Tag

Rice

Spring Food, Summer Food

Tekkadon 鉄火丼


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog, Spring Food

Zunda Botamochi for Shunbun (Spring Equinox)


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


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


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

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

How I made Zunda Botamochi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put your rice on cook.

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

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

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

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

Keep doing this until you have made the desired amount.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blog, Spring Food

猫の日 Neko no Hi (Nyan Nyan Nyan Day)

Japans National Cat Day (猫の日 Neko no Hi)

If you love cats today is for you !

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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


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


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

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

Blog, Spring Food

Tsubaki-mochi (椿餅) camellia leaf mochi

 


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

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

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


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

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

Recipe for x5 tsubaki-mochi:

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

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

You will also need 25grams of granulated sugar.

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

After your rice has been soaking over night.

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

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

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

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

Then make your mochi:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog, Spring Food

How to celebrate Setsubun 節分の日


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

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

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

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

This is midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Even though we are in the coldest days, in Japan you will start to see those signs that spring is near by. The days are just getting slightly longer and you can see the start of life emerging from the earth. Ume blossom is starting to bloom, giving those well needed splashes of colour to the brown landscape and maybe you might see  flashes of a little green bird known as Uguisu (bush warbler or the Japanese nightingale) another symbol of spring in Japan. Why not look for signs of spring where you are.

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

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

Years ending with

Lucky Direction

0 or 5

West – Southwest

1, 3, 6 or 8

South – Southeast

2 or 7

North – Northwest

4 or 9

East – Northeast

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

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

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

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

Let’s make an Ehō-maki

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

Other ingredients that you can add could be:

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

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

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

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

Setsubun is all about the Oni (おに)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First make you stock:

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

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

Now you need to prepare your vegetables.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Autumn Equinox Taro Mochi Ohagi

The Autumn Equinox 秋分 is the 16th micro season in the 24 micro seasonal calendar marking the first day of Autumn and is known as Shūbun. Buddhists call the Autumn Equinox O-Higan or Aki no Higan. Higan translates to “other shore” meaning land of the dead. Higan is a special time for Buddhists in Japan as they believe that this is when the worlds between the living and dead are at their thinnest, thus at this time people pay respects to the deceased. In Japan people are very much in touch with the changing of the seasons. Aki is the word for autumn/fall in Japan and after the hot humid heat of the Japanese summer, people look forward to the cooling breezes and clear blue skies that the new season brings.

During the heat of the summer people loose their appetites so when autumn comes people refer to it as  Shokuyoku no Aki (Autumn the season of Appetites).

There is a word in Japanese “Fuubutsushi” this refers to the little things that signal a change in the seasons, the feelings, scents, images and sounds that might evoke memories or anticipation of the coming season. I think when we become more aware of this it helps us to centre ourselves and celebrate the passing of time.

Every year I always like to make Ohagi a traditional type of Japanese wagashi (sweet) made from half pounded ( hangoroshi ) mochi rice with an anko filling and rolled in various toppings like kinako and ground sesame. You can also do a reverse one where the rice is the filling and the anko is on the outside. Ohagi おはぎ is named after the Japanese clover bush in the autumn, in the spring the same sweets are called Botamochi named after the tree peony botan.

In Japan  it is traditional to take Ohagi along with flowers and incense to the graves of ancestors at this time as offerings. It is also said that Botamochi in the spring were made as a prayer for fertility and a successful growing season and Ohagi in the autumn was to give thanks to the harvest .
This year I decided to make my Ohagi with something a little different. Ohagi actually started as a sweet called “Kaimochi” which was first mentioned in the 13th century. This sweet is made by pounding both glutinous rice and satoimo “taro root” and covering with a layer of tsubuan bean paste. Satoimo are a starchy crop with a slightly nutty flavour and a creamy white sticky flesh. They look a bit like a cross between a kiwi and a coconut and are harvested in the autumn time around the same time as newly harvested rice. So I thought it would be perfect to make kaimochi for the autumn equinox.


To make x6 large or x12 smaller Kaimochi Ohagi you will need:

75g of glutinous mochi rice and 75g of Japanese rice (this equates to about half and half of a sushi rice cup used in your rice cooker).

