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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

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Vegan Tonjiru & Yudofu

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House

舞妓さんちのまかないさん A series on Netflix about Food & Friendship set in a Maiko house in Kyoto.

Photo Credit: The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House, 2023. Netflix

From acclaimed filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda

Adapted from the manga series “Kiyo in Kyoto”by Aiko Koyama,

Season 1 episode 8

“Carnival”

Part 1 “Yudofu” 湯豆腐

In this episode we see lots of different Japanese cuisine being eaten by the characters from deep fried oysters and spaghetti to udon.
In one of the scenes we see Yoshino and Koji eating Yudofu at Nanzenji Yachiyo. Many places in the series can be visited if you are travelling to Kyoto. Or if you have already been it’s fun to pick out places that you might recognise. I will go into this further in my final blog that goes with the series.
Yudofu is a speciality of Nanzenji serving up seasonal appetisers of hot water tofu, sesame tofu, soup, rice and pickles. Thanks to centuries of preparation by Buddhist monks in Kyoto, the dish is emblematic of Zen cuisine, which focuses on cooking natural foods with simple techniques. At Japanese restaurants, the hot simmered tofu is served in the centre of the table where diners can serve themselves.

In a previous blog I used momen (firm) tofu but this time I decided to use silken tofu known as kinugoshi which seams more popular to be used in Kyoto for Yudofu.
Kinugoshi Tofu (絹ごし豆腐) has a smooth texture like silk so it’s named kinugoshi (in Japanese, kinu 絹 literally means silk).

Yudofu is  a simple nabe (鍋) hotpot, using a handful of classic Japanese ingredients. It’s healthy, light and packed with nutritious umami flavour. Japanese hot pot is usually cooked in a clay pot called donabe (土鍋), however if you do not have one at home, you can make it in a regular pot.
All you need to do is simmer tofu in water konbu (昆布, kelp) and then eat it with a tsuyu dipping sauce and various condiments known as yakumi 薬味. I talk about yakumi in another blog post, but basically they are used to bring out the umami of a particular dish, some of the most common are chopped green onion, schichimi pepper, shiso, oroshi daikon (grated daikon), sesame seeds and grated ginger. Yudofu is about one of the simplest forms of Japanese cuisine you can make, it is sometimes referred to as boiled tofu, although it is actually cooked at just below boiling to avoid the bubbles breaking apart the fragile silken tofu pieces.

To make Yudofu you will need a piece of dried konbu kelp left to soak in water for a few hours. One – two cartons of silken tofu drained and left on kitchen towel to absorb liquid. Also if you would like to add some greens like watercress or mizuna that’s nice also.
You will also need your Yakumi any of the ones listed above.
Also you will need a dipping sauce. I find the tsuyu already made up by Clearspring is so easy to use just dilute and you’re ready to go. Why not add a citrus variation by making a ponzu by adding some Yuzu juice or sudachi juice. If you want to make your own simply add 4 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoons of mirin to a bowl and dilute with some kombu dashi, adding a little citrus juice is definitely recommended.
Put your dashi with the kombu in a donabe or pot turn on the heat and when you see bubbles take out the kombu. Now gently add your silken tofu in one whole block. I find the silken tofu when heated firms up a little and is easier to cut. This is easier than cutting it into square and trying to pick it up and putting them individually in the pot. Let the silken tofu simmer gently with the lid on for the tofu to warm through. Don’t let it boil as this will break apart the tofu. Cut trough the tofu whilst still in the pot into squares. Add any greens to wilt in the hot water I think watercress works well or mizuna.  With a slotted spoon or ladle transfer to your serving dish. Serve with your sauce poured over and Experiment with flavours by adding condiments of choice.

Part 2 “Vegan Tonjiru”

We see Kiyo coming back from buying groceries walking over the Sanjo-Ohashi bridge (you can see Starbucks in the background).

