Blog

Father’s Day in Japan Chichi no Hi (父の日)


Father’s Day in Japan is called Chichi no Hi 
(父の日) and is celebrated on the third Sunday of June. In Japan there are two words for “father”. One is “otosan”, which is used for father in general and the other is “chichi”, which is used only for your own father.

Father’s Day arrived in Japan well after the 1980’s, even though it was first celebrated in 1910 in America.

With Japanese fathers working long hours and often not at home that much, It is an occasion to gather the family and to enjoy a particular day for a father and his children although still rather more of a low-key celebration in relation to Mothers Day.

One thing that is common to give a father on Father’s Day is a handmade greeting card or thank you notes. The most popular way to celebrate Father’s Day in Japan is to give presents so what kind of gifts are given to Father’s on this day in Japan ? The most popular is what Japanese call shiko-hin (what you don’t need, but can’t live without). These can be in the form of luxury goods or things like alcohol or sugar that are consumed purely for enjoyment. These are things that provide small comforts and happiness in everyday lives.

Obviously alcohol plays a large roll In Japanese culture with craft beer and nihonshu (Japanese sake) brands going all out to produce that extra special gift for Father’s Day especially limited edition in a nice presentation box. Shochu liqueur and Whiskey are also favoured with personalised drinks tumblers and beer glasses being popular as an accompaniment.

Other popular gifts are given for the father’s personal leisure activities like golf, cycling or other interests. Jinbei 甚平 is sometimes given as a gift, this is a traditional set of Japanese loungewear clothing worn in the house. Consisting of a side-tying, tube-sleeved kimono-style top and a pair of trousers.

Of course food plays an important role with unagi (eel) うなぎ being the most popular Father’s Day gift according to Takashimaya, one of Japan’s major department stores. Unagi is usually considered a luxury item of food and reserved for special occasions.

Today I’m going to show you my easy recipe for vegan Unagi using tofu as the main ingredient.

First make your homemade Eel sauce, or unagi no tare a thick and sweetened soy 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. I used the firm variety from the Shizenno Megumi range. The tofu 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.

Drain the 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 around a 2”piece of Yamaimo which is super sticky when grated as a binder you could also use taro ( Satoimo) if you cannot get hold of yamaimo.


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. Peel the outer skin off the yamaimo and grate it. Add this to your tofu along with a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of aonori (
aromatic dried green seaweed powder). Mix to combine. Finally add a tablespoon of Japanese potato starch and mix together.

Then cut a large piece of toasted nori into six individual pieces and place shiny side down. Spread the tofu yamaimo mixture over the nori, I pushed a chopstick into the middle and across to make eel like markings to make it look more authentic.


Add a shallow layer of oil to a frying pan and cook tofu side down until golden.

Then flip over to make it extra crispy.

Place the pieces under a hot grill and cover with your special sweet glaze. Cook until hot.

Unaju 鰻重 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 a Jubako 重箱. Una” is the abbreviation of “unagi” and “ju” is the abbreviation of “jubako”. 


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

On Father’s Day it is also custom to serve up Unagi with soba noodles on the side.


How ever you decide to make it I’m sure you will feel better no eels were harmed in the making of this meal.

Blog, Summer Food

Tsuyu (梅雨) Japanese rainy season & recipe for Tofu Ice cream


From the beginning of June to mid July is 
(tsuyu) 梅雨 (つゆ ) rainy season in Japan. The rain falls differently depending on the region. Western Japan sees many strong sudden showers while the rain in eastern Japan often goes back and forth between raining and not raining.

The rainy season might not be a time considered by tourists to visit Japan compared to other times of the year, but with a little bit of preparation the rainy season can actually be one of the best times to visit Japan. (Tsuyu 梅雨, also pronounced baiu), literally meaning “plum rain”, because it coincides with the season of ripening plums making it the perfect time to sample some umeshu or plum wine.


After the spike in domestic tourism from Golden Week is over and few Japanese will be traveling the cost of travel becomes considerably cheaper, It can also be a quieter time to travel overall. For those people who may of already experienced Japanese cherry blossom, momiji (autumn foliage) and maybe even summer festivals this may be a unique time to visit to experience the ambiance of something a little different.

Visiting temples and shrines in the rain with woodland and mountain mist can make these places very spiritual  and atmospheric.

