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justine

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.
Winter Food

Karaimo Netabo (Satsumaimo & Brown Rice Mochi)

Coming of Age Day
成人の日
Seijin no Hi
Karaimo Netabo for Seijin no Hi
Monday January the 8th this year in Japan is coming of age day Seijin no hi 成人の日.
Seijin no Hi is a Japanese holiday held on the 2nd Monday in January and marks one’s coming of age (age of maturity). In Japan people turned or will turn 20 between April 2 of the previous year and April 1 of the current one may attend coming of age ceremonies (成人式 seijin-shiki). Ceremonial dress for women is furisode, a style of kimono with long sleeves and sandals, the kimono is often worn with a furry collar.
For men traditional dress is dark kimono with hakama (a kind of  a loose fitting trouser ). It may be common to see people in these elaborate costumes visiting shrines to pray for health and success.
Afterwards they may gather in groups and go to parties.
“Karaimo Netabo” からいもねったぼ
Mochi is often eaten in japan as a symbol of good fortune and a long life as it’s so stretchy. It is customary to make and eat “Karaimo Netabo” when pounding rice cakes during the year-end and New Year’s holidays at a ceremony called mochitsuki 餅つき. Karaimo Netabo, is a local specialty of Kagoshima Prefecture. Kagoshima was historically known as the “Satsuma” thus a Kagoshima grown sweet potato was named Satsumaimo.
Sweet potatoes were traditionally grown in Kagoshima and then spread to the rest of Japan. Today, Kagoshima ranks number one as a sweet potato producer in Japan.
Karaimo Netabo is also said to be called kneaded botamochi. It is also eaten as a snack during other occasions besides New Year’s so I thought it would be a nice to make this to celebrate Seijin no Hi, no matter what your age to celebrate good fortune and health for the year.
Using “Satsuma imo” Japanese Sweet potato with brown rice mochi then rolling in kinako (soy bean flour) gives this wagashi a delicious sweet nutty flavour.  It’s so easy to make with just a few ingredients.
You will need:

One large Japanese sweet potato. Give the potato a clean but do not peel.

Brown rice mochi (i used the one by Clearspring)

A pinch of salt

Kinako (roasted soy bean flour to roll the mochi in)

Method:

Slice the potato into thick rounds and steam in a steamer until soft.

Break each mochi in half and place on-top of each slice of potato and steam again together for a few more minutes.

Once steamed, mash the sweet potato with the brown rice mochi and a pinch of salt.

Add some kinako to a bowl

Spoon a ball of the mixture and drop it into the kinako then roll the mochi mixture in the kinako this will make it less sticky and easier to handle. You can then shape the mochi and place on a plate.

If you have a Kagami mochi to open for kagami biraki (鏡開き) on the 11th of January you could maybe consider making this with the mochi that is inside.

Here’s to a healthy year ahead.

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

Shinnenkai 新年会 Japanese New Year Gatherings & Vegan Yakitori


You may have heard of bonenkai 忘年会 literally meaning a “forget the year party” a time of  letting loose a little after a year of hard work, but have you heard of Shinnenkai 新年会 (New Year gathering?)
Like bonenkai the majority of Shinnenkai are held by companies and businesses generally held among co-workers or friends in January.
Japanese culture and business culture is renowned for its emphasis on working together. The year end and New Year gatherings are a time to get together in a social setting to eat, drink, exchange New Year’s greetings and share their aspirations. it is an opportunity for a new and fresh start into a successful new year.
This tradition started in the 15th century for a time to express one’s thanks for each other. At that time, the party was known as nōkai (great achievement gathering).
The atmosphere is a little more official in comparison to the drunken affair of  bonenkai.
These gatherings are usually a more formal event, with senior members of the company maybe making speeches and setting out goals to focus on for the year ahead.
However that’s not to say people do not have fun as this helps see the year off to a good start. It is a time to make promises to each other to do their best for the year while wishing each other good luck and fortune. Some times there may be an event called mochitsuki, the pounding of rice to make mochi, or kagami- wari which is the breaking open of sake barrels to drink together which are both said to bring good fortune in the year ahead.
Shinnenkai are usually held in an izakaya a type of informal Japanese bar that serves alcohol and snacks Izakaya are casual places for after-work drinking, similar to a pub.
As well as drinking sake and eating mochi other traditional izakaya foods might be eaten like yakitori (焼き鳥) (literally meaning ‘grilled bird). Its preparation involves skewering the meat with a type of skewer typically made of steel or bamboo. Afterwards, it is grilled over a charcoal fire. During or after cooking, the meat is typically seasoned with something called a tare sauce. The sauce is best described as a sweetened, thickened soy sauce.
As it’s the New Year and a lot of people are choosing a vegan diet for January and hopefully carrying that forward for the rest of the year I wanted to see if I could come up with a Shinnenkai Yakitori using frozen tofu like I had previously done before with my vegan Christmas Karaage recipe. I decided to use firm Shizenno Megumi Tofu.  “Shizenno Megumi” means natures best, the brand was started to follow the traditional style of tofu making in Japan. You can read all about their story in a previous blog post . Because of how this tofu is produced it is always my tofu of choice when making my recipes.

