Before the Meiji era, at which time Japan adopted the Western calendar, the old calendar was based on the phases of the moon. The full moon always fell on the 15th day of the lunar month, and the full moon of the first month of the year was celebrated as Koshogatsu 小正月. Today in Japan, this festival is often celebrated on the 15th day of the 1st month, i.e. January 15th, although this now has no connection to the full moon (what a pity!). Since the Heian era, on the morning of Koshogatsu, a special rice porridge made with red azuki beans and mochi is eaten: In Japanese, this special dish is called azuki-kayu 小豆粥, but in Kyoto it is called azuki-no-okaisan.
At Torin-in, a sub-temple within the Myoshinji temple complex, from the 15th Jan to 31st Jan, you can enjoy visit Torin-in and receive the azuki rice porridge with a beautiful tray of shojin (vegetarian) cuisine, as well as an amulet to take home that is for protection from illness and for the prosperity of the family. (Torin-in is the home of Genbo Nishikawa, about whom I have written before. Details about how to participate in this even are given at the bottom of this post.)
At Torin-in there is a special Buddhist ritual performed on the morning of January 15th, which the public are welcome to join, where a little bit of the azuki-kayu is offered to all the trees in the garden of Torin-in, while sutras are being chanted.
Here is the recipe for azuki-no-okaisan from Kyokarashi, a website dedicated to Kyoto obanzai (home-style cooking)
1. Soak the azuki beans overnight and then rinse.
2. Fill a pot with plenty of water and simmer the beans
3. While the mixture is still hot, transfer it to a thermos flask and leave it overnight
4. Make okayu with the rice.
5. Add boiled mochi to the okayu, then add a suitable quantity of the now-softened azuki beans from the thermos.
6. Add salt to taste
With the leftover beans and water remaining in the flask you can make ozenzai by adding sugar, salt, and grilled mochi
*Not giving clear measurements is very typical of Japanese recipes: there is always leeway given for you to experiment and decide how much of an ingredient is to your own taste. Also, where you live affects the ingredients, especially the quality of your water, so the quantity of ingredients will vary according to where it is grown, how old it is, where you live, etc. It is up to you to refine your own sense of taste. However, that’s all well and good if you are an experienced cook! But if you would like a recipe with more concrete details, you can read about how to make red bean okayu (in English) at Just Bento
Location: Torin-in東林院, within the grounds of Myoshinji
Dates: 15th – 31st January
Time: 11am – 3pm
Cost: 3800 yen (reservations not necessary)
Nearest station: Hanazono on the JR line to Arashiyama
Shōgoin daikon 聖護院大根 is one of the traditional vegetables of Kyoto and is sometimes referred to as Kyo-daikon. It is said that during the early 19th century, a farmer moved to Kyoto from Owari province (present-day Aichi-ken) and started cultivating ordinary long daikon radishes in the vicinity of the temple Shōgoin. It seems that some of the daikon seeds produced a mutant round daikon, but the farmer was so intrigued with this new vegetable that he continued to cultivate the variation instead of the regular-shaped daikon. Since then it has become one of Kyoto’s unique vegetables, valued for its shape and its very fine white flesh with a mild flavour, much suited to the delicacy of Kyoto cuisine. When boiled it keeps its firm texture and doesn’t break apart like regular daikon.
The shōgoin daikon is mostly now grown in the northern part of Kyoto prefecture in the Tango area, where the heavy snowfalls in winter produce the best flavour. It is also dried and shipped all over Japan. It is sometimes called vegetarian dried squid because of its resemblance to the squid which are cut and dried on racks in a similar way.
Shōgoin daikon can be prepared in much the same ways as standard daikon, but the flavour is milder and slightly sweeter, with a firmer texture; however, it is rarely used as “oroshi” (finely grated).
Kunio Tokuoka, owner-chef of the famous Kitcho restaurant, has this to say about daikon:
“Even though daikon is most well known as an accompaniment to other foods, such as finely grated and served with whitebait or grated with a dash of shoyu (soy sauce) served with mackerel and so on, at Kitcho we like to serve our customers something with a little element of surprise, so daikon is prepared in a more unpredictable way such as grilled or as tempura. Unlike turnips, in which all parts can be used, only the very middle part of the daikon is used, where the flavour is at its best.”