Especially places like the Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, you might even be able to take a photo of the endless torii gates without anyone in the picture.

You might even consider visiting a traditional old tea house or kissaten coffee shop. There is something quite nostalgic and relaxing about sipping tea or coffee whilst listening to the sound of the rain.

Other things you could do if your visiting Japan during this season could be visiting an out door onsen.There is nothing more relaxing than sitting  in an onsen while listening to the the sound of the rain falling while you bathe, therapeutic to the mind as well as the body.

During the rainy season it doesn’t rain every day but when it does and you want an indoor activity why not check out the many museums japan has to offer or go shopping in one of japans numerous departments stores or shotengai shopping streets maybe picking out some cute rain gear or a nice umbrella.

When I think of Japanese rainy season I think of Teruteru-bozu (てるてる坊主) a very unique piece of Japanese culture. A small ghost like doll lucky charm that that is traditionally used by Japanese people to prevent rain. Teru teru bōzu, written as 照る照る坊主 (てるてるぼうず), means “shine shine monk.” They are handmade dolls made with white cloth, tissue, or paper that are hung with string near a window. They date from the Edo period (1603-1868), when they first appeared in urban areas. They are still a fairly common sight in Japan today, often made by children.

Another common rainy season tradition, especially for children is watching fireflies. Fireflies or hotaru enjoy humidity and moisture, so they come out during June and July. Everything seems to be celebrated in Japan and there are even festivals dedicated to them. It is popular to view the fireflies’ glow during hot summer nights (hotaru-gari). These festivals include the Tsukiyono Firefly Village in Gunma and the Kugayama Firefly Festival in Tokyo. Sadly because of pollution, the fireflies are  decreasing as they only live in clean streams.

Other creatures that are symbols connected to the Japanese rainy season are snails and frogs, again a delight for children during this time to see what creatures they can find. When out shopping you might also see items in stores with these motifs to celebrate the season.

Did you know that going for a walk in the rain can actually be good for our mental health? Many of us avoid going out when it is raining, but there could be some good scientific reasons why we should change the way we think about a rainy day. When it rains, molecules are released into the air and some become negatively charged ions. When we inhale them, it is thought they can help to relieve stress and even boost our energy levels. One very good reason to not always stay inside.

The rainy season is also a very important time for rice farmers as it is rice planting season known as (taue). This is a time you can see the flooded rice paddies and the growing seedlings. On a sunny day they look especially beautiful with the reflection of the blue sky and clouds this is often referred to as a water mirror. The warmer temperatures and rain boost the rice growth and as they grow rapidly up to 25cm in just two weeks it takes only ten days before the water mirror has completely gone. If you are lucky enough why not visit one of the must see rice terraces, also known as tiered rice fields. This idyllic scenery can be seen in places like Hoshitogne no Tnanada Niigata Prefecture, a rice terrace nestled along the mountains of the Matsudai region, Maruyama Senmaida Mie Prefecture a terrace constructed over 400 years ago, Hachiune no Tanada, Kochi prefecture, a unique terrace with a Shinto shrine. The closest rice terrace to Tokyo is Oyama Senmaida in Chiba Prefecture in a beautiful mountainous area of Kamogawa City attracting many tourists over the seasons. There are many more so check out your nearest where you are at time of travel.

Tsuyu: The Season of Hydrangeas

For when the days are a little dryer go hunting out the stunning mop head flowers known as Ajisai.

The hydrangea or Ajisai 紫陽花, アジサイas they are known in Japan heralds the arrival of the rainy season. The representative flower blooming at this time with their giant vibrant flowers in colourful shades of blues, purples, and pinks are a very elegant sight. The kanji that make up the word ajisai are 紫陽花 meaning “purple, violet”, meaning “sunset, positivity” and flower. Depending on the acidity of the soil in which the plants are grown the flowers can take on different hues thriving in the acidic volcanic soils of Japan where the blue-violet hydrangeas are commonly found.


There are over 100 varieties of hydrangeas of various colours in Japan today, Japanese hydrangeas can be admired in city parks and along the banks of rivers, but also in the gardens of temples and shrines, with many places having hydrangea festivals that are known for having the blooms. Like the Bunkyo Ajisai Matsuri, an annual hydrangea festival which is held at Hakusan Shrine Tokyo and the
Takahata Fudo hydrangea festival Hino city Tokyo. As well as places to visit like Ueno Park,Odaiba and Sumida Park or catch 3,000 colourful hydrangea shrubs at Tamagawadai Park, all in Tokyo.