I’m going to be using  shimi-dofu to make the mock chicken. Shimi-dofu 凍み豆腐 is tofu that has been frozen then thawed and pressed. The result is a completely different tofu which becomes more meaty in texture.

To make Shimi-dofu place a pack of tofu still in its original water in the freezer and freeze until completely hard.

Then remove from the freezer and leave to defrost (I normally do this over night). When the tofu is completely defrosted take it out of its container I then like to wrap the tofu in a cloth and press out as much liquid as i can. Wrap again in a clean dry cloth and leave to dry out for a few hours.

Soak some bamboo skewers in water the empty container from the tofu is perfect to use (this will stop them burning when you place them under the grill)

Then make your tare sauce, this will be used to marinade the tofu.

For the tare sauce add to a pan:

  • 1/3 cup soy sauce or gluten free tamari 
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon of vegan honey or similar sweetener 
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of mirin
  • 1 teaspoon tablespoon brown rice vinegar
Whisk over a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved, turn up the heat to high and bring to a simmer.
Add one tablespoon of potato starch to two tablespoons of cold water stir to dissolve then add this to the soy sauce mixture. Quickly stir to thicken it will turn fast then take off the heat. If the mixture is too thick add a little hot water.
Tear chunks off the tofu block and push onto the skewers. Do this until all the tofu has been used. Brush each tofu loaded skewers with an odourless oil.
Turn on your grill. (You can also make this on a bbq)
Place a wire rack with a tray underneath and brush with oil then add your skewers and season with salt and pepper.
Put the tofu skewers under the grill turning a few minutes on each side. I often just cover the ends of the bamboo skewers with little pieces of silver foil to stop further burning, which can be removed later.
Then brush or spoon over  the tofu with the tare sauce, grill for a few minutes then turn and cover  again with tare sauce and grill that side.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and maybe some chopped green onion to serve.
The yakitori are delicious to serve on rice with pickles or another favourite izakaya snack edamame beans.
Don’t forget a sprinkle of Shichi-mi tōgarashi, also known as nana-iro tōgarashi or simply shichimi, it is a common Japanese spice mixture containing seven ingredients.
Why not have it Japanese style with a sake or ice cold beer to celebrate the New Year.
Let’s all focus on the year ahead and ganbarou 頑張ろう!
Let’s do our best!
Blog

Osechi Ryori The symbolic meaning behind Japanese New Year Good Luck Food

Happy New Year Akemashite omedetou 
 明けましておめでとうございます!
 
Many of the items served to celebrate New Year’s in Japan have symbolic meaning. It’s starts the night before on New Year’s Eve (oh-misoka ). At this time some Japanese people like to eat Toshikoshi Soba 年越しそば. Toshikoshi means end the old year and enter the new year. A hot bowl of buckwheat noodles eaten to symbolise good luck for the new year a head and it is also said to let go of hardships from the  previous year.  This simple meal of buckwheat soba noodles is served in a hot dashi broth which is full of umami flavour and garnished with chopped green onions. I like to add aburaage to mine instead of the traditional Kamaboko fish cake to make it vegan. For the dashi I use a kombu shiitake dashi then mirin,tamari and yuzu rind. This year I brought back from my trip to Japan some special inaka soba noodles from Shirakawa-go. These noodles are darker in colour and have a much stronger buckwheat flavour. They are made by grinding unhulled buckwheat seeds into a course flour. The result is a thicker noodle without the need for adding a thickening agent called tsunagi.


