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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.
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!
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.

 

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

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Kitsune Udon

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 7

“Illness”

When Sumire falls sick Kiyo decides to make her rice porridge. However when mother Azusa asks what she is doing she explains that in Kyoto they serve udon when someone isn’t feeling well. Udon is a soul food in Japan. It is easily digested and simple to make. The perfect comfort food when someone is sick. Mother Azusa goes on to say that Kyoto’s udon is not dark like the ones served in Kanto. Kiyo looks puzzled.
Udon noodles are served with a broth which has soy sauce (shoyu) as one of the ingredients. You are probably familiar by now with soy sauce as a cooking ingredient adding umami, with its salty, sour flavour to soups, stir fries and nimono (simmered dishes). Soy sauce is made by fermenting soaked and steamed soybeans then mixing with roasted ground wheat and aspergillus oryzae a culturing mold. Then salt brine is added and is left for several months until it is then pasteurised and filtered. Usukuchi Shoyu (薄口醤油is a lighter coloured soy sauce which has additional salt which is used in the Kansai region. The lighter colour does not darken the final dish quite as much, so when Kiyo is told the Udon are not dark, this is what they are referring to.

Kiyo sets off over the Sanjo-Ohashi bridge to find the perfect ingredients to make the udon extra special for Sumire. She goes first to a shop keeper on Demachi-Masugata shopping street.

The shop keeper asks if Kiyo would like Kitsuneきつね or Tanukiたぬき for her udon. Kitsune you may have already come across. The name Kitsune means fox, it is believed that the favourite food of the Shinto messenger fox god is deep fried tofu, another theory is that the aburaage 油揚げ fried tofu is the same colour as a fox . The exact origin of kitsune udon is unknown but it is thought it may have originated in Osaka in the Edo period. Tanuki is the name for a raccoon dog. Tanuki udon is udon noodles with a topping of tenkasu 天かす also called agedama (揚げ玉) tempura batter crumbs). The Japanese word for without main toppings is Tanenuki タネ抜き so as the udon has no other toppings other than tempura crumbs the word was changed to Tanuki for this topping this has nothing really to do with the raccoon dog. It is widely thought that Tanuki udon originated in the Kanto region again in the Edo period (1603-1868)

“I’d like some Oage-san please”. Oage-san is a term of endearment used for aburaage, thin deep fried tofu that has already been seasoned with a sweet savoury flavour using sugar soy sauce and mirin. You can do this yourself by pouring boiling water over the fried aburaage blotting it with kitchen towel and then simmering in 1/2 cup of water 1 tablespoon of soy sauce 1 tablespoon of mirin and 1/2 a tablespoon of sugar. Simmer for 15-20 minutes with a drop lid on top called a otoshibuta, if you don’t have one place a cut piece of parchment paper on top, then remove and squeeze out the liquid. Put to one side. However for my recipe later on you can do this included in the recipe.

“You had better make it delicious” said the shop keeper “ I’ll do my best” said Kiyo.
Kiyo then sets off to buy items to make her dashi, first she goes to Tanaka dried bonito shop. As bonito is made from dried smoked fermented fish fillets, being vegan we will not be using this for our dashi.

She then finds her way under the recommendation of the bonito shop owner to the Okada-ya Konbu seaweed shop. Kiyo says to the shop owner that it was her first time buying natural kelp and had planned to use powdered dashi from the supermarket. The shop keeps comments “that’s like eating a luxury kaiseki feast with broken disposable chopsticks”. Kiyo goes for the recommendation of the shop keeper and picks up some rausu kelp the shop keeper says this is natural and very flavourful. Rausu is known as the “queen of kombu” a high quality kelp rich in minerals and other nutrients, it has outstanding umami and will enhance the flavour of a dish. Even though Kiyo is making a humble meal she is still making it extra special with the ingredients she is choosing to use.
We are then back in the kitchen of the maiko house. We see Kiyo simmering her kombu to make her dashi, she chops diagonal slices of naga negi long green onion and slices up strips of the aburaage and adds the strips to the dashi she has made. Kiyo boils up some udon and adds them to a bowl adds the broth green onion and aburaage, finishing off with some grated ginger.