Just under and hours train journey from Tokyo is Kamakura. Kamakura is often referred to as the best place to see hydrangeas, it boasts numerous famous hydrangea spots like Hasedera Buddhist temple, with 40 different kinds and 2,500 hydrangea flowers that welcome visitors in the grounds. Meigetsuin, another famous temple in the kamakura area has the nickname as Hydrangea temple where thousands of hydrangea flowers bloom. If you’re thinking of travelling to Kyoto at the mimurotoji temple you can view 10,000 Ajisai! Or Yoshiminedera Temple where 10,000 flowers fill the mountainside at the Hydrangea Garden

Travelling further south you could encounter Oshidorino Pond Nagasaki Hydrangeas on the shore of an emerald green lake or view 20,000 hydrangeas at Cape Togenkyo Miyazaki a breathtaking scenery of 2 million flowers which cover an expansive area equivalent to about 4 Tokyo Domes.

Travelling north there is Michinoku Hydrangea Garden Iwate one of the largest hydrangea gardens in eastern Japan, with approximately 400 species and 40,000 hydrangeas blooming in a 150,000 square meter cedar mountain or the stunning Unshoji Temple in Akita a magnificent view of over 1,500 deep blue hydrangeas filling the temple grounds.

Where ever you plan to visit there are many more temples shrines and hydrangea festivals to to check out at this time just do a little research on your nearest places you are travelling to.

Much like the cherry blossom is celebrated for the changing of the seasons Ajisai is the same and as well as being celebrated with festivals you will find its motif adorned on anything from umbrellas to fabrics to even food. With that in mind I saw that a favourite ice cream flavour in Japan at this time is chocomint with its blue colour. You will find many varieties of this at convenience stores like Choco Mint Gari Gari Kun at Lawson, Pino Choco Mint ice cream In 7-Eleven and Baskin Robbins mint chocolate at FamilyMart.

I decided to try making my own with two ajisai colours of blue and purple using “Shizenno Megumi”soft tofu. 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.

This is my recipe for Tofu ice cream inspired by Ajisai

Ingredients: For making x1 colour mint chocchip.

You will need 200gm of cashews 

x1 and a half blocks of drained soft Shizenno Megumi tofu

1/3 cup of a pale colour sweetener like agave

x2 tablespoons of flavourless coconut oil (I use Tiana)

A few drops of mint essence for flavour and vegan chocolate chips.

For your colour use x1 teaspoon of blue spirulina powder for the mint chocolate chip.

I made a further purple one using a few handfuls of fresh blueberries. You can also use blueberry powder.

Method: For mint chocolate chip

Drain your one and a half blocks  tofu and wrap in a muslin cloth and squeeze out as much liquid as you can and wrap in another dry cloth and put aside.

To make two colours you need three blocks of tofu but if your only making one colour or you don’t want to double up on ingredients you will have 1/2 a block of tofu left which you can use for something else like a tofu dessert (see some of my other tofu recipes for ideas)

Put your cashew nuts into a bowl and pour over boiling water and leave to soak for an hour then drain off the water and tip them into a high speed blender.


Blend the cashews and then add your tofu, sweetener, coconut oil,mint essence and finally your powder colour. Blend until smooth. Pour out into a container and swirl in your chocolate chips.

Place in a freezer to harden for two hours then remove and give it a mix to incorporate air. Then leave to set for around 6-7 hours total. I recommend making this in the morning to eat later in the day. If you leave the ice cream in the freezer to completely harden you will need to take it out an hour before serving.

When ready to serve remove from the freezer and leave to soften slightly, use an ice cream scoop to scoop into balls and add to an ice cream cone with maybe some sprinkles.

Or add to a chilled glass with a sprig of mint. I made some tiny cookies in butterfly shapes to add to the ice cream. If you make two colours of ice cream they look nice together.


You can also use this basic recipe with other powders like cranberry, blueberry or blackcurrant to add colour and flavour. The combinations are endless just use the relatively flavourless recipe and add your own. I think a blueberry or blackcurrant coulis or compote would also be nice added to the ice cream for extra flavour. 

Why not make matcha or hojicha ice cream for that authentic taste of Japan.