You will also need x1 medium peeled taro root chopped into chunks, half a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. Along with your tsubuan sweet bean paste. Ohagi in the autumn normally has tsubuan a chunky bean paste and the Botamochi in the spring uses the smoother koshian.

Method:
1: Wash and rinse your rice together until the water runs clear then tip this into a sieve and leave to air for ten minutes.

3: Put your rice in your rice cooker with 1 1/2 rice cooker cups of water ( this is about 200ml).  Add the sugar and leave for at least two hours to soak.

4: Peel one medium taro potato and chop into small chunks, wash the starch off the taro in water.

5: Add the taro to the top of the rice and cook on a white short  grain rice setting until it’s done if you have a rice cooker.

5. When the rice is cooked add a pinch of salt and while hot mash the rice and taro potato together I like to use a surikogi to do this that comes with a suribachi grinding bowl. Make sure to leave a little grain in the rice, the taro will make the mochi rice even more sticky.


6. Have a bowl of water to hand and divide the rice into six equal pieces. When the rice is easy to hold dampen your hands and roll each section into a ball then flatten in to an oval shape. Do this with all the rice. Alternatively divide the balls again to make twelve if you want smaller Ohagi .


7. Then cover each rice ball in your bean paste. I do this by rolling the bean paste into a ball then flattening it out and places the rice ball on the top then moulding the bean paste all the way around the rice ball.

If you wanted to make smaller Ohagi and divided each rice ball further into another six to make 12 rice balls, you can also make Ohagi with bean paste in the middle and rice on the outside. Then you can roll it in ground black sesame seeds or kinako (soy bean flour). You can view this further on previous posts just search Ohagi.


Red azuki beans are often used as an auspicious colour. The deep red was believed to console ancestral spirits and offer protection. The use of red and white in Japanese cuisine is also used for times of celebration like Sekihan glutinous rice cooked with azuki beans eaten for birthdays, graduations, weddings, and new year.

As the leaves change colours and the air turns crisp, the comforting palette of Japanese tableware becomes the perfect backdrop for the hearty and flavoursome dishes of the season. This is why I chose to serve my wagashi on this Hozan Kiln Botamochi Bizen Ware Half-Round Plate. Especially as the name of the plate is Botamochi .

Bizen ware is a traditional stoneware produced in the Ibe area of Okayama Prefecture. It is one of the oldest ceramics in Japan, and is made using the “Yakishime” technique, in which pieces are fired at high temperatures without glaze to make them durable and water-resistant.

Bizen ware is called “the art of clay and fire” for the exquisite colors and patterns produced by the kiln’s flames, and is characterized by its minimalist, “Wabi-sabi” design. You can read more about how this earthy rustic stoneware is made on the Musubi kiln website where this plate is from www.musubikiln.com

Why not try making Ohagi to welcome in the autumn season and give thanks to the harvest. I have never tried using taro root in Ohagi before and I found it made the rice so creamy and delicious I’d definitely recommend giving it a try.

You can normally find taro root in Asian grocery stores. Ohagi is best eaten on the day of making and leaving no longer than two days in an airtight container.

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

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House A Japanese Style Breakfast & Caramel Bread Pudding

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 3

“Taboo”

Part one: A Traditional Japanese Breakfast.

Have you ever visited Japan and been served a Japanese breakfast maybe in a “traditional Japanese inn with tatami floors and an onsen communal bath”?

A Japanese traditional breakfast normally consist of rice, miso soup, tsukemono (pickles), a main meal like grilled salmon and some side dishes like tamagoyaki ( Japanese rolled omelette) and gomaae.

Waking up early before anyone else, Kiyo sets to work on making one such meal for the girls breakfast in the Maiko house. She puts on her apron and ties back her hair in preparation. She greets the dashi stock that she made the night before as she opens the lid on the pot “ Hello there and good morning”. 

First she starts to slice okra to make a simple side dish with sesame “Okra Gomaae”.

This side can also be made with green beans or spinach. Kiyo doesn’t cook the okra where as if I was using green beans or spinach I would blanch them first.

Goma 胡麻 means sesame and Ae 和え means to dress. To make this you can toast and grind your sesame seeds but for ease in the morning I like to use Surigoma which are already toasted and ground . Slice your okra with diagonal cuts like Kiyo did and place to one side. Add to a bowl two tablespoons of surigoma and to that add one tablespoon of soy sauce or tamari and one tablespoon of sugar, mix well into a paste, then add your okra to combine and your done. You might wonder about the raw okra but believe me this side dish is lovely and crunchy with out the slime of cooked okra.