Here is Chef Tokuoka’s recipe for Furofuki Daikon – Simmered Daikon with Miso
First lot of rinse water that was used to clean the rice for dinner (this water contains rice starch that keeps the daikon from discolouring and maintains a bright whiteness)
Awase-miso (miso sauce):
100 gms hatcho-miso: the most highly regarded miso, a rich dark brown, made only from soybeans
135 mls sake
100 gms sugar
Yoke of one small egg
How to make the awase-miso:
Firstly, mix the egg yolk and sugar well, then blend in the sake. Warm the hatcho miso in bain marie. When it’s cooled, add it to the egg and sake. Keep aside.
1. Under the skin of the daikon is rather tough layer that should be removed. If you don’t peel it enough then the daikon won’t have soft texture and will be too hard. So peel the skin quite thickly – up to 2 cms deep (alternatively, cut the daikon into slices and then cut around each slice). Using the water that has been left after first rinsing the rice for dinner, parboil the daikon. Parboiling in this way takes away the bitterness of the daikon and helps bring out its sweetness.
2. Using a good amount of konbu dashi, lightly simmer the daikon until tender; in this way, the umami of the konbu gradually penetrates the daikon. The key point here is that in order for the heat to draw out the daikon’s natural sweetness, the deciding factor is the quality of the konbu dashi that you use. And in order to make the most effective dashi, please use the best quality konbu that is marketed for use in dashi.
3. Place the daikon in a bowl, spoon a little of the awase-miso over the daikon, and garnish with grated yuzu zest (or other citrus zest) and pinch of togarashi or shichimi (or similar types of chilli powder).
As Matsunaga-sensei mentioned in the last entry, during Obon people traditionally eat shōjin ryōri foods; that is, Buddhist vegetarian cuisine. One of the most popular ways to prepare vegetarian foods such as tofu, namafu (wheat gluten), kon’nyaku and deep fried kamonasu (one of Kyoto’s traditional vegetables known as kyoyasai, kamonasu is a lovely firm round eggplant), is to add a miso paste sauce called dengaku. There are many variations of this sauce which you can find even in English by googling “dengaku”. Here is Matsunaga-sensei’s dengaku recipe.
300g white miso
1 egg yolk
2 Tbs water
2 Tbs sake
1) Put the water and sake in a saucepan and heat; then add the sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, switch off the heat and leave to cool.
2) In an enamel saucepan, mix together the white miso and the egg yolk.
3) Gradually add the cooled liquid from (1), stirring well to mix.
4) Place on a low to medium heat and gently bring to the boil, stirring continuously until slightly thickened. From time to time, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then return the pot to the flame. Repeat this procedure, being careful not to scorch the sauce on the bottom of the pot, until you can see the bottom of the pot as you are stirring. This should take about five minutes. Chefs often use a double-boiler, or immerse a smaller pot in larger saucepan of hot water.
Here is a video featuring the dengaku sauce from Chef Ikai of the kaiseki restaurant Kinmata (who I will be introducing in an upcoming blog). Notice that he doesn’t use an egg, but adds ginger juice.
Here is an English-language video which shows how to make eggplant “nasu dengaku”.
Cucumbers are a very cooling summer food, which is perhaps another reason why they feature as a preventative of summer illness as seen in the last post about the Kyuri-fuji ritual. This recipe comes from Yubasen, a maker of yuba in Kyoto that also has three restaurants. You can read a review of one of the restaurants in English here.
1 piece of hiki-age yuba [this literally means “pulling up” yuba and refers to the way that fresh yuba is made by lifting the skin off the top of heated soy milk (as opposed to dried packaged yuba). You can either make the fresh one yourself or you can use reconstituted dried yuba, but nothing tastes quite as delicious as fresh yuba!]
3 red shiso leaves
Small amount of ground sesame seeds
Seasoned vineger: vinegar 5 Tbs, water 2 Tbs, light shoyu 1 Tbs, dashi 1/2 tsp, sugar 2 tsp
1. Sprinkle salt on the cucumbers as well as your hands and the cutting board, then roll the cucumbers and lightly press the salt into the cucumbers with your hands – this method of removing the harshness from vegetables is called itazuri.
2. Put the cucumbers in boiling water for just a moment and then place immediately into iced water.
3. Finely slice the cooled cucumbers, then sprinkle them lightly with salt and knead them with your hands until the slices become soft and pliant – this technique is called shiomomi.
4. Finely shred the yuba and the shiso leaves.
5. Mix these ingredients with the seasoned vinegar.
6. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with the ground sesame seeds.