What ever flavour you choose I’m sure you will love this deliciously creamy tofu ice cream that has no nasty ingredients.

You could even make affogato with a vanilla flavour adding either espresso, thick matcha or hojicha tea to pour over. Here I used the ice cream I made and added butterfly pea tea to pour over.


However you enjoy the rain I hope you will now not look at it so negatively on a rainy day. Even if you’re not in Japan you could go for a walk in your local park and see what wildlife and flowers you can find in your area. Stop off at a local coffee shop and watch the world go by or visit a museum or gallery. You may even get the benefit of some of those negatively charged ions.

 

Spring Food, Summer Food

Tekkadon 鉄火丼


Tekkadon 鉄火丼 is a rice bowl dish topped with raw marinated tuna sashimi.

I wanted to make a refreshing but vegan friendly version of this dish and this is what I came up with.

To make it use the same method as if you were making Tomato no Ohitashiトマトお浸し. You will need three large firm tomatoes cut a small cross section on the bottom of each tomato and drop into a pan of boiling water. To cook the tomato doesn’t take long you will know they are done when the skin starts to peel. Plunge the tomato into cold water to cool and then peel off the skin from the cross section you cut into the tomato.

When the tomatoes are peeled cut them into quarters discarding the seed part.

Make a marinade of tamari, lime juice and mirin (around two tablespoons of each) you can add some shichimi spice pepper if you like. Coat the tomatoes in the marinade and chill in the fridge.

When you want to serve your Tekkadon wash and cook some sushi rice in your rice cooker and when your rice is done place into the bottom of a bowl.

Top the warm rice with the marinated tomato chopped green onion a sprinkle of sesame seeds sliced lettuce  kizaminori (shredded nori) and angel hair chilli threads if you can get them. They are called Ito togarashi if you live in the U.K. You can get them from www.souschef.co.uk

Blog, Spring Food, Summer Food

International Tea Day May 21st

 


In 2019, the United Nations General Assembly decided to designate May 21st as International Tea Day. International tea day falls on the same date every year to honour the cultural significance of tea and its role in promoting health, wellness, and community. It also raises awareness about the importance of sustainable tea production.

Of course in Japan tea (, cha) plays an important and significant role. With its first introduction from China in the Nara period 710–794. With real development later, from the end of the 12th century and in the 16th century, the art of the “tea ceremony” was formalised (the practice of making and serving tea.) Which is closely linked to the country’s deep-rooted culture of omotenashi (hospitality/serving guests).
There are many varieties of tea grown in Japan and also specific methods of production from
煎茶 sencha tea leaves to Matcha 抹茶 made from ground green tea leaves, ほうじ茶  hōjicha, roasted as well as steamed tea leaves as well as 玄米茶 genmaicha a mixture of green tea and roasted genmai (brown rice) and more. 

Japanese tea is prized for its health benefits being packed with antioxidants, such as polyphenols, which help combat free radicals in the body. These antioxidants have been linked to reducing the risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease and certain types of cancer.

One place that is famous for tea cultivation is Uji (宇治) a small city situated between Kyoto and Nara, which has an unbelievable track record of producing quality Japanese tea. I can remember visiting Uji a few years ago, as you strole through the town you could smell the strong tea smell from the grinding of the tea leaves into Matcha powder.

Everything was flavoured with tea from ice cream to sweets.


There were also many shops selling tea and many places  you could take a rest and partake in tea and sweets.


To celebrate International tea day as well as enjoying a delicious healthy cup of matcha I wanted to also serve it with a matcha sweet.

I decided I would make matcha ichigo daifuku. Ichigo means strawberry in Japanese.

If you would like to make these wagashi for yourself this is what you will need to do.

Ingredient’s:

4-5 small strawberries washed and leaves removed (pat dry with kitchen towel)

100gm Joshinko flour

x1 tablespoon of granulated sugar

130ml of cold water

Koshian smooth bean paste

Matcha

Potato starch

You will need a round cutter (I used one 78mm diameter), a rolling pin, plastic wrap and microwaveable bowl.

Method:

Prepare your strawberries then take a ball of bean paste, flatten it out and put a strawberry inside then fold the bean paste around the strawberry. Do this to each one and put aside.