Kiyo serves the udon to Sumire “This udon I could eat forever”

Again there is a cross over of meals from The Makanai to Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories and you can see this in season 2 episode 7. The show has a nostalgic feel and for anyone who loves food in Japan it’s a must to watch. You can find lots more information and vegan  recipes I have created to go with the series on my midnight diner pages.

I wanted to make this kitsune udon as near to the way that Kiyo made it minus the bonito flakes. I picked out the best ingredients I could find at the time or I already had. As I didn’t have any of the usukuchi lighter coloured soy sauce I decided to purchase an organic one made at the Shichifuku brewery in Aichi prefecture.

They are masters of brewing this particular soy sauce and rely on traditional principles of giving the soy sauce time to mature in wooden barrels under strict temperature controls. Thus producing a lighter soy sauce that is sweeter in flavour. I bought Udon noodles by Clearspring which are organic and are vegan and made by an artisan family producer in Japan. The kombu I had was also from Clearspring  and is a sustainable harvested kombu from Hokkaido. I managed to get some naga negi from natural natural an amazing Japanese super market in London and also picked up some frozen aburaage.

Kitsune Udon きつねうどん

You will need:

x1 piece of dried kombu kelp

x1 piece per person of aburaage fried tofu defrosted if frozen

naga negi or similar green onion

per serving:

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon mirin

x1 teaspoon sugar

grated ginger (using a Japanese grater  like an oroshigane or kyocera if possible)

Udon noodles of choice

Method:

First make your dashi using a piece of kombu kelp. Soak the kombu in a pan with a litre of fresh cold water for at least three hours. Then turn on the heat to a simmer as soon, as the water starts to produce bubbles around the kelp remove the kelp and put your dashi to one side. Do not boil the kelp in the water as this will make the kelp slimy.

Prepare your aburaage from defrosted. Place your aburaage in a colander and pour over boiling water to remove the excess oil then blot with kitchen towel. Slice your aburaage into strips like Kiyo did with hers.

Slice your green onion diagonally.

Per person you will need 3 cups of dashi add this to a pan with soy sauce, mirin and sugar. ( This is why I decided not to pre season my aburaage as it will be cooking in this liquid). Bring your dashi to a gentle simmer and drop in your sliced aburaage.
Cook your udon as the package instructions direct. Drain and divide into your bowls. Pour over your hot dashi broth with aburaage and add your green onions and grated ginger.

A perfect hearty noodle dish full of rich flavour you can serve at any time but especially when you’re in need of some series comfort food.

Blog, Spring Food

Hatsu-uma 初午 & Making Inari Sushi

 

So what is Hatsu-uma ? (初午) this is the first ”horse” () day of February this year it fell on February 5th 2023.

The twelve signs of the animal zodiac in japan refer to animals, using the numbers 1 to 12  instead of numbers. 1=(mouse), 2=  (ox), 3= (tiger), 4=(rabbit), 5= (dragon), 6= (snake), 7=(horse), 8= (sheep),  9= (monkey), 10= (rooster), 11= (dog),12=(boar). The date is represented  by repeating the cycle of these. Although the festival used to be held on the first day of the horse after the beginning of spring (according to the lunar calendar) in ancient times, it is now generally accepted that the festival is held on the first day of the horse in February.

The festival is based on the legend that the deity of Fushimi Inari-jinja Shrine in Kyoto, Inari who is the protector of grains,descended from heaven to the top of Mount Inari on this day in the Nara Period (710-794). Because of this people worship the deity at inari shrines across the country on this day. Of which there are about 3,000 throughout Japan.

If you love japan and its culture you may know or have even visited the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. It’s very popular with tourists. Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates which lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari.

On Hatsu-uma day, Inari shrines all over the country hold “Hatsu-uma Festival” to pray for the harvest before starting the spring farming season.