Start New Year’s Day with a traditional Japanese breakfast. 
This breakfast soup said to be the most auspicious new year food and is part of Osechi Ryori. (Good luck food). Depending on the region in Japan the broth can either be clear or with miso .

Ozoni お雑煮 Enjoyed on the morning of New Year’s Day in Japan.

(Japanese New Year Mochi Soup – Kansai Style) . This style of soup from Kyoto region is made with Saikyo Miso (white miso from kyoto) and a round toasted Mochi. It is even more auspicious to add 5 ingredients.


Kanto style Ozoni (more popular in Tokyo and eastern Japan) which is a clear based soup known as Osumashi made with kombu dashi, mirin and tamari. I like to add a dried shiitake when soaking the kombu to add to the umami. The flavours are very delicate which is typical of Shojin Ryori . Ozoni お雑煮 means mixed boil which relates to the mixed ingredients you can use. This soup was believed to bring good luck to samurai warriors and was served on New Year’s Day. Mochi is served to represent long life because it stretches. Soak the kombu and shiitake over night. Simmer the dashi with carrot and daikon. Add some chopped komatsuna and a slice of Yuzu peel maybe . Toast your Mochi and put it all together. Serve on its own or with some simple rice and pickles, which makes a nice breakfast to start the day.

I make Osechi Ryori 御節料理 or お節料理 every year for New Year’s Day ( Ganjitsu 元日). Osechi Ryori are traditional foods normally packed in a tiered bento box known as ojubuko 重箱 enjoyed on New Year’s Day in Japan. I like to make what significant food I can with vegan ingredients. This year this is what I made. The majority of the food symbolism comes from Shintō and some of the meanings are a play on words.

Nishime 煮しめ (圧力鍋)

one-pot colorful stew of root vegetables, shiitake and koyadofu, simmered in dashi broth seasoned with soy sauce, sake, and mirin. These simmered dishes are called nimono (煮物). The various ingredients cooked together symbolise family unity.

  • Carrot – Welcome spring by shaping carrot into plum or cherry blossom shapes.
  • Lotus root – The holes of lotus root presents a clear and unobstructed future. 
  • Taro – Taro symbolizes fertility or descendants’ cut into hexagon that resembles a turtle shape represents longevity.
  • konnyaku made into a knot shape signifies good relationships and a harmonious family.

Namasu (なます) or also known as Kohaku Namasu (red and white)

(紅白なます) Red and white are considered celebratory colors in Japan and resemble celebratory wrapping strings used on joyous occasions. Julienned daikon and carrot pickled in a sweet vinegar with a hint of citrus. These vegetables symbolise a strong family foundation.

Kuri Kinton (Candied Chestnuts and Sweet Potatoes) 栗きんとんchestnut gold mash. This dish symbolises fortune and wealth for a prosperous year ahead. Japanese sweet potatoes with chestnuts in syrup called kuri kanroni (栗甘露煮.) The kanji for kinto turns into kindan (gold and silver treasures) evoking wealth.

Dried persimmon hoshigaki (干し柿). These ones are pretty special they are stuffed with sweet white bean paste and are a wagashi called Suikanshuku (粋甘粛) . It is traditional to eat dried persimmon over the new year as the wrinkled skin is said to be associated with longevity. The Japanese word for persimmon (not dried is kaki ) which means luck. 

Kuromame 黒豆 are Japanese black beans cooked in sweet syrup and are traditionally eaten at this time eating kuromame is considered good for your health for the new year.

Kuro means black but when the final vowel is extended it can mean hard work. Also mame means bean however again can mean sincere.

So it is said that eating kuromame in syrup for new years translates to those who are sincere and  work hard will have a good new year.

On my trip to Japan this year I stumbled across a store in Hase (kamakura) 2 minutes walk from Enoden “Hase” station, that  Specialize in Kanbutsu 乾物 dried foods ; seaweeds, mushroom shiitake and dried beans They sold a variety of dried foods, including local Shonan specialty hijiki and natural seaweed, as well as carefully selected beans from all over the country.

Ishiwata Genzaburo Shoten 石渡源三郎商店

 www.yamagen-mame.co.jp

Unchanged since its founding in the early Meiji era I spotted some hana mame beans (plateau flower beans). The beans from Gunma Prefecture are very large and have a very rich flavour. I had been given a precooked canned variety of these beans cooked in syrup a few years ago so I decided to buy some to make my beans in a sweet syrup this year.