Add to a bowl the joshinko flour and sugar then add a teaspoon of sifted matcha powder and mix to combine. Add the water and whisk to a smooth paste.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes then remove the wrap. Wet the end of a rolling pin or pestle and begin to pound the mochi until it’s nice and elastic.

Turn it out onto a damp surface and dampen your rolling pin. Roll out and start to cut rounds.


With each round cut out, stretch the edges and place the round over the top of one of your bean paste covered strawberries.

Turn it upside down and gather the edges to seal, so that the gathered edges are at the bottom, that way you know where the top of the strawberry is when you want to cut it in half to serve.

Place each one on a baking sheet with a dusting of potato starch and give each one a dusting of potato starch before finally finishing with some sifted matcha powder.


They look really pretty when you cut them in half to serve.


What’s your favourite Japanese tea?

Blog, Spring Food

Mothers Day in Japan Haha no Hi 母の日


How do Japanese people celebrate Mother’s Day ?

Mother’s Day was once combined with the celebration of the Empress’ Kojun birthday who was the mother of Akihito (Japan’s emperor at the time). Her birthday was celebrated on the 6th March 1931. It wasn’t until 1949 that the Japanese decided to align the holiday to be on the same date as other countries being on the second Sunday of May, which means this year, it will fall on Sunday 11th of May. Unlike the U.K. which has their Mother’s Day back in March.

In Japan, mother’s day is called ‘Haha no hi’ 母の日 the word ‘haha’ is the informal term for your own mother – much like we use the word ‘mum’! The formal term for mother in Japanese is ‘Okaasan’.

Japanese children use this day to show their love and appreciation, and to give presents to their mothers. It has now become one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants and shops.

The most common gift on Japanese Mother’s Day are carnations especially the red or pink variety. In Japan it is a symbol of a mother’s purity, sweetness and endurance.

Throughout Japan, businesses and well-known department stores decorate their window displays with carnations although the carnation is not native to Japan, their symbolism has become a popular choice for Mother’s Day.

Other gifts given on Mother’s Day could be carefully drawn kanji calligraphy, personalised arts and crafts, clothing or Lacquerware jewellery boxes.

On Mother’s Day children often rise early to greet their mothers with flowers and breakfast. Mother’s Day in Japan is symbolically associated with eggs, so whipping up an egg-based Japanese dish is a way  to celebrate! Some egg dishes include Oyakodon A chicken and egg rice dish which literally translates as ‘parent-and-child-donburi’. Chawanmushi (savory steamed egg custard) Tamagoyaki (Japanese egg omelette or Omurice ( omelette over rice). You can use the recipe for the omelette further down in this blog to make your own Omurice.

However if your vegan you could easily make something similar by substituting the eggs for tofu. There are now quite a few egg replacements on the market but I still like to use tofu and I think  it also makes it a little more authentic for a Japanese meal. My favourite brand is “Shizenno Megumi” tofu by dragonfly foods.

How about making a tofu scramble to surprise your mother for a special breakfast.

Or a special afternoon tea with vegan egg shokupan sandwiches.
Another meal could be something like chirashi sushi a scattered vegetable sushi that you could make pretty by using flower shaped vegetable cutters and adding vegan scrambled eggs.

Mothers are celebrated for their home cooking in Japan. The memory and uniqueness of one’s own mother’s food is encapsulated in the term ‘ofukuro-no-aji’ or ‘that unforgettable taste of one’s own mother’s cooking.’ Linked to family relationships these are Japanese home cooked meals that your mother used to make. Eating them later in life can bring back memories and comforts from home.


I asked the Managing Director of  Dragonfly Foods Ltd Shunzo Horikawa about what food brought back memories of his mothers cooking for him he answered “Sanshoku Gohan”.
I also asked what meals his wife cooked that his children might say the same of her. He answered “Hiroshima yaki”. With this in mind I decided to make easy recipes inspired by his answers that anyone can make at home.

Sanshoku Gohan 三色ご飯, three colour rice 

This japanese comfort meal is popular with children and adults. Sanshoku (三色) means “three colours”, gohan (ご飯) is cooked rice. Normally the toppings are ground meat, beef, pork or chicken and a scrambled egg in Japan known as iritamago” (炒り卵), both are cooked through with out leaving moisture and have a crumbled consistency. The other topping is normally some kind of green vegetable peas, green beans or spinach. In my recipe I’m using the super firm Shizenno Megumi Tofu to create the crumbled beef and eggs that sit on top of the rice.