This is one of my favourite Starbucks to visit for a morning coffee as it has views over the Kamo River.
Kiyo returns to the house to make tonjiru a classic comforting dish which translates to pork (ton) soup (jiru). The soup is full of seasonal root vegetables. She makes it while the characters are practicing for “Obake” a seasonal annual performing carnival event involving geiko and maiko houses.
Again we see a crossover of meals to the series Midnight Diner. Tonjiru is one of only four items actually on the menu there. You can find my step by step recipe for vegan tonjiru on the Midnight Diner recipe collection using other vegetables like burdock and lotus root and adding aburaage instead of pork. The tonjiru in the Makanai has simpler ingredients, so I have made it again using fu (wheat gluten) instead of the pork this time.

For the vegetables I wanted to make it as near to the original one Kiyo made so I used onion, carrot, daikon, green onion, taro ( satoimo), konnyaku and miso.

photo minus the daikon as I forgot to put it in the photo.

In the episode we see Kiyo using a spoon to cut the konnyaku, she then rubs in salt before simmering in hot water to remove the smell.
She says in the episode “you can’t have tonjiru without konnyaku, it has a very unique texture, it’s healthy and can change a lot depending on how you cook it”.



Vegan Tonjiru:

First you will need a kombu dashi by soaking a piece of kombu in water over night. Peel the satoimo (taro root) and soak in water to remove the starch. Cut the daikon and carrot into wedges, slice an onion and green onion and set aside. Soak some wheat gluten in warm water to reconstitute. Drain a pack of konnyaku and rinse in water I cut this in half to use the other half in something else. You can keep it in the fridge in a jar with water changing the water every day for up to a week. Cut pieces of konnyaku using a spoon and rub the pieces with salt, drop the pieces into boiling water and simmer for 15 minutes drain and rinse in cold water before adding to a pan. Squeeze out the liquid from the fu and add to the pan with drained satoimo  along with all the root vegetables except the green onion. Sauté in some toasted sesame oil.

Add 500ml of water to the vegetables and the same in kombu dashi. Gently mix and simmer with the lid on until the vegetables are tender adding more dashi if needed.
Turn off the heat and add a tablespoon of miso. You can use what ever miso you like but earthy ones like brown rice or barley work well. To add the miso either ladle some of the broth and mix in to the ladle before adding it to the vegetables or use a misokoshi . I have recommended this before for adding miso to broth which you can buy from www.hatsukoi.co.uk.

Finally add your chopped green onion and spoon in to a bowl to serve.

 

Blog

Midnight Diner Shinya Shokudo (深夜食堂) Vegan Tonjiru


ビーガン豚汁

Vegan Tonjiru Soup

Inspired by Midnight Diner

Shinya Shokudo (深夜食堂)

Tonjiru is a classic winter dish which is popular all over Japan when the weather is cold. Some people call it Butajiru (豚汁)

As you know I am in love with the Japanese series  ‘Midnight Diner.’ And “Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories”. I have already made lots of the recipes on my website inspired by the episodes making them more suitable for a VEGAN diet and talk more in-depth about the characters and meals.

The owner (known as Master) only has 4 things on his menu: Pork and Vegetable Miso Soup (Tonjiru), Beer, Sake and Shochu. However  Master will cook anything on request so long as he has the ingredients.

As Tonjiru is the only food actually on the menu on the opening sequence of the start of each episode you will see “Master” prepare this meal.

Tonjiru translates to “pork” (ton) “soup” (jiru)

The soup is full of seasonal root vegetables and to replace the meat I added torn konnyaku and sliced aburaage. It’s a perfect miso soup on a cold day. Why not cosy on down at home with a  nourishing bowl of root vegetable miso soup and watch episodes of Midnight diner to warm the soul while the soup warms your body.

If you would like to read more about this check out the rest of my midnight diner series here on the website.

Here is what went into my soup.

You will need to make a kombu shiitake dashi by soaking them in water over night. Discard the kombu and take out the shiitake and slice them ( I used three shiitake).

Then prepare all your veggies this is what takes the time but after this it’s quick to make. I used carrot, daikon, Gobo, satoimo, lotus root, komatsuna, satsumaimo, aburaage, konnyaku.