This is a recipe from Matsunaga-sensei’s cookbook, for pickled rakkyo, a Japanese scallion that is harvested in mid-summer, pickled with takanotsume [hawk’s claw] chilli peppers…
This is a simple pickling method that anyone can do. The characteristic smell and spiciness of pickled rakkyo, with its nice crunchy texture, can be enjoyed throughout the year. I enjoy eating these pickles every day because they go well with so many dishes.
Rakkyo bulbs (cut and rinsed) 1 kg
Salt 50-60 gms
Rice vinegar 500-600 mls
Sugar 300-400 gms
Takanotsume dried chillies 2 or 3
A wide-rimmed preserving jar
1) Place the rice vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and heat gently. When the sugar has dissolved, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.
2) Rinse the rakkyo in water.
3) Put the rakkyo into a saucepan with enough water to cover the bulbs and bring to the boil. Remove from heat.
4) Drain the rakkyo in a colander and while it is still hot, sprinkle the salt over the rakkyo and mix in well. Leave the rakkyo in the colander to cool.
5) Place the rakkyo in the preserving jar with the takanostume chillies and pour in the liquid from (1).
6) The pickles will be ready to eat in about one month and will keep for up to one year.
Wakame and fresh bamboo shoot soup
This recipe highlights the delicate flavours of two seasonal ingredients: bamboo shoots which appear in the spring and wakame which is harvested fresh at this time. This is a very typical Japanese “recipe” because it doesn’t give any measurements! An important aspect of Japanese cuisine is to develop your sense of taste and be prepared to cook by taste alone. When I first learned about Japanese cooking this was something that frustrated me because I just wanted to be told “Do it like this.” But cooking is as much an art as it is a science and the challenge is to have “the courage of your convictions” – wise advice from the wonderful Julia Childs from back in the 1950s. It takes time to develop the confidence required to trust your own interpretation in using the ingredients as a kind of artist’s palette but it is so satisfying when you get it “right” – that is, when the artwork you create tastes and looks like you had imagined, or perhaps you get a nice surprise and it is better than you imagined!
Ingredients (see the Glossary for explanations):
Takenoko (fresh bamboo shoots)
Katsuo dashi (Japanese soup stock – this can be made vegan by using shiitake dashi instead of katsuo)
Kinome (fresh sansho leaf buds)
1) Cut the bamboo shoots into round slices about 5mm thick. The pieces that are bit too big, slice into half-moon shapes.
2) Rinse the wakame in water (if you are using salted wakame change the water 2 – 3 times) so that it just covers the seaweed in a bowl, then roughly chop the seaweed into 3cm lengths.
3) Place the wakame into the dashi stock and bring to a simmer – avoid boiling – then add the bamboo shoots
4) As soon as the wakame has softened, add a little soy sauce and mirin, tasting as you go.(Okay, for those of you who’d like a bit more guidance, try about a teaspoon of soy sauce and a half a teaspoon of mirin per 300mls of dashi)
5) When the soup has started to simmer again, remove from the heat and serve with a garnish of kinome sprinkled on the top.
Source: Kyo no Machiya Kurashi Isho Kaigi
This is a dish from Buddhist priest and shojin-ryori chef, Genbo Nishikawa, who is the abbot of Torin-in temple in Kyoto. This recipe is a seasonal dish that is enjoyed during May when fresh hijiki is available.
Hijiki no Inarizume
Ingredients (full descriptions are in the Glossary section):
Momen tofu 120g
Yamato-imo (mountain potato) 30g
Hijiki seaweed 50g (reconstituted with water if dried hijiki is used)
Abura-age (tofu pockets) 4 pieces
Kanpyo 16 pieces 15cms long (calabash gourd shavings reconstituted with water)
Water 2 cups
Dashi stock 1/2 cup (made with konbu and shiitake)
Usukuchi shoyu 2+1/2 Tbsp
Sugar 3 Tbsp
1) Wrap the tofu in a cloth and squeeze firmly, then place the tofu in a suribachi (earthenware mortar for grinding).
2) Peel the yamato-imo, grate it and add it to the tofu. Mix well.
3) Chop up the hijiki and add it to the bowl with the yamato-imo and tofu. Mix lightly.
4) Using a wooden pestle or some such, roll over the abura-age several times, then cut the pieces in half lengthwise.
5) Divide the mixture in the bowl into 8 portions and stuff each of the tofu pockets. Secure by tying the kanpyo in two places. The yamato-imo tends to swell up, so don’t overstuff the pockets.
6) Place the cooking liquid ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Carefully arrange the rolls in the pot and simmer on a low heat for about 20 minutes
7) Turn off the heat and place the rolls in individual serving dishes. Cut the rolls in half to serve.