First make your vegan crumbled vegan meat topping.

You will need to drain and press the liquid out of one block of firm tofu, cut in half and place the other half aside for later. You will also need one or two large shiitake mushrooms, one small onion, x1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger, x1 cup of walnuts, x1 teaspoon of tamari or soy sauce, x1 teaspoon of mirin, x1 teaspoon of vegan Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/2 teaspoon of onion powder, x1 tablespoon of white miso, x1 teaspoon of tomato purée and sesame oil for sautéing.

Method: First pulse the onions and walnuts in a blender then add the tofu and rest of the ingredients except for the sesame oil. It will be like a chunky paste. Add a little sesame oil to a pan and sauté until slightly browned and coated in oil.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet and tip the mixture out spreading it out in a layer. Place this in a moderate oven to brown for 15-20 minutes. Take this out the oven and give it a mix then spread it out in a layer again and put it back in the oven. You are aiming for a dry crumbly mixture. You may have to do this a few times to get the desired consistency.When done take it out of the oven and put to one side.

Vegan Scrambled Egg.

Add to a bowl x1 teaspoon each of ground turmeric, onion granules and ground Kala namak (this is Indian black salt which will give you your eggy, umami rich flavour). You will also need 1/2 a teaspoon of ground paprika, x1 tablespoon of nutritional yeast, Himalayan pink salt and pepper to taste. 1/3 cup of soya milk and x1 teaspoon of sesame paste or tahini. Whisk all these ingredients together.


You will also need the other half of the tofu you put aside. Add a little oil to a pan and crumble the tofu into the pan and start to sauté the tofu then add your whisked liquid ingredients. Keep sautéing until all the liquid has gone. You now have your vegan meat and eggs.


You can now add this as a topping for rice adding any green vegetables of your choosing. Some times it is popular to add a little pickled ginger or gari  known as beni shoga as a refreshing palate cleanser.



The next recipe I decided to make was another egg dish called Niratama donburi ニラ玉丼ぶり. Niratama means garlic chive eggs and is a staple comforting Japanese home cooked meal . As it’s been the  season for wild garlic I decide to adapt the recipe using this as a replacement for the chives and using tofu for the egg replacement. You could also use regular chives or green onion or spinach or a mixture of all of these if you wish. Garlic chives may be hard to find but you could check your local Asian supermarket.

First make your egg mixture.
Add to a blender, 1 block of drained firm crumbled  “Shizenno Megumi” tofu, to this add 1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric, 1/2 a teaspoon of ground Kala Namak black salt, 1 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, x1 teaspoon of soy sauce or tamari, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons spoons of dashi mixed with 1/2 a tablespoon of potato starch.

Chop and sauté your wild garlic in a little oil to wilt.

Remove from the pan and mix into your blended egg mixture.
Cut two circles of parchment paper and have a plate to hand. Place one sheet in a frying pan and pour in the wild garlic egg mixture and spread it out.

Doing it this way is my tried and tested method to never have a stuck tofu egg mixture. When the underside is cooked place the other piece of parchment paper on top and add a plate on top of this.

Turn your pan over so the omelette is now on the plate. Then slide the omelette with the uncooked side back onto the pan to cook the other side. When it is done on both side fold over and add to a bowl of cooked rice. You can make variations on this by scrambling the tofu mixture instead of making an omelette.

Shunzo Horikawa also mentioned his wife likes to cook Hiroshima yaki for their children. This is a style of Okonomiyaki savoury pancake that contains a variety of ingredients. “Okonomi” in Japanese means “as you like it”. You can use this same method to make your very own style of Okonomiyaki. I used chopped cabbage, bean sprouts, carrot ribbons, green onion and shungiku (chrysanthemum greens), chop all the vegetables and then put everything in a bowl, pour in your batter and mix everything together.

Make the Okonomiyaki the same way as the Niratama.

The Okonomiyaki has a special sauce that goes on top. There is a vegan one you can buy already made for ease just spread this over the top, then use vegan kewpie mayonnaise to make stripes along the top over the sauce.

Run a chop stick over the mayonnaise the opposite way to the lines to make that distinctive Okonomiyaki pattern.