Next Kiyo makes a simple miso soup with silken tofu and cherry tomatoes using a special sieve to dilute the miso with out clumps called a Misokoshi. I love mine and they are available to buy from www.hatsukoi.co.uk 

Kiyo opens her rice cooker and fluffs up the rice, then starts on grilling the salmon.

Obviously we want to make a vegan version of this so this takes a little preparation starting the night before with marinating some tofu.

To make your marinade:

Add to a jug or bowl, x1 tablespoon of shredded nori (kizami nori), x2 tablespoons of brown rice vinegar, x2 tablespoons of tamari, x2 tablespoons of sesame oil, 1/4 teaspoons of liquid smoke, x1 tablespoon of beetroot juice, x1 tablespoon of coconut palm sugar, a one inch piece of peeled and grated fresh ginger and a 1/4 teaspoon of chilli flakes. Leave this to soak for a few hours and then pour the liquid out through a sieve. Pour the liquid into a dish for your tofu to sit in.

Prepare the tofu:

You need to get the water first out of a block of firm tofu. You can do this by pressing it or you can steam it for five minutes or microwave for one minute wrapped in a paper towel. Let the tofu cool, then cut the piece of tofu in half and slice the top of each piece at an angle making a wedge shape. Make diagonal slices in the tofu be careful not to cut all the way down.

Place into the marinade turning it over a few times and then leave over night cut side down.

In the morning remove the tofu and place a piece of cut nori to fit  the uncut side of the tofu then lightly dust in starch and fry on all sides in a pan with hot oil. Remove and put to one side.


You will notice kiyos breakfast consist of two other sides as well as quick pickles.

Another popular side dish is hijiki no nimono simmered hijiki seaweed salad.

First soak two tablespoons of dried hijiki seaweed in hot water for 30 minutes.

You will also need to remove the oil residue from a piece of aburaage, to do this put your aburaage in a sieve and pour hot water over it then blot with kitchen towel, after that slice into thin strips and put in a pan. Drain a can of precooked soy beans or if you can’t get soy beans something similar (I used cannellini). Put half the beans in the pan with the aburaage. Julienne or grate one carrot and add this to the pan. Drain the hijiki and add this to the pan. Give everything a quick stir fry in a little sesame oil, then add to the pan, x1 teaspoon of dashi powder, x2 tablespoons of mirin, x2 tablespoons of tamari or soy sauce and 100ml of water. Simmer for about five minutes until all the water has gone. Place to one side.


I also made a vegan tamagoyaki using a vegan omelette mix called “Nomelette” which you can purchase from www.sunandseed.com. I made up the desired amount instructed to make one omelette and added a piece of nori before rolling it then cut it into slices.

Finally no Japanese meal can be without tsukemono or quick pickles called asazuke made with salt or vinegar and they are super easy to make. Just add chunks of carrot, cucumber and daikon to a zip lock bag. Then if you want to make salt pickles known as shiozuke just add a few teaspoons of salt and rub the salt into the vegetables. I like to use Japanese salt from Okinawa but I understand this is not easily come by. Do this at the start of making you meal in the morning and then they will be ready to serve when everything else is done.

Kiyo served her Japanese breakfast with onigiri rice balls so I decided to do the same with my breakfast.

I had just recently received this beautiful solid ash wooden serving box containing mino ware plates and dishes that fit inside. It is called a Hibino Modern Shokado Bento Box. I love how this can be used from using the dishes and plates that come with the box or adding your own. The lid can be also used as a tray. If your interested in this it is from www.musubikiln.com

I thought this would be the perfect way to serve this very special breakfast.

A further note in this episode:

Kiyo goes grocery shopping at the local market, she buys silken tofu and is delighted to find daikon radish grown in Aomori. The store owner points out that the leaves attached are edible. If your lucky enough to ever find this you can lightly blanch the leaves or stir fry them  or why not try my furikake recipe found in my “Live by the Shun” blog for summer.


Part 2 Caramel Bread Pudding also known as  (Pan Pudding)

パンプディング, pan means bread in Japanese. 