Have you noticed when ever you visit an Inari shrine you see statues of foxes? Well this is because in Japan, people thought that foxes were guardian gods an invisible spirit animal that was the messenger of Inari, the god of good crops. It is believed they descended to the villages from early spring until autumn for the farming season, then they would return to the mountains at the end of the harvest. You will see statues of the foxes holding a bundle of rice that symbolizes a good harvest, a scroll that represents learning and art, and a jewel that represents wealth. This shows that the Inari Shrine is believed to bring fertility, academic and artistic progress, and business prosperity.

One of the favorite foods of foxes is supposed to be deep-fried tofu and because the fox is the protector of the rice fields people started to stuff rice in to fried tofu pockets known as aburaage (油揚げ) to give as offerings. This was to show gratitude for good crops towards the Inari god. These rice tofu pockets are known as “Inari Sushi” or “Oinari-san,” いなり寿司.

It is custom to eat three pieces of inarizushi on Hatsu-uma Day since each of the characters in the word “inari” (いなり) represents a good omen: “I” means long life, “Na” means that you will make a name for yourself, and “Ri” means that you will make a profit.

Why not try making Inari sushi (稲荷寿司, いなり寿司), or Inarizushi yourself they are delicious for bento and can easily be eaten at work or a picnic. Made from tofu pockets that are cooked in a dashi-based broth, then stuffed with seasoned sushi rice.

Did you know there are different ways to fill the tofu pockets according to different regions of japan. In the Kansai region (Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe areas) inarizushi is triangular to look like the shape of fox ears. while in the Kanto region (Tokyo and surrounding areas) it’s made to look like a bale of rice.

Prepare your sushi rice.
Use one and a half rice cooker cups of sushi rice and wash well until the water runs clear. Then leave in a sieve for ten minutes this will help the air get to the rice and make it fluffy. Then add your rice to your rice cooker or pan and add two and a half rice cooker cups of water and let it soak while you prepare your aburaage.

How to make Inari sushi (稲荷寿司)

I used two packets of Inari which contains two rectangular pieces which you then cut in half.

First you will need some aburaage, you can normally find this frozen in Asian grocery stores. In the U.K. you can find it at the japan centre and natural natural in London along with some supermarkets. Check out your nearest Asian grocery store.

As they come frozen first defrost them. Roll a chop stick over the surface then cut each fried tofu into half. Gently part the tofu to make pockets.

As the tofu has been fried you need to remove the oil. First boil your pockets in water for five minutes then drain and wash with cold water. Gently squeeze out the water, I then like to dab mine with kitchen towel to remove any remaining oil.

Now you need to season the tofu pockets with a sweet and savory dashi-based broth.

In a pan add one cup of dashi stock (I left a piece of kombu and a dried shiitake mushroom in 500ml of water over night then removed them. You can use the remaining dashi for something else it will keep for a few days in the fridge.

To the dashi add one cup of water three tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce one tablespoon of mirin and and 1/3 cup of granulated sugar. Add your pouches and simmer for fifteen minutes adding a dropped lid called a otoshibuta (落し蓋) if you have one. The otoshibuta ensures that the broth/sauce is evenly distributed, making sure all the ingredients absorb all the delicious flavors. If you don’t you can use a lid that’s slightly smaller than your pan to go inside.

Put your rice on cook.

When your aburaage are cooked leave in the broth to soak up all those lovely flavours until your rice is done.

Prepare your sushi seasoning. sushizu 寿司酢

To make sushi vinegar mix 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of mirin, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Mix well to dissolve.

When your rice is cooked let it steam for a further ten minutes. Remove the tofu pockets from the broth and gently squeeze out the liquid.

Tip out your rice into a bowl or if you have one a a Hangiri Wooden Sushi Rice Mixing Bowl made from cypress wood. Drizzle sushi vinegar evenly on top of cooked rice and gently fold the rice repeatedly with a rice spatula without smashing grains. Add toasted white sesame seeds to the sushi rice. You can then fan the rice to cool it down. Wet your hand and make barrel shaped rice balls to fill your tofu pockets.

Take each pocket and put a rice ball inside be very careful as the aburaage is delicate. Push the rice to the bottom. You can then fold over the tofu to seal the pocket and turn it over or roll the edges round so you keep the pocket upright.


Eat at room temperature and enjoy on the day of making, serve with pickles and sushi ginger. 

