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umesu

Blog, Spring Food

“Mono no aware” The fleeting beauty of Japanese sakura & recipe for tofu sakura cheesecake .

 

The term mono no aware (物の哀れ) was brought about by Motoori Norinaga, the eighteenth century literary scholar, by combining aware, which means sensitivity or sadness, and mono, which means “things.” It literally translates to “the pathos of things.” But more loosely, it could also mean “the beauty of things passing.”

In traditional Zen Buddhism Japanese aesthetics mono no aware is study of beauty and the impermanence of such beauty. Impermanence is all around us and the sadness connected to it, knowing that everything doesn’t last forever.  The changing of seasons are not to be mourned, but cherished and appreciated in their impermanence.

The cherry blossom is a common symbol of mono no aware it’s meaning symbolizes both life and death, as the coming of spring promises new life, at the same time, their short lifespan is a reminder that life is fleeting.

Would we be in such awe of the cherry blossom if we could see them every day ?

This is why the season is celebrated so much in Japan. Every spring, cherry blossoms, or sakura as they are known, bloom across Japan at different times, depending on their variety and location. People from all over the world visit Japan to partake in Hanami 花見 the spring tradition of admiring the sakura and celebrating its beauty. (hana) means “flower,” and (mi), means “to view.” together, hanami literally means “to view flowers.”

The sakura flowers are symbolic for the people of Japan, representing hope and new life. During this season in Japan, people like to have cherry blossom parties with colleagues, friends, and family basking under the splendor of the cherry blossoms while enjoying eating and drinking. There is also something quite romantic about viewing the cherry blossoms in the dark. Many blossoms are illuminated and it is a time that couples especially can enjoy yozakura “viewing cherry blossoms at night”

Taking a moment to stop and admire the flowers is one of the most beautiful parts of spring.

Japan has over 200 types of sakura trees, Somei Yoshino makes up almost 80% of them with their light pink flowers with five tiny petals.

Other varieties are Kawazu-zakura an early blooming cherry blossom, Shidare Zakura, weeping cherry trees, Yaezakura. Yaezakura with their double pink blooms and Yamazakura which typically grow in mountainous areas in Honshu.



This is the Japanese character for sakura
The (ki) on the left side means tree/wood and developed from a pictogram of a tree, with the horizontal line as branches and diagonal lines as roots. Sakura is derived from saku , which means to bloom, or alternately to smile/laugh. The in 咲 indicates an open mouth.

Are you a Sakura-bito 桜人(Cherry blossom lover?). Such is the flower’s significance that in Japanese there are a multitude of words to describe them. Here are a few of my favourites.

Sakura-fubuki (桜吹雪) – this means “cherry blossom snowstorm”. Often cherry blossom petals fall in the spring wind, which from a distance can look like a snow storm of pink petals.

(Hana gasumi)花霞

Literal translation: “flower mist”

This describes the way that the huge number of sakura grouped together look like a big pastel cloud, or a pinkish haze when seen from a distance.

Hazakura (葉桜) – cherry tree leaves. Once the flower blossom has fallen, small leaves start to appear on the trees.

Sakuragari 桜狩り means ‘Sakura Hunting’. Will you be hunting out the best places to view cherry blossoms this year?

Sakura signals the beginning of spring, a time of renewal and optimism. Like the blooms bursting with possibilities it is the start of the Japanese new financial and academic year, which, in Japan occurs on April 1st. This is a time when there are new hope and dreams starting studies at school or in a new career. Sakura, is a symbol of good luck and hope for the future.

In ancient Japan the arrival of cherry blossom was celebrated as a signal of the start of the rice-planting season and to cast good luck over the year’s harvest. Originally, sa referred to a rice paddy god, and kura meant “a seat for a god.” Japanese people believed cherry blossoms were dwelling places for mountain deities who transformed into the gods of rice paddies.

This relationship between specific plant flowering events and agricultural practices is known as phenological indicators. Because the arrival of the sakura was a seasonal indicator for the planting of rice, sake is often drunk to ask the gods for a fruitful year ahead. You will often find people drinking hanami-zake 花見酒 under the cherry blossoms the term is used for sake drunk while viewing cherry blossom this is normally enjoyed with specially prepared food or bento. Do you have any plans this year to enjoy the spring weather under a beautiful blossom tree?

Recipe for Sakura Tofu Cheesecake

This year I wanted to create a very special recipe that you could share with friends during this time. My creation is my no bake decadent silky smooth tofu vegan cheese cake with a hint of Sakura.