You can use this recipe to make your own kuromame using other black dried beans.

Purple flower beans from Gunma Prefecture

~Delicious way to enjoy~

Rinse the beans in cold water.

Soak one cup of the beans the beans in three cups of cold water and one teaspoon of baking soda over night the day before cooking.

As the beans soak, they will swell

Change the water then boil in plenty of water over low heat until it boils. Once it boils change the water. Repeat this process  3 or 4 times. Then simmer them until they become soft. Whilst they are simmering skim off any scum and keep topping up the water so that the beans are submerged in at least 1 inch of water at all times. Check your beans are soft by pinching one of the beans they should yeild without squashing. This can take up to two hours.

Finally make your sugar syrup seasoning.

Add 2 cups of sugar to 1 and 1/2 cups of water to a pan and simmer to dissolve the sugar. Reduce to a syrup to about one cup.

Add the syrup to the beans and simmer.

Let the beans cool completely before storing them in an airtight container in the fridge.

shinodamaki 信太巻き
In the Kansai region, a dish using abura-age is often called shinoda (written as 信太 or 信田).

This originates from the legend of foxes living in the forest of Shinoda, and abura-age, which is believed to be their favorite food. I made shinoda with carrot and daikon tied with gourd known as kanpyo. I also made inari sushi.

Datemaki (伊達巻き) is a rolled sweet omelette. They symbolize a wish for many auspicious days. It resembles a scroll so also symbolises academic success. This year I tried to make a vegan version. I think it came out quite well.

I blended a vegan liquid egg replacer with half a block of silken tofu along with 2 tablespoons of mirin, 1 tablespoon of sake, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce  and 1 teaspoon of vegan honey.
Pour the mixture into a square pan 8×8 inches lined with parchment paper and place it in a preheated oven 180 degrees C  for 25- 30 mins.

It’s done when the top is nice and golden. Lift the cooked mixture out of the pan using the parchment paper. Lay a sushi rolling mat on top of the cooked mixture with the smooth side facing up, flip it over and peel off the parchment paper.

Make slight scores with a knife the same direction as the slats on the bamboo mat be careful not to cut all the way through, this will help it roll. Now roll your datemaki and secure either end with a rubber band. Wrap the hole thing in film and leave over night in the fridge.

Unroll your datemaki and slice.


2024 is the year of the dragon, why not read my next post about what’s in store for us as we head in to the year of the mythical beast.
良いお年を!( Have a great New Year ! )

Blog

Year Of The Dragon

After the big house clean known as O-Souji has been done in preparation for the New year and the Bonenkai (forget the year parties) are a blurred memory, it’s time to welcome in the New Year.

My new year preparations always start a few days before New Years Eve with packing away all the Christmas decorations and putting out my display of New Year good luck items. Always avoid putting out decorations on the 29th as the word is reminiscent of the word suffering. Also the 31st is said to be too last minute and disrespectful to the kami.
It’s popular to display Kadomatsu, a traditional decoration made from bamboo and pine. It is usually a set of two put in front of the home to welcome ancestral spirits or kami.

Something else you might display may be a Kagami Mochi consisting of two round mochi on top of each other and an orange on the top called a daidai. This one I brought back from my recent trip to Japan and is a ceramic one that you place your own Mochi inside each year. I thought it was more ethical than the plastic ones you can buy. It is supposed to ward off fires from the house for the following year. It is normally placed in the household altar or in front of the entrance to the home. It is believed that when the New Year begins a god called Toshigami 年神 (Great-Year God”) will visit and offering them kagami Mochi will bring good luck. The Kirimochi Mochi which is rectangular is traditionally eaten in a ritual called Kagami biraki on the second Saturday or Sunday in January and can be grilled and eaten with a red bean soup called zenzai ぜんざい

Shimekazari is an ornament that represents a new start can may be hung on the house entrance. It is believed to bring luck and prevent bad spirits entering the house.

A popular thing to do for New Year is to get a daruma doll. The doll comes with no eyes and you paint on one eye with your goal or intention for the year when your wish comes true you paint in the other eye.

The cycle of the animal zodiac signs rotates once more and as we head into 2024 we are entering the fifth animal of the 12 animal symbols. 2024 is the year of the dragon the only mythical creature in the zodiac dozen.

