let’s make an Ehō-maki

As one of my seven ingredients I decided this year I wanted to add the new Organic Marinated Tofu from dragonfly foods. Their latest tofu is marinated in a blend of tamari, garlic, and ginger. Just remove from the packet drain the liquid, I recommend to oven bake then allow to cool for this recipe. When cool slice ready to add some flavour and texture to your sushi roll.

Other ingredients that you can add could be:

Vegan omelette, cucumber, avocado, Kampyo (cooked and flavoured gourd strips), Shiso/Ooba (perilla leaves), Lettuce, carrot strips, cooked shiitake mushrooms.

For x3 Ehō-maki wash two sushi cup of sushi rice, soak the rice for at least half an hour and cook your sushi rice in your rice cooker. While it’s cooking prepare your filling.

You will also need x3 pieces of toasted nori, place the nori with the rough side facing up on a rolling mat.

When your rice is done tip the rice into a bowl add some sushi seasoning and cool down with a fan in one hand while you gently cut and mix the rice in the other. When the rice is cool start to spread the rice on your nori leaving a gap at the top. Start to add your filling at the bottom then roll the nori over the filling. Remember to not cut your sushi roll but eat it whole in silence facing the lucky direction of this year east-north-east.

Setsubun is all about the Oni (おに)

Oni are a kind of yōkai, demon, orc, ogre, or troll in Japanese folklore. They are known as the god ofmountains with a fearful appearance. It is believed that the Oni come to punish humans when they misbehave. They come in many varieties, but are most commonly depicted with two or more horns, and fang-like tusks, red or blue skin, wild hair, large in size and possess superhuman strength. They are terrifying in appearance and are associated with disease and misfortune. They are often shown carrying their choice weapon: a large, heavy iron hexagonal club, called a tetsubō, which is used for torturing victims. They are typically depicted wearing little-to-no clothing, but when clothed they are usually shown wearing a loincloth made of tiger skin.

It was believed that this time of year the spirit world and our world combined making it easy for evil spirits  to bring illness into our homes. During the cold winter months it is easier to get sick and it was believed that this was caused by oni. At this time it is custom to repel these demons from our homes. One such way to do this is Mamemaki (豆まき), the throwing of roasted soybeans. The tradition of Setsubun dates back centuries, but the bean throwing tradition first emerged in the Muromachi period (1337 – 1573). So why use soybeans ? They are believed to have sacred power along with rice, which could get rid of evil spirits. The Japanese word for beans is pronounced as mame () and sounds similar to the word for demon eyes (mame, 魔目) and because of that throwing beans has a similar sound to destroying demons (mametsu, 魔滅).

It is custom to fill a Japanese wooden cup called a masu with the prepared beans which should be displayed on the altar and offered to the gods until the day of the bean-throwing ceremony.

On the day preferably midnight the beans are thrown out the entrance to your home or maybe at a family member dressed as a demon. As you do this you shout “Oni wa soto ! Fuku wa uchi”鬼は外! 福は内! meaning Demons out good fortune in.

You may also see another mask worn often by female members of the house hold, the kami of luck, good fortune, and kindness, which is the deity Okame portrayed with a white friendly face, chubby cheeks, and a warm smile. She acts as the defender against misfortune.

Since it is believed that ogres come at midnight, this is the best time to start the bean-throwing ceremony. Open the front door or window of your house and scatter beans, saying “Oni wa soto!” After closing the doors and windows immediately to prevent the ogres from returning, scatter the beans inside the room, saying “Fuku wa uchi!” It is then also custom to eat as many of the beans as your age plus one extra for luck.