I bought Gobo ( burdock root with the soil still on it so I gave it a wash and scrub, sliced it and put it in water so it didn’t go brown.
Slice lotus root into chunks and again leave to soak in water.

Peel satoimo ( taro potato and soak in water ) you can leave the skin on the satsumaimo ( Japanese sweet potato ) if you wish just slice and soak in water. This helps to remove the starch.

Cut your carrot and daikon into wedges and set aside.

Drain the konnyaku and rinse under running water then rub a little salt into it, tear into pieces and simmer in boiling water for ten minutes.

When it’s done drain and add to a pan this  is your pork substitute. Sauté the konnyaku in a little toasted sesame oil for a few minutes then add sliced shiitake, carrot, daikon, drained lotus root and Gobo.

Sauté and then add your kombu dashi. I normally make around 500ml of dashi to top up with 500ml of water. Take a piece of aburaage and pour boiling water over it to remove excess oil. Slice it into strips and add this also to your pan. Add a dash of mirin and tamari or soy sauce, gently mix and then simmer with the lid on.
In another pan I add the drained potatoes and cook those in water at the same time. I find potatoes easily get damaged as they knock about with other veggies so I cook them separately and add them at the end.

Just keep an eye on the water level as they simmer and top up the liquid with either dashi or water as needed. When the potatoes are not quite done add them to the pan to finish with the rest of the veggies.
When the veggies are tender, turn off the heat and with a ladle add one tablespoon of miso to a ladle ( I used an organic red miso ) brown rice miso or barley miso would be nice also. Lower the ladle half way into your soup and with another spoon start to mix liquid with miso. This helps break down the miso so it’s not all in one clump.

Add some chopped greens of choice like komatsuna which are Japanese mustard greens or you could use something like choysum. These will wilt in the hot broth.
Serve up into your bowls. Can be eaten like temple food with simply rice and pickles.


When people finish their day and hurry home, my day starts. 
My diner is open from midnight to seven in the morning. They call it “Midnight Diner”. Do I even have customers? More than you would expect……

Blog, Winter Food

Year of the Tiger Tora 虎 2022


明けましておめでとうございます!

Happy New Year to you all ! This year is the year of the Tiger. 

Years of the Tiger include 2022, 2010, 1998, 1986, 1974, 1962, 1950, 1938.….

The zodiac sign Tiger is a symbol of strength, exorcising evils, and braveness.

People born in a year of the Tiger are brave, competitive, and confident. They are very charming and well-liked.

Tigers usually enjoy good health. Colds coughs, and fever, are rarely experienced by Tigers. Let’s hope that’s a good omen for 2022

The Tiger ranks third among the animals of the 12 zodiac animals

in order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig. Each year is related to an animal sign according to a 12-year-cycle.

Tigers in temples

I have talked about Kurama-dera (鞍馬寺), before In a previous post “Yama no Hi “.

On visiting the main hall you see some very unusual guardians . Tigers protecting the main temple .

Why unusual? Usually, two koma-inu, or sacred dogs, protect the entrance of temples. However Tigers are considered to be messengers of the Buddhist divinity Bishamonten, one of the Four Heavenly Kings and the protector of northern Kyoto. According to legend, Bishamonten came to Kurama with a tiger in the Hour of the Tiger, on the Day of the Tiger, within the Month of the Tiger according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Called “the tigers of A-Un”, the concept of A-Un is one that encapsulates all of life from its beginning to its end. 

The two tigers sit facing each other, one with an open mouth representing the beginning and the other with a closed mouth representing the end. These two tigers are a metaphor of the universe.

New year Osechi-ryōri (御節料理, お節料理 or おせち) are traditional Japanese New Year foods.

I make Osechi Ryori 御節料理 or お節料理 every year for New Year’s Day ( Ganjitsu 元日). Even though I am not in Japan I feel making it can bring Japan closer to me with  with my food. And hopefully closer for you also.

New year is a very important time and food has a lot of special meaning. I have done a few posts on new year foods over the years on my website why not check them out.

Osechi Ryori are traditional foods normally packed in a tiered bento box known as ojubuko 重箱 enjoyed at New Year’s Day in Japan.