Full list of ingredients needed:

Preserved Sakura flowers, beetroot powder, digestive biscuits, vegan butter, raw cacao butter, x2 Shizenno Megumi soft tofu, cashew nuts, vegan honey or agave, Ume Su vinegar.

You will need a 7 inch base spring form cake tin and parchment paper to line it.

Step 1 make your flavouring

(do this a week before you make your cake you can omit this part if just colouring your cake pink or you can use sakura syrup instead to add flavour. 

Ingredient quantities & Method:

As I wanted to flavour the cheese cake with the unmistakable flavour of Sakura I looked at buying some Sakura powder. However on researching it didn’t appear to be vegan, and I also wasn’t sure how natural Sakura syrup was either so I set about making my own. The cheese cake takes a little forward planning because of this. You can however just colour the cheese cake pink omitting the flavour if you wish, or add sakura syrup.

To make the sakura powder I first used the pickled preserved salted sakura you can buy already pre done. It is sometimes sold as Sakura tea but has no tea leaves with it.

These come with a lot of salt and the last thing you want is a salty cheesecake so first wash the flowers and pat them as dry as possible with kitchen towel. Lay the flowers out on a clean dry sheet of kitchen towel and place another on top, press down and leave to dry in a warm place for a few days.

After this time pick the flowers off the kitchen towel and place them on a dish. At this point they still might not be completely dry, you can test this by trying to crumble them between your fingers. If they do not crumble leave them somewhere warm for a few more days. I placed the dish on top of a radiator to completely dry out.

When the blossom are dry snip off the stems and add the flowers to a grinding bowl called a suribachi and begin to grind the flowers into a powder.

If you do not have one it will take you a little longer to do this. You could also try using a clean coffee grinder.

When the blossoms are powder add a few teaspoons of beetroot powder, this will be what adds the colour to your cheese cake.

Step 2 Preparation for filling.

Add 2 cups of cashew nuts to bowl and pour over boiling water. Leave while you make your base.
Add 90g of raw cacao butter to a bowl under a pan of simmering water to melt while you make your base. When melted leave over the hot water so they do not solidify until you need to use them.

Step 3 Make your biscuit base
Ingredients & Method:

You will need 20 vegan digestive biscuits which is around 250g and 100g of melted vegan butter.

Method:

Add the butter to a bowl under simmering water in a pan and gently melt the butter.

Add the biscuits to a food processor and process into fine crumbs.

Line the bottom and sides of your cake tin. (To line the bottom release the spring and take out bottom, place some parchment paper underneath the ring, then put the base back on underneath and tighten the spring then cut around the edges. Brush the sides with a little oil and cut two strips to go round the edges ,the oil will help it stick to the sides.

Remove the biscuits from the food processor and add this to a bowl, then pour in your melted butter.

Mix well, it will be the consistency of wet sand.

Tip out the base mixture into your prepared lined pan and press it down well and a little up the sides. I used a jam jar to press it down. Place the base in the fridge while you make your filling.

Step 3 Make your filling.

Ingredients & Method:

Drain your soaked cashews and add these to a food processor or blender. I was using my nutri bullet so ended up making the filling in two batches. Add to this 1/3 cup of vegan honey, agave or light coloured sweetener. You will need one and a half blocks of Shizenno Megumi soft tofu. Drain the liquid well from the tofu and add this to the cashews.

The delicate hand crafted soft tofu is perfect for making desserts like this, which is made using traditional Japanese techniques by a small group of passionate members bringing traditionally made tofu to the U.K. If you  want to know more about this tofu why not check out my previous recipes using “Shizenno Megumi” tofu.

Add to the tofu a tablespoon of Ume Su plum seasoning which is used in the preserved sakura process so this will add to the sakura flavour of your cheesecake. You can instead also use sakura syrup but again I am not sure how vegan friendly and natural this is. It really depends on your preferences.

Blend everything until smooth then add your melted cacao butter. Finally add two teaspoons of your sakura flavour beetroot powder. Give it all a final process until smooth and silky.


Remove your base from the fridge and pour your filling into the cake tin. Put this back into the fridge and leave over night to completely set.

To remove release the spring and push the bottom up from the pan. You can slide the parchment paper to put your finished cheese cake onto a serving plate.

Why not decorate your cheese cake with fruit and maybe add some delicate sakura blooms.

Unlike other cheesecakes which do not stay firm unless they are frozen this one is perfect just kept chilled until you need to slice it.