Tsurukoma one of the girls in the Maiko house is upset to find her caramel pudding missing from the fridge. It was just an ordinary caramel pudding from the convenience store, but Maiko are not allowed to enter when their hair is done so she would have to wait all week for another.

It’s early morning and Kiyo is washing rice, Tsurukoma comes down before anyone else is awake requesting bread for breakfast, but there is only one slice. What can be done with it ? As Tsurukoma was so upset over her missing caramel pudding, Kiyo sets out to make her a caramel bread pudding.

The bread pudding is made with shokupan パン Japanese milk bread. Even if it is available for you to purchase it is very rarely vegan as it’s made with milk and butter.

If you follow my shokupan bread recipe you can make your own.

The next problem with  making the bread pudding are the eggs used. So I decided to give the new liquid egg vegan substitute a try called “scrambled oggs”

To make vegan Caramel Bread Pudding:

Preheat your oven to 165 dregrees C

You will need a gratin dish greased on all sides with vegan butter.

You will need one slice of shokupan around 3/4 inch thick cut into six  pieces. Add this to your gratin dish leaving space in between.

In a bowl add  100ml of vegan egg mixture to that add two tablespoons of sugar, 3/4 of a cup of soymilk, 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a pinch of salt. Whisk up the mixture and pour half over the bread and let it soak in then add the rest. I actually sprinkled a little nutmeg on the top of mine but that was just personal taste. Put your gratin dish in the oven and bake until golden brown around 30-40 minutes ( keep and eye on it.)  

During the episode Kiyo receives a parcel from her grandmother it’s a heavy cast iron pan called Tetsuko. Tetsu meaning iron in Japanese. She uses this to make the caramel sauce. I had recently bought some oat syrup by Clearspring when I tried it I thought how much it tasted like caramel so I decided instead of making a caramel sauce to warm up a tablespoon of the oat syrup and swirl that onto of the bread pudding when I removed it from the oven.

This pudding is just as delicious as one made with diary and eggs, it melts in the mouth and feels luxurious and comforting at the same time. Crispy on the outside and soft inside. Like Tsurukoma did in this episode just take a spoon and dive straight in.

More recipes to come in my next The Makanai blog.

If you haven’t already watched it yet

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is available for streaming on Netflix.

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

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Season 1 Episode 2 Vegan Oyakadon

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 2

“Guardian Spirit”

Ms Sachiko the house Makanai had to take leave and the girls of the Maiko house are getting sick of ordering take out, so when one of them nearly sets the kitchen on fire Kiyo steps in and offers to be the Makanai. This was the first time Kiyo had expressed the will to do something herself. The girls wonder what will the meal be. One thinks it will be Omurice another raw egg with rice. Sumire points out Kiyo is making Yakodon. They all watch eagerly as Kiyo cooks the onions, meat and egg, she spoons rice into a bowl and tops it with the yakadon egg mixture. “Enjoy everyone” says Kiyo “Ookini” say the girls as they dive into their ordinary but delicious rice bowl, “It’s so tasty it’s comforting”.
You will notice this word is said a lot throughout the series “Ookini” is a regional Kansai dialect meaning thank you and is most often used in Kyoto.

Vegan Oyakodon 親子丼

Vegan chicken & egg rice bowl

Oyakodon (親子丼) translates to parent-and-child (oya-ko) rice bowl (don) being as the dish is made of chicken and egg. It is one of the meals classed as “Japanese home cooked comfort food” This meal is also traditionally served on Mother’s Day in japan. So again has that connection to home.

As this was the first meal kiyo served the house I wanted to make a vegan version. 

Recipe for Oyakadon inspired by The Makanai:

Makes one donburi.
Prepare your rice and set to cook.

For this recipe we are using one carton of silken tofu to replace the egg mixture.

To replace the meat I decided to use soy protein pieces depending on the size I used around six pieces rehydrated in water cut into strips and then marinated in a tablespoon each of tamari and mirin with water.
You will also need 1/2 an onion cut into thin strips. I also decided to add some tender stem broccoli for colour, and some sliced shiitake mushrooms.