Finish with a sprinkle of aonori dried seaweed powder. If you want to make your own Okonomiyaki sauce it is a blend of a tablespoon each of vegan Worcestershire sauce, ketchup, tamari, mirin and maple syrup. You can finish off with some pickled ginger again if you have some.

 

If you are in the U.K. you could surprise your mother with a Japanese Mother’s Day for an extra special gift. If you are celebrating this day on the same day as japan why not include some carnations in your gift or make a Japanese themed meal.

Greet her in the morning with

Ohayōgozaimasu Happī haha no hi

Good morning happy Mother’s Day.

Haha itsumo arigatou – Mum, thank you for everything.

 

Blog, Spring Food

Tango no Sekku – Boys’ Day (端午の節句)


Tango no Sekku
(端午の節句) or Boys’ Day, is observed every year on May 5th as one of five ancient seasonal festivals known as 5 sekku (五節句. Originating around the Nara period (710–794) was changed in the constitution in 1948, and renamed Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day). It is a festive day to wish happiness for all children but mainly males as girls are celebrated on Momo no Sekku, which means a festival of peach blossoms on March 3rd also known as Hinamatsuri the second of the ancient seasonal festivals.

On this national holiday although Tango no Sekku is officially known as Children’s Day, many still prefer to observe it as Boys’ Day, in accordance with its traditional significance. Families come together to pray for healthy development of masculinity and strength in young boys.

The warrior-influenced symbols and rituals that developed during the Edo Era, in the families of Bushi (武士 , feudal warriors) have remained essential parts of the holiday and you may see homes decorated with doll warriors known as musya-ningyo (武者人形) or gogatsu-ningyo (五月人形). Such dolls may resemble Kintaro, an heroic figure in Japanese folklore.

You may just see displayed traditional Japanese armor (, yoroi) and the kabuto (), which is a warrior helmet used along with the armor by Japanese samurai in imperial times. They are also symbols of strength and vitality and represent symbols of hope that the boy would grow up to be a strong, tough and a wise person.

Tango no Sekku also had another name known as Ayame no hi (Iris festival). The reason for this was that the iris was a plant that represented the samurai because its leaves were shaped like the blade of a japanese sword and the word shōbu (尚武), which means ‘to value military affairs’, had the same pronunciation as iris (shōbu 菖蒲) and was therefore considered an auspicious plant for the samurai. You will now see iris flowers displayed in homes and people may bathe in an iris hot bath, it is believed doing so prevents disease.

The most prominent decoration flying all over Japan at this time for outside are large multicolored windsocks called koinobori designed to look like swimming carp, or koi. This tradition, began during the Edo period (1603–1868) as the koi are known for their ability to swim upstream, they represent courage and determination, they are the symbol of success in life overcoming life’s struggles.

As with any Japanese festival food plays a prominent role in celebrations.

It is traditional to eat mochi wagashi called Kashiwa mochi to day.

They symbolise a child’s growth as an oak leaf is used to wrap the mochi (not edible). The reason an oak leaf is used is because oak trees do not shed their leaves until the new ones start to grow so thus are seen as a symbol of harmonious flow from one generation to the next. They are also a symbol of growth, strength and prosperity.

These mochi are made from pounded sweet joshinko rice flour and filled with bean paste . Other mochi can be filled with white sweet bean and miso paste known as misoan. You can find my recipe for kashiwa mochi on my recipe pages.

Other traditional foods eaten today would be Nishime simmered vegetables often also eaten at new year but adding seasonal bamboo to symbolise growth. Sekihan azuki bean rice which is often eaten at times of celebration and Chirashizushi (scattered sushi).

Chirashizushi is served on happy family occasions like Hinamatsuri and Childrens Day.

Chirashizushi (scattered sushi) consists of a bowl of seasoned sushi rice and various toppings, served in a wooden rice container called “Handai”. Eating chirashizushi is thought to bring good fortune, with each ingredient having its own symbolism. For instance shiitake mushrooms signify longevity, while lotus root (renkon), with its holes, represents a clear future, beans means to work harder and the vibrant colours carry wishes for health and prosperity.

Another topping is kinshi tamago 錦糸卵 (thinly sliced omelette) meaning “golden thread egg”. A festive egg topping kinshi tamago looks like brocade thread, so it is considered to bring good luck. I wanted to add something like this to my Chirashizushi this year to celebrate Tango no Sekku so decided to make a simple omelette using “Shizenno Megumi” firm tofu.