Another tradition to ward off the evil spirit is to hang holly at your door with wait for it a smelly sardine head stuck on top. This talisman is called Hiragi iwashi. The evil spirits are apparently repelled by the strong smell and thorns of the holly leaves. Needless to say I just hang holly at my door being vegan. I was watching an NHK programme about a group of  nuns and they displayed holly with fabric fish as a representation as they didn’t eat meat or fish either, which I thought was a nice idea. I definitely recommend the series Nun’s cookbook on NHK. I noticed in the episode that the nuns do not chant the phrase “Oni wa “ it is believed that oni do not appear before the temples enshrined deity and as such, the chant is unnecessary.
Instead, the phrase “Senshu banzai fuku wa uchi!” is recited, meaning “Long life and good fortune, come in!”

In the Kanto region, kenchinjiru けんちん汁 is considered as an auspicious food and is eaten on Setsubun. Originally created as Buddhist temple cuisine by a Buddhist priest of Kenchoji temple in Kamakura city, Kanagawa prefecture. Jiru means soup and Kenchin is derived from the temple name. Packed with lots of nutritious root vegetables miso and tofu it is the perfect soup to warm you on a cold day. Maybe this is why it is considered lucky as eating this can help you stay healthy and ward off illness.

Let’s make kenchinjiru to bring health for the year.

This soup is full of umami flavour using kombu,shiitake mushroom,toasted sesame oil and tamari (or soy sauce). The soup consists of root vegetables in a shiitake kombu stock (you can also add miso if you wish).

This soup also has tofu, it is said that you tear the tofu into the soup instead of cutting the tofu as it is supposed to be divided equally between the residents of the temple regardless of status.  This dish contains no onion, devout Buddhists believe that onion is not good for your peace of mind so not good for meditation.

First make you stock:

I normally leave a piece of konbu to soak over night in cold water, the konbu comes with a white powder on its surface do not wash this off as this adds to the flavour just simply wipe with a cloth.  (for this recipe I used 3 cups of  konbu stock and 1 cup of shiitake stock).

After you have soaked your konbu place the water and konbu in a pan and turn on the heat remove the konbu just before the water starts to boil.  Make shiitake stock by soaking a few dried shiitake in one cup of warm water for around 20 mins (place a small bowl over to submerge the shittake to stop them from floating.  After 20 minutes take out the shiitake and slice them place a sieve over the konbu stock and pour the shiitake stock through the seive into the konbu stock to catch any gritty bits.

Now you need to prepare your vegetables.

You can use a variety of vegetables burdock root, daikon radish, carrot, lotus root, taro komatsuna or any leafy green vegetable. You can also add konnyaku (konjac) Konnyaku

Konnyaku is rich in dietary fiber,and a food that cleanses the body. For this reason, it is considered good luck to eat it on Setsubun. In some regions, konjac is eaten to drive out demons that live in the house, and at the same time, to expel the bad things in the body. However in my recipe I just used tofu.

The tofu I recommend is the Shizenno Megumi Organic Firm tofu. (Follow the link at the side or bottom of the page depending on your browser) Following a traditional Japanese recipe for “Momen Tofu” this lightly firm Tofu is full of juiciness with the richness of soya and a sweet aftertaste. All of the Shizenno Megumi are made using an authentic Japanese process practiced for thousands of years. The tofu is pressed carefully and delicately to ensure the proteins do not go tough. The result? A premium textured tofu that retains a good structure and absorbs flavours well. Certified Organic by the Soil Association since 1991, with their products you can be sure you are eating natural, nutritious food with no nasties. You will need to drain the liquid and press the tofu before using it in the recipe.

Chop your vegetables and if using burdock root scrub off any dirt chop and place in a bowl of water. If using taro root remove the skin slice in half and soak in water to remove the starch. Add about a tablespoon of toasted sesame oil to a deep pan sauté your root vegetables for a few minutes.
Then add your stock  but do not add your leafy greens until the soup is nearly ready to serve.  Simmer until the vegetables are tender then add 1 tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce and one tablespoon of mirin . If you would like to add more depth in the flavour of the stock why not add a little miso. I decided to use Hikari miso it is always my miso of choice.