These boxes can contain small appetizers to go with drinks,  grilled and vinegared dishes, and simmered dishes. All dishes are eaten  at room temperature,  like a bento box. If the dish contains countable food like Inari for instance then serve in auspicious numbers 3, 5, 7, or 9 pieces. To make your box look pleasing to the eye Coordinate your colours. I also like to use small bowls and dishes These small bowls are called Kobachi 小鉢 and it’s nice to use ones with bright colours and pretty patterns. Try looking at Musubikiln which have a lovely selection of such bowls to purchase on their website.

I have made a vegan selection of traditional dishes.

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).

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

Sekihan (Red Bean glutinous Rice) 赤飯 traditional rice dish served on happy occasions which I stuffed some into inari いなり寿司. The other  Inari was  komatsuna Yuzu citrus vinegared rice.

Namasu (なます) or also known as Kohaku Namasu (red and white)(紅白なます) Red and white are considered celebratory colours in Japan. Julienned daikon and carrot pickled in a sweet vinegar with a hint of citrus.

Kuromame (Sweet Black Soybeans) 黒豆 served on New Year’s Day as a part of Osechi Ryori (traditional New Year’s meal). Eating kuromame is considered good for your health for the new year.

This year I was lucky to be given by a friend in Japan some very special  Hanamame which are from Gunma .

Pickled Lotus Root (Su Renkon) 酢れんこん Lotus root has been considered an auspicious food for the Japanese New Year because lotus root with its many holes is a symbol of an unobstructed view of the future.

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.)

aburaage rolls with daikon and carrot 油揚げロールズ tied with kanpyo. Black sesame Gomadofu, Ginnan, simmered Kabocha and Yuzu tofu mousse served in a Yuzu fruit.

ピーチビーガンゼリー Peach vegan jelly


Start  the New Year’s Day with a traditional Japanese breakfast.

This breakfast soup, said to be the most auspicious new year food 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 I added daikon,carrot, komatsuna and Silken tofu with the mochi as the 5th ingredient.


関東風书雜煮 Kanto style Ozoni

(more popular in Tokyo and eastern Japan ). This is a clear kombu dashi, with mirin and tamari known as Osumashi.

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 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. This time it is traditional to use a rectangular or square mochi for Kansai style.

As we head into a new year I wish all of you a healthy and happy one. And for those of you who are missing Japan because you cannot travel let’s make Japanese food together to help us feel closer to the place we love and miss so much.

Blog, Spring Food

Chirashi sushi Scattered Sushi for Hinamatsuri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Yakumi not just a condiment

Yakumi are small amounts of condiments that are seasoning to to bring out the umami of a particular dish. They are said to bring out the five tastes, amai (sweet), nigai (bitter), suppai (sour), karai (spicy) and shio (salty). Think of the paring together of wasabi and sushi. Some dishes have yakumi on the side where as others are incorporated into the meal it’s self, like sauces and dashi.

Some common yakumi are green onion,ginger,wasabi, shiso, oroshi daikon, Myoga, and sesame seeds. There are also citrus like sudachi and Yuzu. Spices can be also yakumi like sansho and schichimi seven spice pepper. Getting the idea?
Noodle dishes eaten cold often have yakumi on the side with a dipping sauce oroshi (grated daikon), chopped green onion and sesame seeds.

One of my favourites that incorporates this is Hiyayakko or chilled silken tofu, often with a citrus soy sauce called ponzu that your pour over. Yuzu juice which is added to make ponzu is said to be good for the immunity.


Yakumi is written in Japanese like this 薬味 which translates to medicine flavour, this is where it gets interesting, the condiments used are not just to add colour or enhance flavour but they carry medicinal properties as well. Wasabi helps with digestion, and is also antibacterial so this is why it is added to raw fish like sashimi and sushi. Ginger is also good for the digestion and so is shiso. Shiso has natural antiseptic qualities and you will often see it used as dividers for food in bento boxes to help keep the food fresh.When you grate daikon it has the same effect with digestive enzymes Oroshi daikon is high in vitamins, fibre,calcium and iron it is also an anti inflammatory. Another one good for inflammation is green onion, often seen in miso soup or served with a dipping sauce.
Why not make some of the recipes on this website incorporating yakumi . Today I decided to make Yudofu basically translates to hot water tofu.


