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Soysauce

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

Making Edamame Tofu & Using Meditation While Cooking

You may of heard of the Shojin ryouri, Zen Buddhist temple cuisine and goma dofu. A classic side dish a little like pan a-cotta that looks like tofu, made with ground sesame and kuzu flour, served at the beginning or end of a meal.


The very act of preparing this dish exemplifies a virtue of  Zen Buddhist practices. Making the pudding from scratch requires, patience, time and attention to the task at hand. As with many forms of Zen practices like ikebana flower arranging, Shodo the art of calligraphy, Chado tea preparation and Kodo incense preparation, the aim is to rise above the self to be completely at one with what one is doing. Eating and preparing temple cuisine is a mental attitude maintaining a calm open mind, treasuring each ingredient and gratitude of the meal. The act of grinding the sesame in a suribachi into a paste to make goma dofu has a very meditative effect and I believe that making my recipe for edamame dofu has a similar focus. Instead of grinding sesame seeds you will be shelling edamame.
I first started making Japanese food as a way to focus my thoughts from anxiety and depression, while I’m cooking I try to focus on not things I cannot do, places I cannot go or things I cannot have but enjoy my time in the moment. Focusing my energy into my food to help me have a healthy, mind body and spirt.

Edamame Dofu えだまめ豆腐
You will need 120g of edamame out of their pods. If you have fresh edamame cook them first and pop them out of their pods dropping them into cold water to stop any extra cooking. In my recipe here I used 120g of frozen edamame boiled for around 4 minutes then dropped into a cold bowl of water. (Save a few whole ones for later).

Now here comes the part that takes a little time. Each edamame comes with a thin membrane you will need to slide this off.

Do this until you have finished all the edamame. Use this time to really focus on the task and try to clear your mind of all other thoughts.

Put your edamame into a blender something like the ones used for smoothies works best.
Add to this 2 cups of dashi, 1/2 a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 a teaspoon of sugar and blend well until as smooth as possible.

Then tip out the liquid through a strainer retaining both. Add your edamame pulp back to the blender and blend again as fine as possible, finishing off by adding back the liquid again to combine.

Add to a pan 40g of kuzu root (if it comes in chunks grind it into a fine powder first. Then add a little of your liquid to make a paste then add the rest of the liquid to the pan.

Give it all a good mix and turn on the heat. Heat the edamame and kuzu liquid stirring continuously until it thickens to the consistency of thick custard.

You will then need a container to pour your edamame dofu into and another dish for it to sit in filled with ice water. I like to use my Nagashikan, a stainless steel container made in Niigata with a removable inner tray. It’s one of my favourite kitchen gadgets that I often use to make jellies and yokan with.

You can purchase these from Global Kitchen a great place for all Japanese kitchen utensils and more. If you don’t have one you can use a plastic container.

Pour out your edamame dofu into your container and chill in an ice bath.

When cool it should already be set. Cover with some plastic wrap and chill further in the fridge for a few hours. When ready take your set edamame dofu and cut it into squares.

Serve with a sweet soy sauce.

Mix soy sauce with a little sugar and heat in a pan until the sauce has dissolved, leave to cool to pour over your edamame dofu. You could decorate it with a few edamame that you saved from earlier.

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 keeper 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.