Method:

Drain your tofu and add to a food processor to this add a heaped teaspoon of turmeric and two teaspoons of potato starch. To make an egg flavour you will need to add a teaspoon of powdered kala namak (Himalayan black salt)

The one I have is in its rock form, if you have this you need to grind it into a powder. Add this to your tofu mixture with some black pepper to taste. Process until nice and smooth.

Squeeze the marinade from the soy protein and add to a pan with a little oil, along with the onion and shiitake. Sauté until cooked then pour in your egg mixture. Make sure you keep moving it around so it doesn’t stick. The egg mixture will thicken. Add finally your broccoli if you wish.


Spoon your rice into a bowl and top with the egg mixture, maybe garnishing with some chopped green onion or a few mizuna leaves.

Amulet in the House “Beware of Fire” & Umeboshi Onigiri

Kiyo has a conversation with Ms Sachiko on the phone as she was worried about taking the responsibility of Makanai away from her. However Ms Sachiko is relieved as the commute was becoming too much for her. She points out over the phone about an amulet. It is a paper talisman from Atago Shrine which lasts for one thousand days. It is said if you make the pilgrimage to obtain the amulet from the shrine on a set day each year your fortune will triple and the gods will protect the house from fire for a thousand days. Kiyo decides to be a fully fledged Makanai she needs to make the journey up the mountain to collect the talisman.
Kiyo makes onigiri rice balls with salted pickled plums called umeboshi that are wrapped in crispy nori to take with her. There is a recipe on my Midnight Diner series of recipes for this. Some recipes do cross over, probably because both series have those Japanese home style cooked meals.

Kiyo stops to rest and ends up sharing her onigiri with a family with a young child. Finally Kiyo gets the amulet and on her return Sumire is waiting for her and hands her a gift from the mother of the house, an apron ! Kiyo calls her grandmother to tell her the news.
“From here on out I am the makanai”

More recipes to come in my next The Makanai blog.

If you haven’t already watched it yet

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is available for streaming on Netflix.

 

 

 

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, Spring Food

Setsubun 節分 2023


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

Demons out, Good Fortune in!” For today is Setsubun no Hi held on (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”.

Setsubun is the day before we start again through the journey of the 24 micro season 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.

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 2023 is south-south-east (南南東).
This changes every year depending on the current zodiac. The word “Eho” means the auspicious direction,this is where the god of good fortune for the year exists and is also called “Kippou” or “Akinokata/Akihou”.

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 in your sushi roll it can be anything you like but it’s good to have a variety of ingredients. Just eat the whole roll without cutting it into slices with a knife and eat in silence,if you speak, the good fortune will escape.

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 of mountains and have 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, covered in spikes,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. 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 such beans and throw them 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.

Since it is believed that ogres come at midnight, nighttime 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!”

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.

This year I decided to have a little fun and combine my Ehō-maki with an Oni tiger pants pattern .

I first made my sushi roll making the rice on the outside with my seven fillings on the inside.



I them decided to use a vegan omelette on the outside using a new vegan omelette brand called Nomelette by Sun & Seed.

Making the omelette and then rolling it around the sushi roll. Finally I added a few tiger stripes made from nori.

You may now not only see the traditional sushi rolls sold in stores in japan but variations from roll cakes to burritos so why not have some fun making your own version of Ehō-maki and celebrate the beginning of Spring like they do in japan .

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Summer Solstice (Geshi 夏至)

Around June 21 is Geshi 夏至 (the Summer Solstice). The day when the daytime is the longest and night is  shortest.

In japan unlike  other solar events very little happens by way of celebration. The Spring/autumnal equinox are called Ohigan or Higan and along with the Winter solstice these are more important than the summer solstice especially the winter solstice because it means revival of the Sun.

There is one significant Shinto ritual that takes place involving the Meoto Iwa rocks at dawn on Summer Solstice. The Meoto Iwa (“Married Couple Rocks”) are two giant rocks on the sea shore of Futami, Ise. Meoto-iwa is close to Grand shrine of ISE. (Head of Japan’s all nature worship)

They  have deep spiritual significance as Shinto is known as nature worship. The rocks are linked by a huge shimenawa straw rope and the largest rock has a tori gate. Both of these things represent that the Meoto Iwa rocks belong to the world of kami.

The best English translation of kami is ‘spirits’, but this is an over-simplification of a complex concept – kami can be elements of the landscape or forces of nature.