Often a meal served in Buddhist temples. You would think something so simple as just tofu in hot water would have no flavour but this is where the yakumi really come into their own. Tofu is cooked with simply water and kombu kelp in a pot. When you serve the tofu just pour over some ponzu and eat with some of the condiments. Itadakimasu!

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

Kabu Gyoza

I decided to make gyoza for lunar new year, but instead of using the normal gyoza wrappers I used slices of turnip.
You will need a medium sized peeled turnip or daikon radish thinly sliced into rounds.
Make your filling, I used soy mince the kind you reconstitute in hot water. I used around a cup of this in a bowl with a little hot water, do not add to much water or it will make it too wet.
Then add to a frying pan some thinly chopped veggies. I used a mix of hakusai  (Chinese cabbage), carrot and green onion, you could also add some diced shiitake. Just as a note I found slicing the carrot thinly into strips with a potato peeler then chopping it helps not to make the carrot to thick or it won’t cook properly. When the veggies are sautéed add this to your soy mince in the bowl.
Add a splash of tamari and mirin and a teaspoon of ginger juice. Then add a teaspoon of kuzu to a bowl and mix in a little water to make a slurry and add this to your mixture, this will help to thicken it. Add some salt and pepper and put everything back in your frying pan and sauté it all for a little while to thicken it and cook your filling.

Put your slices of Kabu or daikon into a steamer and steam until they are translucent.
Wipe some oil onto the surface of a frying pan with some kitchen towl.

Start to fill your Kabu wrappers, with your filling by putting the filling to one side and folding the other side over to make a half moon shape.

Keeping adding them to your frying pan until they are all done.

Fry on both sides until the Kabu is browned. If you want cook the filling a little more you can place them in the oven.

Now make a dipping sauce.

Add equal amounts of tamari (soy sauce), sesame oil and brown rice vinegar and a little ginger. Give it all a mix.

To serve you can sprinkle the gyoza with sesame seeds and a sprinkle of togarashi ( chilli spice ). You can also add some chilli threads and chopped green onion.

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Toji 冬至 ( How to celebrate the winter solstice )

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. The winter solstice or Toji as it’s known in Japan is another one of those celebrations. I love the winter solstice in the fact that we know after the darkest day of the year the light and warmth will start to return.
People in Japan love to visit onsen and it is a winter solstice custom to either visit an onsen or take a hot bath with Yuzu citrus fruit on this day.


This bath is called Yuzu-yu, Yuzu grow on small thorny trees and have the taste between a grapefruit and mandarin, the smell of the fruit relaxes the mind and relieves stress. It is also said to ward of cold and viruses and as the Yuzu signifies good luck it is said to protect you from evil spirits. The juice also has a softening effect on the skin.
Yuzu juice is also really tasty and I like to slice the rind and freeze it to drop in a dashi broth or use in refreshing drinks in the summer. I often buy the juice in bottles already done to use in desserts. You can find many recipes on my pages that include Yuzu.
Why not try recreating an onsen at home for a real act of Japanese self care.

There are foods in Japan that are said to be auspicious Kabocha and red azuki beans are some of the Japanese good luck foods. Why not have a winter zenzai breakfast on the day of the solstice. A sweet azuki bean soup with simmered pieces of Kabocha and a toasted Mochi.


There is also something in Japan called “unmori” this is something that has an auspicious nasel sound of “n” which means fortune so it’s considered lucky to eat udon, daikon, ninjin (carrot) and renkon (lotus root). I made a lucky miso hot pot with these seasonal vegetables. Eating seasonal foods nourishes the body and gives us the vitamins we need.

I hope you can celebrate the solstice and welcome back the light returning.

