In my last post I translated a piece by Keiko Matsunaga about Gion and Chrysanthemums. Here, Matsunaga-sensei gives her recipe and technique for making turnips look like chrysanthemums, which is not only a delicious seasonal recipe but also provides practice in perfecting the skills of knife-handling. Following the recipe I have added a video to demonstrate the technique. You can also read more about “chysanthemum turnip” pickles at Kyoto Foodie.
Matsunaga-sensei’s Kikka-kabura (Chrysanthemum Turnips)
1 large turnip
3 pieces of konbu, each about 3cms square
2-3 small dried chillies
Sweetened rice vinegar, made by adding 35gm of sugar per 100ml of rice vinegar
Preparing the turnip:
1. Cut the greens off the top of the turnip, and after washing the turnip thoroughly, peel it and then cut it in half lengthways.
2. Cut a slice about 2.5cm from the top end.
3. About 5mm inside the skin side, you’ll see a ring line. No matter how long you boil the turnip, this fibrous outer ring won’t soften, so cut back to that line (don’t discard this outer cutting though – you can use it in other recipes).
4. Place the turnip slice flat and make fine lengthways incisions close together all along the slice, cutting about 2/3 into the thickness, being careful not to cut all the way through.
5. Turn the turnip slice around 90° and do the same thing widthways.
6. Carefully turn the turnip up-side-down, with the cuts on the bottom, and then cut the turnip slice into 2cm wide squares
Directions for making Chrysanthemum Turnip pickles:
1. Take the turnip squares you’ve prepared as per above and weigh them. Calculate 2% of the weight and that is how much salt you are going to need to use. Cover the turnips with salt and put aside for 30 minutes to an hour, so that the turnips soften. Then drain off the excess moisture from the turnips.
2. Rinse thoroughly in running water, then gently squeeze out the water, being careful not to disturb the fine cuts.
3. Add the konbu and the dried chillies to the sweetened vinegar and then put the turnips in the vinegar and leave them in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days to pickle.
4. To serve, separate out the little ‘petals’ so that it looks like a chrysanthemum, and add a thin slice of chilli in the middle for garnish.
In this video, the cook shows us a nifty trick to prevent the knife from cutting all the way through the turnip by using chopsticks.
In this blog Matsunaga-sensei talks about the Kankakuni Ceremony and the art of decorative garnishing [mukimono] in Kyoto cuisine.
On November 8th, a ceremony is performed to honour the poet and playwright Isamu Yoshii (1886-1960), who was a much-loved patron of Gion. Just near to the Tatsumi Bridge that crosses the Shirokawa River in Gion, the maiko and geisha from this area offer white chrysanthemums at a stone monument that has a poem by Isamu engraved on it, and later there is a reception where matcha and soba are served. This natural stone monument was erected to celebrate Yoshii Isamu’s 70th birthday on the 8th of November, 1955. The name of the ceremony “Kanikakuni” translates as “no matter what happens” and comes from the first line of Isamu’s poem that is carved into the rock:
No matter what happens
I yearn for Gion
Even when I sleep
The sound of water
Flows beneath my pillow
Here is a video of the Kanikakuni Ceremony (note the cacophany of cameras!)
Chrysanthemums are in season now, and I am reminded of the way that we carve vegetables into decorative shapes that include the chrysanthemum. In Kyoto cuisine, we always carve the yam in a hexagonal shape and we always carve the lotus root in the shape of a stylised chrysanthemum, but an autumn favourite is to carve the large Kyoto variety of turnip – shogoin-kabu – into a chrysanthemum (see recipe and video in the following blog). If you say that you are able to carve these kinds of decorations, it’s another way of saying that you’ve attained proficiency in handling a knife. In this industry, mastering the knife is the absolute foundation of the art of cooking. My eldest daughter, Kanae Yamamoto, is the head teacher of the elementary class at our cooking school, and watching the way the light glints off the blade of the knife as she deftly and swiftly carves these vegetables, I call her the “Carving Maestro”!
Here is an interesting short video on another carving master, making a chrysanthemum from a daikon radish. What wonderful knife skills!