The day before you want to make chirashizushi make your kinshi tamago so it cools and sets in the fridge over night.

You will need  1/2 a block of drained and pressed tofu added to a blender. Mix 1 table spoon of potato starch with 2/3 cup of plant based milk add this to a blender along with 1 table spoon of nutritional yeast,1/2 teaspoon of turmeric and 1 teaspoon of ground Kala namak also known as black salt.

Cut two circles of parchment paper that fit your frying pan and lay one inside. Turn the heat on your stove low and heat up the pan and pour in your mixture.

When the mixture looks set on the underside place a piece of parchment paper on top and then a plate and flip over the pan so the omelette is now on the plate with the cooked side on top.
Now slide the parchment back into the pan to cook the other side. When both sides are cooked flip the omelette back onto a plate and leave with the parchment paper on both sides in the fridge to cool over night. This will also help it set.
The next day take out the omelette and peel back gently the top piece of parchment paper then start to ease the omelette away from the bottom piece of parchment rolling it up as you go. If you find any is sticking just run a knife along as you roll .

You will now have a rolled tofu omelette that you can cut into slices to add to your topping first chirashizushi .

You will need two rice cooker cups of cooked rice, sushi seasoning and toppings. You can add what ever you like I added cooked hijiki,shiitake and chopped shiso leaves mixed into the cooked rice before adding my kinshi tamago.

I decided the little pin wheels were cute and decided to keep them as a topping.

I also added pickled lotus root, bamboo shoots, okra, edamame, snow peas, sunflower sprouts and daikon cut butterflies and flowers. Arrange these over your kinshi tamago.

You can serve this in the centre of a table as part of your special meal for Tango no Sekku.


 

Blog, Spring Food

Triangle Shape Inari sushi (Kansai Style)

Have you ever noticed there are a few different shapes for Inari sushi? Those aburaage pouches stuffed with seasoned sushi rice.


You may be familiar with the cylindrical shaped ones but today I decided to make the triangle shaped ones popular in the Kansai region of Japan. The exact origins of Inari sushi are unknown but its name is reference to the Inari shrines all across Japan which are dedicated to the kami (deity) of business and prosperity and are associated with foxes the guardians of such shrines.


It is said that foxes like to eat Inari and the triangle shape of Inari sushi are likened to the ears of a fox.
However I decided as it was golden week they also could look a little like a samurai warrior helmet which are a popular symbol around Tango no Sekku (also known as boys day). I decided to make triangular Inari sushi to celebrate.


To make the triangular shape you will need the rectangular frozen variety of aburaage pouches that are fried but not seasoned. Defrost them and slice them corner to corner.


Then lay them in a sieve and pour boiling water over them to get rid of any oil from the cooking process.


Next add to a pan 200 ml of kombu shiitake dashi, 2 tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of mirin and 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar. Start to heat the dashi to dissolve the sugar then add your aburaage pouches. Simmer for 15 minutes and then leave in the stock to cool for a few hours to absorb the flavours.

Wash two rice cooker cups of Japanese sushi rice until the water runs clear, leave to air in a sieve for 10 minutes then transfer to a rice cooker with three rice cooker cups of water. Leave to soak for at least an hour then cook your rice. Note: The plastic rice cup that comes with the rice cooker is 3/4  cup (180ml) this amount is called ichi go in Japanese.
When your rice is done take your aburaage pouches and gently squeeze out the liquid and leave in a sieve while you prepare your rice.
Tip your rice into a bowl or hangiri (cypress wood sushi bowl) if you have one. Sprinkle over some sushi seasoning and using a slicing motion cut into the rice to combine. As you’re cutting the rice with one hand cool down the rice with a fan with the other hand. Add some toasted sesame seeds and you are ready to fill your aburaage pockets.


You will need a bowl of fresh cold water placed to one side to wet your hands to stop the rice sticking. Take one of the pockets and part the edges wet your hands and take a ball of the sushi rice roll it in your hands and place this in side the pocket. Take the pointed end and tuck this inside and fold over the other side to cover. Turn the pocket upside down so the triangle top is pointing up.


Repeat until you have filled all your pockets. I decided to make them look a little more like samurai helmets by adding a little decoration of lotus root and tsukemono pickles. Serve as part of a Golden week meal or any time you like. They are perfect for adding to a bento on the go.

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.