After that time it can be transported in a container to your hanami party to be enjoyed with friends and family.

How about trying a variety of different flavours just use the basic cheese cake ingredients and add Japanese ingredients like Yuzu juice, matcha or  black sesame. You could also make lemon, strawberry or blueberry cheese cakes in a similar way. Which ever flavour you try I just know you are going to love this indulgent special cheese cake recipe that all your friends and family will enjoy.

Spring Food, Summer Food

Sakura No Ha Shiozuke (Salted Preserved Cherry Leaves)

Some times we need to plan ahead to reap the rewards later. You may be familiar with the Japanese spring time wagashi called Sakura mochi. A chewy pink glutinous rice ball filled with sweet bean paste and wrapped in an edible cherry blossom leaf.

The leaves are hard to obtain outside of Japan, but with a little planning ahead you to could be making these next spring. These pickled leaves capture the full unique fragrance of the Japanese Sakura. And now after the blossoms have gone and the new green leaves emerge is the perfect time to pick them.
I chose to use the leaves from Yaezakura the double blooms that come out later than all the other cherries. I also use this variety to make Sakura shiozuke pickled preserved cherry blossom for which I already have a recipe for on this site.
You will need to find a tree preferably away from a main road and free from pollution. I am lucky to have a row of these trees near where I live.

So on a rainy day in May I went and picked some of the new green leaves after the blossom had fallen to make pickled Sakura leaves for my wagashi next spring.

After returning with the leaves I picked out the biggest ones and carefully washed them.


You will need about 40g of leaves

For every 10g you will need 2g of fine salt this one is a Japanese salt I bought from sous chef

You will also need some umesu to pickle the leaves. Umesu is a traditional seasoning made by pickling umeboshi plums and red shiso leaves. I like to buy the one from Clearspring which is made in Japan.

After you have weighed your leaves put them in a bowl and blanch them with boiling water.

When you smell the steam you can smell the distinct aroma of Japanese Sakura.

Then lay them out on some kitchen towel, I did this in layers on top of each other and then gently pressed to dry them.

Then fold over each leaf and lay them in a plastic container with a lid.

Sprinkle over the salt and finally add around x4-5 tablespoons of umesu around and over the leaves.



Cover with some plastic wrap put on the lid and leave in a cool place for about a week. After this time wrap the leaves in plastic wrap and put them in a ziplock bag and keep them in the fridge until next year. The leaves will turn brown over time.

When you want to use them soak the leaves to remove the salt in warm water for 15-20 minutes.

I hope you will be able to enjoy the taste of spring time in Japan. When you are ready to make sakura mochi I also have a recipe on this site for how to make those as well.
If you haven’t made pickled Sakura blossom do not worry those are a little easier to obtain from asian supermarkets.

Blog, Spring Food

Sakura Shiozuke (pickled preserved Sakura cherry blossoms)

The unique flavour and aroma of salted pickled cherry blossom is very distinct and if you are a Japan lover you will know this smell automatically. In Japan the Sakura bloom for a very short time the fleeting essence of nature is celebrated by all things Sakura themed in Spring. You may have seen me in the past use shop bought salted pickled cherry blossoms in some of my recipes. They are used around Sakura season in Japan to decorate cakes, cookies and desserts and can also be used chopped in onigiri. One of the most popular is a wagashi called Sakura Mochi .

I decided to make my own Sakura shiozuke as they are preserved you can use them any time to make my Sakura cookie recipe or other recipes that call for salted Sakura.

Why not give making salted pickled Sakura blossoms a try. You will need to pick the pink Pom Pom looking double flowers known as Yaezakura.

Pick the blossom and put them in a bowl I used around 100g of blossom . Gently wash them.


Then add salt make sure it’s well mixed in . I added quite a bit about 20g. Then cover with cling film  and put a plate on top and weigh it down further with smaller plates then  leave them over night .



The next day take off your plates. I bought  ume su ( by clear spring ) and added to the blossom about 1/4 of the bottle.



Put the plastic wrap over and put the plates back on . Then leave that for three days . After this time pick out the blossom and put them on a wire rack with kitchen town in a warm place for 2 days .



Then peel them off the kitchen towel ( they are nearly dried but not quite at this point) put them on a bamboo tray you could use a few rolling matts or something like that and leave again to dry for a few more days .


At this point they should be dry and you can store them in a jar adding a bit more salt and save them til next year or use them straight away!

Happy Sakura Season !