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.

Summer Food

Vegan Unadon (Eel Rice) 鰻丼

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

 

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

Simple Meals Inspired By Shinya Shokudo

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

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


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

Season 1 Episode 3 Ochazuke

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

Season 1 Episode 4 Potato Salad

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

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

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

Season 2 Episode 5 Tuna Mayo Rice Bowl or Tuna Salad

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

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

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

Season 3 Episode 5 Harusame Salad

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

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


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

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

Vegan Karaage 唐揚げ

When I did my children’s day post I mentioned that karaage ( fried chicken) was one of the dishes most favoured by children. It is a very popular dish loved by both children and adults from an izakaya snack, bento meal or a quick convenience food pick up. Traditionally karaage is a classic fried chicken dish where the chicken comes in bite sized pieces, coated in flour and deep fried. However it can also be fish or vegetables. There is a similar dish called Tatsutaage where the chicken is marinated in soy sauce and mirin then coated in potato starch and fried. Nowadays there seams to be a blend of the two to simply be still called karaage marinated or not. With this in mind I decided to make my own vegan version. I have often seen dried soy protein chunks used for this, but in my recipe I went for fu. Fu is a dried wheat gluten often used in Shojin Ryori temple style cuisine as a meat alternative. Fu soaks up cooking liquid really well so is great to use with a marinade or in soups. I used a particular kind called kuruma fu, kuruma is the name for car or wheel in Japanese and these fu are so called because of their shape, but you could use any fu you can find.
First you need to rehydrate the fu, by soaking it for around 15 minutes in hot water until they have expanded. While that is happening make your marinade.
Mix 2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari,1 tablespoon sake,1 tablespoon mirin, 1 teaspoon of finely grated fresh ginger and  1/2 teaspoons of sugar.

When your fu is rehydrated squeeze out the water and slice into chunks. Combine the chunks with the marinade by massaging it in with your hands. Leave this for around 30 minutes.
Prepare your coating, 1/4 cup of potato starch with a little salt and pepper.
I like to use Japanese potato starch because of its light and fluffy texture and it makes the karaage nice and crispy. However you can use cornstarch if you can’t get potato starch but I would recommend you trying to get the potato starch, normally you will find it in an Asian grocery store.

Heat up some neutral oil and prepare a plate with some kitchen towel to place your cooked fu on when it’s done. Toss the fu in the potato starch and fry until golden brown turning to cook evenly.

Serve with a squeeze of lemon and some vegan mayonnaise for dipping izakaya style or part of a bento or Teishoku set meal.


 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Burdock Root (Gobo) Kinpira きんぴら

Burdock root or Goboごぼうas it’s known in Japan is a woody looking stick often seen with soil still on it. It is a root from the chrysanthemum family and is cultivated in Japan as a vegetable, being planted and harvest twice a year. It is rich in fibre and is often used in Japanese home cooked meals. One of the most popular in Kinpiraきんぴらmeaning sauté and simmer. Kinpira makes a perfect side dish or an addition to a bento meal. It is made by shredding the gobo and sautéing in sesame oil with other root vegetables often carrot or maybe adding lotus root. It is then simmered in a sweet soy sauce.

The seasoning is made with 1 tablespoon each of sugar, sake and mirin add to this 2 tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce. Set this aside.

Use one root of  Gobo, if it still comes with soil on it clean it gently under running water with a bristle brush. Gobo discolours quickly and the best thing to do is to just scrape the outer layer of the root lightly with a knife . I always do this under running water. Have a bowl of vinegar  water to hand and using a potato peeler peel off long strips of the root and put them straight in the vinegar water. Keep doing this until you have the amount you want and leave to soak for 15 minutes.

While it’s soaking peel strips of carrot the same and peel and slice lotus root if using.
Then take you peeled strips of gobo and carrot and cut them into long thin slices and put them in a pan.

Sauté the gobo, carrot and lotus root with sesame oil. Then add your seasoning cook until all the liquid has almost gone.

Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve if you like with chilli threads known as Ito Togarashi. These can be bought in the U.K. from Souschef. Link at the bottom or side of your page ( depending on your browser)

Blog, Winter Food

Himokawa Udon ひもかわうどん

You may have heard of Udon but do you know Himokawa udon ひもかわうどん? A over 100 year old traditional wide noodle made in Kiryu, Gunma  Prefecture, simply from local water salt and flour. So what makes this udon so different  from the udon you might know ? Well it’s the width, the size varies by shop but some can be up to 10cm wide ! They have a pleasantly chewy texture and are a perfect filling meal. There is a established restaurant of over 120 years in Kiryu called Fujiya Honten and himokawa is their specialty. The 6th generation Tokyo trained chef Mr Masayaki Fujikake serves up their noodles made from local flour. Apparently they have been doing this for over 70 years. The noodles made here are around 4cm wide but very long at around 60cm. In the restaurant you can choose how you would like your noodles either in a hot broth (kakeudon) as a tsukemen type dipping noodle, perfect for cold winter days or with a tsuyu dipping sauce and various condiments. They also sell them packaged to go and enjoy at home and I was so lucky to be sent some to try by my friend in Japan.


My friend showed me a kitsune style udon dish she had at the restaurant so I decided to make that. As there is enough noodles in the pack for two people I split the noodles into two meals.

To make the kitsune style I made a cold water kombu shiitake dashi by leaving kombu and shiitake in water over night, I also like to add a few pieces of Yuzu rind.
Then I made a simple broth using the dashi and just added mirin and tamari. I sliced up some aburaage ( the reason this is called kitsune udon, you can read more about this by just searching kitsune udon) and simmered this in the broth to soak up the flavour. I also decided to steam some Japanese negi. I cooked half the himokawa udon in hot water for around 6 mins and then drained them and placed them in cold water so as the noodles wouldn’t get too soggy.

To serve I just simply added the noodles to the broth and dropped in some steamed negi and to garnish I added some really tasty shungiku (Japanese chrysanthemum greens) and Kintsai ( celery leaf stems similar to mitsuba) I didn’t cook these as they would easily steam in the hot dashi broth.
The noodles were slightly chewy and were really flavourful. I felt like I was transported straight back to Japan with this meal and felt so grateful to have been sent these special noodles.




One of the other meals Fujiya Honton have on their menu is a tsukemen style curry soup himokawa. Tsukemen is where you have a soup on the side and you dip the noodles into the soup rather than having them in the soup already. As I still had the other half of the noodles left I decided to make this as well.

A piping hot curry soup that I added a few extra vegetables to like daikon, negi and carrot. I also added some side condiments of oroshi daikon (grated daikon), toasted golden sesame seeds and chopped green onion.

Thank you to my friend Masami for sending me this delicious  taste of Japan .

Blog, Winter Food

Kabu & Yuzu Tsukemono

I managed to get some Japanese turnips ( Kabu ) they are delicious raw in salads and cooked in soups.


I especially like to make pickles with them and around the winter solstice they are  nice with Yuzu. Pickles are a must to serve with any Japanese style meal and these ones are ready basically the next day though the longer you leave them the softer they get. These pickles remind me of the kind you can get in the pickle shops in Kyoto

I hope you will enjoy making these easy pickles at home.

You will need a zip lock type bag.

Around three Kabu washed and with the tops and bottoms sliced off. If you have leaves still on your Kabu keep those wash them and chop them to pickle also ( I didn’t have leaves with mine so I chopped up a few komatsuna leaves to add)

Half a chopped red chilli pepper

A tablespoon of sliced fresh Yuzu rind

Two tablespoons of fresh Yuzu juice

A tablespoon each of mirin and brown rice vinegar

Two teaspoons of salt ( I used freshly ground Himalayan pink salt )

One tablespoon of finely sliced kombu kelp that has been soaked in water which will make it easier to cut. I had been given a bag of sliced kombu and I used that.

Slice you Kabu into rounds and add everything into your ziplock bag. Then massage the Kabu so everything coats the Kabu well, close the bag and place in your fridge.


Every few hours I massaged the Kabu just on the outside of the bag. The next day it will be ready to eat but it’s even better after a few more days.

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.