Blog, Winter Food

Hachinohe Senbei-Jiru & Suiton

As we dive deeper into colder days the winter micro season on the 7th of December with Sora samuku fuyu to naru meaning “cold sets in winter begins” starts. This is a time to start thinking of cosy home cooked meals with seasonal ingredients to feed the soul and warm the body.
Have you heard of a dish called Senbei-Jiru? It’s a country-style rice cracker stew sometimes known as wafer soup, from the northern prefecture of Aomori in the city of Hachinohe.

This dish dating back to the Edo period uses something called Nambu-senbei crackers. They are made from wheat and salt and are formed  into thin round shapes before toasting.

They can be eaten on their own or as a snack or in this case they are dropped into a soup before serving. The soup varies but always has seasonal vegetables and mushrooms in either a soy sauce or miso broth. The wafers absorb the flavour and when In the soup take on a dumpling like texture. This is how the soup known as “Suiton” evolved from this to Senbei-Jiru, as the crackers can be stored dry for a long time.  Suiton is a soup commonly known as Hitsumi is an earthy vegetable soup with dumplings made from rice or wheat flour sometimes known as Hatto-Jiru or Dango-Jiru.

I decided to make one base miso vegetable soup and try it three ways.

The soup can be any seasonal vegetables with a kombu dashi, like potato, daikon,carrot and kabocha then mushrooms I used shiitake. The soup normally has some meat so I used strips of aburaage instead ( deep fried tofu ) I love this in broth as it soaks up all the lovely flavours. I then added some miso. I used a combination of organic Japanese brown rice miso and white miso paste by Clearspring.
For the Suiton you need dumplings 1/2 cup of all purpose flour mixed with 1/4 cup of water and a little salt. Mix into a dough and form into balls. Drop the balls into the cooked soup when they float to the top they are ready. Serve with some chopped green onions or chopped greens like komatsuna.

I was lucky enough to be sent some nambu-senbei from Japan so in my second dish I added these just before serving.

However like many of you who can’t get the authentic thing why not just try using wheat crackers the type you would use for cheese. I tried these ones.

The second part of the winter micro season starts on the 12th of December and is Kuma ana ni komoru meaning bears start hibernating in their dens.  Maybe that’s something we also do in away. We stay inside on cold dark days. It’s a time to cosy up under a blanket or in Japan something called a kotatsu which is a low level table draped with a thick blanket with a heater underneath. The perfect place to eat your nourishing soup which ever way you choose to prepare it.

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

Hambāgu Steki ハンバーグステーキ

I first came across Hambagu Steki at a vegan cafe in Tokyo, the steak came out sizzling on a platter served with potatoes and vegetables in a rich Demi glacé. Sadly the cafe is no longer trading, but I always wanted to try making it and when I saw some pea and rice plant based mince in my local super market I just knew I wanted to try and make them.


Hambagu Steki is normally made of ground meat, with some kind of sauce. With this one I decided to make a Mikan sauce with some delicious shiso delight juice I had got from the wasabi company ( link at the side of the page) the juice is made from mikan, shiso and ume plum. If you can’t get this I suggest maybe making a ponzu style sauce with Yuzu juice and tamari or soy sauce. You will need to make 1/2 cup a blend of tamari or soy sauce, juice and water.


Dice finely 1/2 an onion and sauté in a little oil in a pan until soft.

Then to a bowl add 1/4 cup of either Panko or like I did gluten free breadcrumbs. Add to the breadcrumbs x4 tablespoons of soy milk and mix together.
To a large bowl add the mince, sautéed onions and bread crumbs. Knead all together with clean hands. Flatten at the bottom of the bowl and divide into four equal portions. Take each portion and mould into thick oval ball shaped patties.

Add some oil to a pan and fry the patties on both sides until golden. Then add your ponzu sauce. Put on a lid and reduce for a few minutes.

Serve with a topping of grated daikon radish and chopped shiso leaves.



To grate the daikon finely use a Japanese style grater suitable for wasabi, like a ceramic Kyocera or Oroshigane  metal grater.

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

Kiriboshi Don ( rice bowl with daikon )

Daikon means big root, and boy do they grow big in Japan. I love going to the Japanese markets and seeing all the fresh produce there grown by local farmers.