Horoscopes predicts that the Year of the Dragon in 2024 will bring luck, wealth, and power, with strong leadership skills and attractive personalities, making it a great time for new starts and long-term success for all 12  zodiac signs.
Your sign is a dragon if you were born in 2024, 2012, 2000, 1988, 1976, 1964, 1952…
Those who were born in the year of the dragon always aim for success in all they do. It is regarded as the  sign with the greatest strength and promise. They exhibit great leadership qualities and are driven and ambitious.
Their lucky colour, gold, is associated with wealth and extravagance and draws happiness and positivity.
The year 2024 is a Wood dragon, one of the five elements ( Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal ,and Water) is connected to each zodiac sign. Which means that a Wood Dragon, for example, comes once in a 60-year cycle. The element of Wood is known to be the element of growth and success
Meaning the  2024 Dragon indicates a time for new starts, great beginnings, hard work, growth and prosperity.

Japanese dragons are very different from their western winged fire-breathing earthly counterparts, they are wingless (but sky dwelling) water spirits with a long serpentine body and short legs.  Its appearance resembles a crossbreeding of several animals, with a reptile body, tiger paws, eagle talons, a hairy camel’s head, ox ears and deer horns. Unlike its Chinese relative, the Japanese dragon only has three claws instead of five.
The dragon is highly respected and honoured in Japanese society. In the Japanese language there are two main words for dragon tatsu 辰 (from the old Japanese ta-tu) and ryū 竜. As Japanese dragons are closely linked with water, they were originally considered water gods and you will find Japanese dragon symbolism in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, all over Japan especially those located near bodies of water.

Like the two-headed Blue Dragon statue located at the base of the stairs leading up to the Kiyomizu-dera temple’s West Gate. Kiyomizu means pure water and was  built next to the Otowa waterfalls. The waterfall at the base of Kiyomizudera’s main hall is divided into three streams. Each has a different benefit, longevity, success at school or a fortunate love life. According to legend, every night the dragon comes flying to drink from the water of the Otowa waterfall.

There are four mythological creatures that guard the four cardinal directions. They are the Blue Dragon of the East, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the White Tiger of the West, and the Black Tortoise of the North. In Japan these creatures are considered the guardian spirits of cities. So the Blue Dragon (seiryū, 青龍) protects the city of Kyoto on the east and Kiyomizu-dera is dedicated to it.
The blue-green dragon often referred to as either Blue or Azure, represents the East and the Spring season. The blue dragon is known as the goddess of compassion and the protector of the weak and young. There are special festivals in March, April, and September at the temple to honour the guardian, at this time a large 18 metre long dragon is paraded through the streets
The sculpture is relatively new and was unveiled in December 2015 on the 30th Anniversary of the Kiyomizudera Seiryu Festival by the Blue Dragon Society.
In Shinto, dragons are worshipped as the guardian of water, or dragon kami known as Ryujin 龍神 and are connected with agricultural rituals, prayers for rain, and the success of fisherman. Because dragons are associated with rainfall, and have control over a good harvest they represent wealth, and abundance.
A strong connection between dragons and water in Shinto is also observed at the water basins (chozubachi) used for purification before entering Shrine grounds.
You may often see water flowing from the mouths of dragon sculptures at temizuya (or chōzuya), where visitors to Shintō shrines purify themselves by washing their hands. By purifying the water through the mouth of a dragon, it is believed that it would get rid of evil.
There are many temples with artistic depictions of dragons in Japan. Dragons are recognized to be the protectors of Buddhist teachings, therefore drawings of dragons are often found in Zen temples. One such well known depiction is the vast painting of Twin Dragons that covers the entire ceiling of the Hattou (dharma hall) of Kennin-Ji 建仁寺 the oldest temple in Kyoto and the first Zen temple of its kind in Kyoto.
This 11.4m by 15.7m work of art is a painting that commemorates the 800 year anniversary of Kennin-ji’s founding. Done by Koizumi Junsaku (1924 – 2012), this painting took about two years to complete and was created in the gymnasium of an elementary school in Hokkaidō before being moved to the temple. The image features two dragons who appear to be chasing a pearl. One dragon clasps the pearl in its talons the other looks longingly at it.

I hope the year of the dragon brings good fortune, happiness, strength and courage to our lives in 2024.