Finally take your already drained and pressed tofu and crumble it into the soup in large pieces adding your chopped leafy greens just to wilt in the hot broth at the end before serving.

Other foods that are custom to eat at Setsubun are Setsubun Soba similar to Toshikoshi soba the meal on New Years Eve.

As well as soba, zenzai or anything with red beans are said to ward off evil.

Drinking Fukucha tea with lucky beans in it is considered to be a drink of good luck. Fukucha is a cup of hot water poured over kelp, pickled plums, and three lucky beans.

I hope you will have fun welcoming Spring this year and celebrating with unique Japanese customs.

 

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

Kamado-san Donabe Rice Cooker by Nagatani-en & Onigiri

Kama do-san Donabe Rice Cooker by Nagatani-en

長谷園のかまどさん
 
Nagatani-en is in Iga city of Mie prefecture. It opened its kiln in 1832. Iga-yaki pottery came to fame due to its use of clay that is said to have originated from Lake Biwa.
The  bottom of the donabe rice cooker Kamado-san is especially thick keeping the heat inside. Its glaze enables the pot to heat every grain of rice so it becomes sweet, fluffy, and sticky. Kamado-san has a double lid, an inner lid and outer lid. This double lid plays a role of a pressure cooker. Two lids prevent boiling over and gives adequate pressure. With a double lid, the Kamado-san achieves just that. When the rice starts to boil, the rate of steam leaving the inner lid is faster than the amount of steam leaving the outer lid and the inner lid has 2 holes, whilst the outer lid only has 1. This causes steam to accumulate in the compartment between the inner and outer lid, pushing the inner lid down and exerting pressure on the cooking rice.
In their busy lives it is typical for Japanese households to cook rice in an electric rice cooker. However I wanted to cook rice the original way and have wanted to have my own Kamado-san Donabe Rice Cooker for many years. I always thought there was something quite nostalgic about cooking rice in a donabe pot, but not only this it makes the rice taste even better! The first thing when buying any new donabe pot is to season the pot, this process is called “medome” you do this before your first use. I have a whole separate blog post about this.
Then you’re ready to cook delicious rice!
But first I wanted to make furikake for the onigiri I was going to make the first time I cooked rice in my brand new donabe pot.
Furikake ふりかけ is a dry japanese condiment sprinkled on top of cooked rice. I had just received my organic vegetable box with a bunch of carrots with their leaves still attached. Instead of throwing the leaves away I decided to make furikake with them.
にんじんの葉っぱのふり Furikake of carrot leaves:
First chop the stalks away from the leaf part and discard the stalks. Wash the leaves and pat dry with kitchen towel. Chop the leaves up finely and spread them out on some parchment paper on a baking sheet. Set your oven to low 50 degrees C and leave for one hour. Make sure they cook on a low heat you do not want them to burn only dry out. When they are dry, leave the leaves to cool then rub them between your fingers to create a finer powder. Add a few teaspoons of salt and some toasted sesame seeds and your furikake is ready to add to rice. Store in an air tight container.

Now back to my rice. 
It is important when cooking rice to wash it thoroughly in clean water until the water becomes clear.
After this put the rice in a sieve and leave to air for ten minutes before adding your rice to your donabe pot.
Add 2 rice cooker cups of Japanese rice and around  4 rice cooker cups of cold water into your donabe pot. The plastic rice cooker cup that comes with the rice cooker is 3/4 cup (180ml). In Japan, this amount is called ichi go (一合).
Leave the rice to soak in the water for at least 30 minutes. After this time place your inner lid onto your donabe and then place the outer lid ontop making sure the holes do not match up.
Put your burner on a medium heat and cook for around 10-15 minutes until steam starts to come through the hole on the outer lid. Then turn off your heat and leave to steam for 20 minutes.
After this time you can remove the lid and fluff up the rice.
I made Onigiri rice balls rolled in carrot leaf furikake and umeboshi paste in the centre.