Daikon has to be one of my favourite vegetables, although not originally native to Japan it is now Japan’s most widely cultivated vegetable. In season mainly from autumn to spring you can pretty much pick them up all year round in Japan. Daikon is good for the digestion and is such a versatile ingredients in cooking. I often manage to get mooli which is the most similar but they are never quite the same as the ones in Japan. Daikon has a light peppery flavour and when cooked in broth soaks up lots of flavour, I particularly like them in winter hot pot dishes. It can be eaten raw, simmered, fried, pickled and dried. Dried is known as kiriboshi daikon 切り干し大根 and this is what I will be using in this recipe. Kiriboshi translates to cut 切りand dry 干しin Japanese. It is basically daikon 大根 that has been shredded and traditionally left out to dry in the sun. Preserving daikon in this way has been popular since the Edo period ( 1603-1868). The daikon becomes sweeter when dried, packed with umami flavour. Drying  also concentrates the fibre and mineral content making it a good source of calcium and iron.

This is normally how you will buy kiriboshi daikon. You may see the words Singiri ぜんざい written in Japanese on the packet this means julienne in English, vegetable cut into strips . This is what I will be using for the simple but tasty rice kiriboshi don ( rice bowl ).

First take a handful of the dried daikon and wash it in a sieve under running water. Then place in a bowl and add warm water, leave to rehydrate for around 15 mins. To make this dish I used Arame seaweed. This is a species of kelp and looks a little similar to Hijiki. It comes dried so you need to do the same to this as the kiriboshi wash and leave to rehydrate. Unlike the daikon when it is rehydrated you will need to simmer the Arame in boiling water for about 20 mins.
Now your daikon is rehydrated you will notice the liquid that it is in has turned yellow. Drain off the liquid but retain it in a jug squeezing any excess liquid out the daikon also into the jug placing your daikon in a bowl.When you have your Arame simmered and drained add this to your daikon in a bowl. Add to your bowl with the daikon and Arame, a tablespoon of mirin and a tablespoon of tamari. Leave while you prepare your rice. Take a rice cooker cup of sushi rice and wash it until the water runs clear. Add this to your rice cooker and add two cups of your daikon liquid, top up with extra water if needed. Then add the juice of fresh grated ginger I used about an inch piece and a small piece of kombu again only a few inches. Let this soak for around 20 mins and then remove the kombu. Put your rice cooker on cook and prepare your kiriboshi and Arame by sautéing in toasted sesame oil, I added some extra chopped negi ( green onion ) for a little colour.
When your rice is done spoon into a bowl and add your sautéed kiriboshi on top. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and if you have any  ground black sesame salt. The rice has taken on the delicious flavour of the sweet daikon and ginger, it makes for a nutritious and filling meal that’s full of umami.

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Oroshi-Soba And Hanami Meal

This year many of us will not be able to have hanami parties outside with friends and will be celebrating at home . Just as the Sakura blooms and falls let’s hope that the world situation will pass in time . I decided to make a spring meal although the weather turned today from warm to windy and quite chilly, however I’m lucky enough to have a cherry tree in my garden and do not have to go outside for hanami and the warmth of the last few days had started to open the blooms.
My meal consisted of vinegared cucumber and vegan crab salad, Temari sushi with vegan sashimi, Oroshi soba and sake sakura kanten jelly.

I prepared the cucumber by salting first, after I had washed the salt off after about 15 mins I  then added this to a bowl with jackfruit, lime juice, brown rice vinegar, chopped red chilli and sesame seeds. You can also see the vegan crab meat recipe on my recipe for Vegan crab sushi salad. Having vinegared cucumber always reminds me of a child when I would go round to my grandmothers house for Sunday tea. It would take her all afternoon to prepare a massive Sunday spread for the family. My mother would help my grandmother while my father and grandfather would go for a drink at the local pub. I would play outside in my grand parents garden often sneaking in to their greenhouse to pick a ripe tomato directly off the vine (nothing better).

I also made bite sized sushi balls known as Temari sushi. With seasoned sushi rice and mock tuna sashimi. You can find Temari sushi recipes on my recipe page plus how to make the vegan tuna on my recipe for tekka don ( tuna rice bowl ).