 
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Yuzu koshō 柚子胡椒

Winter solstice Touji ( Toji ) (冬至)
Friday the 22nd is the time of the  shortest day the Winter Solstice known in the Japanese micro season as Touji (Toji) (冬至). If you have been following my Japanese micro seasonal blog posts you will know by now that Japanese people like to mark the changing of the seasons. Japanese people celebrate the solstice as they welcome the return of longer days, they pray for good health and eat auspicious food. You can find more about this and other recipes on previous winter solstice posts.
I always like to make food with yuzu at this time of year . This year my recipe is how to make Easy Yuzu koshō (柚子胡椒) using fresh yuzu.
Yuzu koshō (柚子胡椒, also known as yuzu goshō) is a type of Japanese seasoning. It is a paste made from chilli peppers, yuzu peel and salt.
Originally yuzu koshō was made by families in Kyushu southern Japan. It grew in popularity after being offered as a souvenir in the hot spring town of Yufuin Onsen.
First used in nabemono (hot pot) but now also found as a condiment for tempura, sashimi and yakitori adding to soy sauce for dipping.

It is also delicious mixed with mayonnaise or yogurt for a salad dressing or with miso as a miso dip or marinade.
Making your own from fresh yuzu has a completely different taste from store bought it has a delicious citrus flavour with a hit of chilli and it’s so simple to make why not give it a try.
You will need for each yuzu fruit three green or red chilli depending on which one you want to make and two teaspoons of flaky salt. I recommend using Japanese salt if you can get it. I think three yuzu makes a good quantity of yuzu koshō which will keep in your fridge to use for months.
First half your yuzu and squeeze out the juice. Yuzu doesn’t produce much juice so you can see why fresh juice is so expensive to buy.
Then remove all the seeds (there are a lot of seeds) and slice into to more manageable pieces. Take a spoon and scrap away all the white pith and slice into smaller pieces.
Add this to a blender along with two teaspoons of salt per yuzu fruit. Slice in half and remove the seeds from the chilli chop into smaller pieces and add to the blender. Add the squeezed juice from the yuzu.

Blend until all the yuzu and chilli are made into a paste.
Spoon into a sterilised jar adding a piece of parchment paper to the top before closing the lid.
Keep in the fridge. A little goes a long way. Add just 1/2 a  teaspoon to broth for a nabemono or spice up an udon or ramen.
Why not even add it to your soba at the end of the year. If you don’t know about the tradition of eating soba noodles on New Years Eve known as “Toshikoshi Soba” why not read more on my blog post on how to celebrate the new year the Japanese way in my New Year posts.
Happy Winter Solstice.
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Matcha & Yuzu Boule De Neige

Boule De Neige

Matcha & Yuzu snow ball cookies

 抹茶と柚子の

雪の玉クッキー

As the end of the year approaches and the evenings grow dark earlier, we prepare for the winter solstice known as tōji (冬至 ) in Japan .
I decided to give this French crumbly confectionery a make over after being inspired by the ones I saw in Muji Japan. Made with almonds and rolled in powdered sugar boule de neige means “snow ball”.
My very simple vegan recipe has a Japanese winter seasonal twist by using matcha tea powder and yuzu candied fruit peel coated in sugar (a wagashi from K. Minamoto .)
These small snow ball cookies make the perfect little tea time treat. Crispy crumbly cookie with a hint of matcha and almonds and subtle yuzu flavour. They also make a perfect home made gift.
I wanted to use Yuzu in this cookie for the winter solstice as Yuzu is often a symbol of this time. Please check out my previous posts on the winter solstice with more yuzu recipes .
To make Matcha & Yuzu Boule De Neige you will need:
90 grams of plain flour
40 grams of ground almonds
25 grams of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of sifted matcha powder
6 tablespoons of melted odourless oil I used Tiana coconut butter
10 grams each of finely chopped blanched almonds and candied yuzu peel
Powdered sugar (icing sugar ) for decorating
Place all dry ingredients in a bowl except the icing sugar for decorating. Mix and then start to add the oil a little at a time mixing as you go. Finish by forming the mixture with your hands into a dough.
Either roll out flat or into a log so you can cut relatively equal pieces and roll each into a ball.
Place each ball on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper .
Bake for 15 mins in a preheated moderate oven.
Allow to cool completely then roll each ball in the powdered sugar.
Enjoy with your favourite tea or coffee.