Served with a simple meal of grilled seasonal vegetables and miso soup.

Itadakimasu 🙏🏻
( if you would like to know where I got my gorgeous Kamado-san Donabe Rice Cooker I got it from www.wagumi-j.com . I have spoken about this store in London’s OXO towers in a previous post. They sell a wide selection of Japanese crafts and design work by individual artists and regional craft producers in Japan.)
Autumn Food, Blog, Winter Food

Vegan Ramen With A Creamy Tofu & Miso Sauce


Ramen written in Japanese: 拉麺, ラーメン or らーめん

Arriving  in Japan in the late 19th or early 20th Century
from China ramen has become one of the most popular dishes not only across Japan but the world.
The first Japanese restaurant to serve up a bowl of noodles similar to today’s ramen was Yowaken 養和軒 in 1884, but it wasn’t until 1910 that Japan had its first ramen shop called Rairaiken 来々軒 in Asakura, Tokyo.
There is something comforting about a bowl of ramen, even if it didn’t originate from Japan, Japan have made it their own and given ramen it’s on Japanese culture. Nearly every region in Japan seams to have their own version. Different areas, cities, and even shops have their own twist on ramen. From different broths like shio (salt ramen) shoyu (soy sauce), miso, milk or curry. Then there are straight or curly noodles of all different thickness.
Loved not only by salarymen who have no time to prepare their own meals but who are looking for something quick hot and filling, but also by students and those looking for a quick cheap, and delicious, meal on the go.
The appetite for ramen saw even a ramen museum open in Yokohama in 1994.
So when Hikari Miso and parent company Dragonfly Tofu asked if I could come up with a tofu ramen recipe just for them I wondered what I could do to make things different to the other tofu ramen recipes found across Japan and ones that come up on the internet when you search “tofu ramen”. I also wanted it to be easy, relatively cheap and quick to make. You may have some of the ingredients already in your store cupboard and apart from the tofu if you do have to buy the ingredients you will have lots left over to use over and over again.

I took my inspiration from ramen created in Hokkaido using miso paste as a seasoning. Hikari miso has been crafted over four generations in Nagano Japan, where the water air and cool climate make the perfect environment for making miso. The ramen I have created has a robust flavour as the miso paste is creamy and tangy, and instead of using tofu as a topping I decided to use it with the miso to make a sauce. The dish feels so decadent but is so quick and simple to make.

Using the true authentic gently coagulated soft Shizenno Megumi Organic Tofu known as “ kinughosi” in Japan, it lends itself well to making the perfect rich sauces as well as using it for desserts, smoothies or just simply cut up into cubes and added to miso soups.

How to make my Ramen with a creamy tofu & miso sauce.

You will need: (serves two)

x1 pack of Shizenno Megumi “natures best” organic soft tofu
x1 tablespoon of Shiro Nerigoma  (white sesame paste)
x1 tablespoon of Hikari miso organic white miso
x1 tablespoon of light soy sauce (known as Usukuchi)
x1 teaspoon of brown rice vinegar
x1 teaspoon of mirin
x1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil
Add all the above ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth thick and creamy. Then pour into a saucepan.
You will also need a variety of toppings prepped in advance. This could be a combination of steamed vegetables bean sprouts, komatsuna or chingensai (bok choy), hakusai (Chinese cabbage), grilled lotus root and shiitake, sliced kabocha roasted or steamed, sliced red onion, sliced negi (green onion), tinned sweetcorn, watercress, maybe some roasted bell peppers, whatever you fancy.
Once you have prepped your toppings things come together quickly so you could do this in advance.
Put your ramen noodles of choice in a pan of boiling water (check to make sure they are vegan.)  I recommend samurai ramen. Some may come with a sauce you will not need to use this so save it for another time. I also like ohsawa ramen which I often bring back from Japan.
Get your serving bowls ready.
Many ramen broths in Hokkaido have milk so in true Hokkaido style add soy milk to your tofu sauce. Add as much as you like to make the sauce the consistency you want. Start to gently heat your sauce do not let it boil.
Drain your ramen noodles and add to your serving bowls. When your sauce is nice and hot pour over your sauce and quickly add your toppings so that it’s all still nice and hot when you serve it. I like to add a few drops of chilli oil, some chilli threads known as Ito togarishi and a scatter of sesame seeds.
Happy Slurping.
Winter Food