Oroshi Soba is a chilled minimalist dish, ideal for summer. It consists of chilled soba noodles in a dashi broth. Oroshi refers to the grated daikon. By adding this and a few simple ingredients like chopped green onion it makes a refreshing filling meal.

This was the last of my daikon I had brought back from London a few weeks ago when I went to see the kimono exhibition at the V&A.

Now we are all confined to our homes and getting ingredients is becoming increasingly harder, so for me not only was this meal special because of the daikon but the soba noodles had been sent to me from Japan . I’m already running low on Japanese food supplies as I was expecting to be in Japan in a few weeks but now that’s not the case and on line ordering is mostly sold out. Each meal is going to be precious as I use up the last of my ingredients. When all this is over I’m going to seriously stock up ! Probably taking empty suitcases to bring back food from Japan. I’m also really going to appreciate all the more my next trip to Japan and I think any of us will appreciate our travels and holidays a lot more from now on. For me even something so simple as going to the supermarket which was something I actually enjoyed is now full of anxiety.
It was with great joy I managed to add a veg box into my basket in my online delivery which had been out of stock all week. So many things we take for granted.
With the last of the sake in the fridge I added it to a pan with a little fruit tea ( you could use fruit juice ) and made a jelly with kanten flakes. Adding a salted Sakura into the jelly mould .

As I sit safe at home, I give thanks to all the hospital staff, doctors, nurses and people in the community, police, delivery drivers, super market workers and online shops, that are helping us all get through these trying times. Thank you to you all . I wish you all now more than ever health and safety, we can get through this in time. It’s going to be hard but we must remain strong. Now is the time to maybe start up a new hobby or rekindle an old one. Cherish loved ones and turn to simpler times. Hopefully as we go through the year things will get easier and more back to normal, but let’s not forget this and how we may often take things for granted. Like the Sakura life is fleeting.

Blog, Winter Food

Japanese Micro Season Part 23 (Lesser cold) 小寒 Shōkan

(Lesser cold) 小寒 Shōkan

January 5–9  芹乃栄 Seri sunawachi sakau  ( Parsley flourishes )

January 10–14  水泉動 Shimizu atataka o fukumu  ( Springs thaw )

January 15–19 雉始 Kiji hajimete naku ( Pheasants start to call )

Nanakusa-Gayu

nana (): seven

kusa (): lit. grass (herb)

(o)kayu (): rice porridge

On the 7th of January in japan (jinjitsu) marks the end of the Oshougatsu (Japanese New Years) . This day is known as nanakusa no sekku (七草の節句), or the Festival of the Seven Weeds . It is custom to make a seven herb rice porridge Nanakusa Gayu 七草粥 to help heal the stomach after the New Year festivities. It is quite common in japan if you have an unwell stomach to eat Okayu rice porridge. The 7th of January is one of the 5 seasonal festivals the porridge is said to prevent illness for the coming year.

The herbs used in japan are waterdrop wort,shepherds purse,cudweed,chickweed,nipplewort,turnip and daikon radish.

As I live in the UK I have had to substitute the Japanese herbs for ones I could find.

I used watercress,rocket,mizuna,chive,basil and parsley a mixture of these with daikon radish.

You can a make this with  kombu dashi ( just soak kombu in water over night ) and Japanese rice with a 1-5 ratio one Japanese rice cooker cup rice to five water. Simmer for around 30 mins adding more dashi if needed, then mix in your herbs and steam for 10 minutes. You could finish by garnishing with some sautéed daikon radish chopped green onion and sesame seeds.

You can cook your rice in dashi or vegetable broth and make  a pesto with the herbs. Just blend a mix of the herbs with olive oil and sesame paste. Then add a spoon of pesto on top with maybe some sautéed daikon and some extra blanched herbs.

It is also nice to add a toasted Mochi rice cake if you like.

If you have left over porridge how about stirring in some creamy white miso for a delicious lunch.

However you cook it it’s a lovely filling meal.

Here’s to good health in 2020 !