On the summer solstice the sun appears to rise right between the rocks. At daybreak, hundreds of Shintoists will also greet the Sun before the great rocks and enter the ocean as the sun rises between the rocks in a ceremony called Geshisai – literally, “Summer Solstice Rite.” Participants of this ceremony  purify their body in the sea  and watch the sunrise while singing Japan’s national anthem called Kimigayo.

Religious purification with water is called Misogi in Shinto. You may have done this yourself when entering a Shinto shrine washing your hands and mouth.

The end of June is very much a time for purification rituals in japan.

Minazuki is the name of the white  triangle shaped wagashi (Japanese sweet) that is eaten on the 30th of June.
It is taken from a Shinto ritual called Ooharae on the 30th of June and the 30th of December for the purification of sins and bad luck from the first or second half of the year.
The triangle shape is meant to resemble a block of ice ( chasing away the summer heat) and the azuki beans signify the exorcism of devils.

You may also see at Shinto shrines rings of straw called  Chinowa (the ring of purification)

People walk through a ring of straw for purification.

Around this time is the peak of the rice-planting season. In old lore, the long, straggly roots of the rice plant were thought to resemble octopus legs. Thus, in the Kansai region in particular, people eat octopus at this time of year as a good omen. One meal that is popular Is octopus and ginger rice as well as fried octopus.

With this in mind I decided to make a vegan version of this summer solstice meal.

Ginger rice made with fresh ginger juice and Vegan calamari with a squeeze of lemon and wasabi vegan mayonnaise .

I made the vegan version of calamari with hearts of palm. If you’re concerned about the sustainability of heart of palms, rest assured that, unlike some palm oils, most canned varieties of this veggie comes from farmed peach palms.

Just slice the canned hearts of palm and push out the centre to form a ring. Coat in potato starch and shallow fry. The ginger rice was made by adding ginger juice, mirin and tamari into the cooking water of the rice.

Also served with a Japanese potato salad and a cucumber and Myoga Tsukemono.

As a sunny dessert I chose a delicious mango jelly wagashi from minamoto  kitchoan you can also freeze this jelly for a refreshing sherbet.

The traditional Japanese micro seasonal calendar breaks down as follows:

Four seasons 四季 / shiki break down into 24 sub seasons 二十四節気 / nijyushisekki and further into 72 micro seasons 七十二候 / shichijyunikou.

If you would like to read more about The 10th sub season of the year 夏至 Geshi (Summer solstice) breaking down into further micro seasons:

June 21–26 乃東枯 Natsukarekusa karuru Self-heal withers

June 27–July 1 菖蒲華 Ayame hana saku Irises bloom

July 2–6 半夏生 Hange shōzu Crow-dipper sprouts

Read the micro seasonal post relating to this which you can find on the drop down menu.

Blog, Winter Food

Koshögatsu Little New Year 小正月

You may have thought all the New year celebrations were over in japan but there is one more that you may not of heard about.

Until 1873 the Japanese calendar was closely linked to the moon and before japan adopted the Gregorian calendar Koshogatsu 小正月 or “Little New Year” was always celebrated with the first full moon of the New Year.

Koshogatsu is celebrated on the 15th of  January and was historically a day to pray for a bountiful harvest. As the moon still plays an important role in Japanese culture it is still traditional to celebrate it. At this time people may pray for personal fortune and happiness.
Over the New year families  may decorate their homes with shimekazari “purifying rice straw” or kagamimochi. It is believed that the Shinto Kami Toshigami visits over new year and these decorations are placed in honour.

On the morning of Koshogatsu it is custom to eat azukigayu 小豆粥 a rice porridge with azuki beans it is also known as mochi gayu or full moon porridge.

Traditionally azuki gayu was used in temples and shrines as a divination ritual called Kayu ura (粥占) or Mi kayu ura (神粥占) This was done by placing bamboo in the porridge over night. In the morning the more rice that had stuck to the bamboo the better the harvest that year would be.

Today many families still eat azuki gayu on the 15th of January and some temples and shrines still perform the divination ritual, keeping alive old customs passed down for generations.

It is also today that you will take down your New Years decorations and in some cases they may be burned on special bonfires at temples and shrines in japan.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy year ahead .