Kagami Biraki 鏡開き & “Chikara Udon”

Kagami Biraki  鏡開き
Breaking the new year mochi rice cake
鏡餅
Celebrated on January the 11th as odd numbers are considered auspicious in Japan. There maybe slight differences according to region’s in japan.
Kagami mochi is placed in the home as an offering to the deity of the New Year to bring good luck. It is said the mochi contains Toshigami 年神 (Great-Year God”) which is a Kami of the Shinto religion in Japan, a spirit that visits during this time to bring good blessings.
This is a ceramic one I brought back from Japan and the mochi is placed inside.
Traditionally the Kirimochi  which is rectangular can be grilled and eaten with a red bean soup called zenzai ぜんざい 善哉 or Oshiruko お汁粉 which is more of a watery version. You can use my recipe for Nabekko Dango from season 1 episode 1 of my The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House for the red bean soup, then just add grilled mochi rice cake instead of dango.
You could also eat your mochi Ozoni style.

You must never cut your mochi only break it as this is considered bad luck.


It is also tradition to eat Chikara Udon (力うどん) for Kagami Biraki. I decided to make this using up the remaining mochi which I didn’t use making zenzai. Using up the Kirimochi rectangular mochi which was put inside my Kagami for Toshigami 年神 (Great-Year God”) to bless it over the New Year. Kirimochi (切り餅) is a type of mochi (rice cake) made from pounded glutinous rice. It is molded into a rectangular or square shape and can be sold dried and individually wrapped if you do not buy it inside a Kagami for New Year.
This seasonal udon noodle soup has chewy udon noodles in a flavourful dashi broth with toasted Kirimochi (rice cakes), resting right on top with some simple other toppings of choice.
“Chikara Udon” means Power Udon, it is believed in Japan that mochi brings power and that the eater can get energy from the food.
Chikara Udon is often enjoyed in restaurants throughout Japan, to provide a warm hearty comforting meal on cold winter days.
Chikara Udon needs just a few other simple ingredients other than the kirimochi rice cake.
You will also need some udon noodles of choice, I decided to try some gluten free rice flour udon this time.
You will also need some Usukuchi soy sauce, which is lighter and paler in colour. Both of which I bought from the wasabi company. See the side or bottom of the page for link depending on your browser.
As well as these you will need some kombu kelp for making a simple overnight dashi stock, mirin and some toppings like chopped negi (green onion) and some other wilted greens like komatsuna. Other toppings could be  red pickled ginger, tenkasu (crispy bits of deep-fried tempura batter) and nori (seaweed).
With just a few simple steps you can put this meal together in minutes.
You will of needed to of made a kombu dashi the night before by soaking a piece of kombu kelp in water over night. The next morning take out the kombu and use the water for your stock. Around one litre of cold water with a piece of kombu around 3 inches.
Per person you will need 3 cups of dashi add this to a pan with :
1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon mirin

x1 teaspoon sugar

Bring the dashi to a simmer while you cook your udon in boiling water in a separate pan as instructed on the packet of udon you are using.
Chop some green onion and blanch any greens.
Place your mochi under a preheated grill and toast on both sides until puffed up.
When your udon is cooked drain and rinse off the starch with cold water and add to your chosen bowl. Pour over your hot dashi add toppings and rice cake and eat while nice and hot.

Eating the mochi signifies a prayer for health and good fortune for the year ahead.