Kyoto is famous not only for its traditional Kyoryori gourmet cuisine, but also for its sweets (okashi). Being the cultural centre for the tea ceremony, it has also developed as a centre for traditional tea ceremony sweets. Konpeitō (derived from the Portuguese word “confeito”) is not exactly a special tea ceremony sweet, but Kyoto is famous for this simple sugar candy. Here is a video about how konpeitō has been made at the Ryokujuan Shimizu store since 1847. The translation follows underneath.
Narrator: Ryokujuan Shimizu is a Kyoto traditional shop that makes konpeitō.
Reporter: I’m being lured in by the sweet smell… Ah, here it is.
Ikuko Shimizu (managing director): Please come in.
Reporter: Thank you. Wow – as soon as you step into the room the sweet smell really hits you!
Ikuko Shimizu: That’s right! In summer it’s get to more than 50 degrees in here.
Reporter: 50 degrees!
Ikuko Shimizu: Yes, for the workers its a pretty tough job.
Reporter: What’s the flavour of this one?
Yasuhiro Shimizu (5th generation head of Ryokujuan Shimizu): This one’s ume-shu [plum wine]
Yasuhiro Shimizu: That’s right. Here, you keep adding sugar syrup and as the moisture evaporates, the sugar forms crystals which creates the candy. In the drum, the temperature is about what you’d need to cook a steak – about 200 degrees.
Reporter: About 200 degrees?
Yasuhiro Shimizu: And so as the moisture evaporates, only the sugar crystals remain, which is how the candy is produced.
Narrator: It takes considerable time and effort to make konpeitō. The process starts with crushed mochi rice granules, upon which sugar syrup is basted many times over and over again for about two weeks, gradually growing bigger until they reach the desired size. At Ryokujuan Shimizu, the finished product is so imbued with originality that they have created truly unique kinds of konpeitō. They have recently created a cider-flavoured konpeitō. In summer, there is mango and coconut, and in autumn there is roasted chestnut and black soybean flavoured konpeitō. Ryokujuan Shimizu is constantly creating all kinds of interesting flavours that complement the season.
Yasuhiro Shimizu: To produce the distinctive candy burrs of konpeitō, depends on four factors: the speed of the drum, the angle of drum, the density of the syrup, and the degree of heat. If these conditions are not met exactly, then the characteristic burr shape won’t occur. The sound of the falling konpeitō is like the sound of heavily falling rain. But you have to be able to hear the slightest change in that sound. It’s like when you’re raising a child, you know when your baby isn’t feeling well or is hungry or needs a nappy change, without having to say anything. And so it’s just the same with the slight changes in the sound of the falling konpeitō that shows you it wants the temperature increased a little or it wants the drum speed slowed, and so on.
Narrator: The makers of this candy certainly put in a great effort, one by one creating each konpeitō with care and attention.
Reporter: Keep it up! <laughter> Well, it’s so hot here! But it’s great – so delicious and such fun! Thank you!
Narrator: Even though it’s a traditional candy, it’s new. And that’s rather like the town of Kyoto itself.
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”.
Matsunaga-sensei talks about the culmination of the Obon Festival, the Daimonji Gozan Okuribi bonfire, which is the sending off of the spirits of the dead back to the spirit world.
The lighting of great ceremonial bonfires, that are lit in the shape of the kanji characters and symoblic shapes on the sides of five mountains in Kyoto, at the end of the Obon period, marks the return of the spirits of the dead to the spirit world. Originally, the bonfires on each of the five mountains were all meant to be seen from the Imperial Palace, but nowadays there are so many tall buildings that, as far I know, there are only a few places where you can see them all.
Where I live, Shimokamo, is in the north-east of the city. In the opposite direction is the mountain where the bonfire in the shape of Shinto torii gate, which would have once been clearly visible, but because the city is so built up I haven’t been able to see it. The “dai” character, meaing “big”, which is the first to be lit at 8pm on the night of the 16th, is quite nearby and I could see it – the red light of the character rising up into the dark night sky. I put my hands together in prayer and I felt moved to tears at the sight. Last year was the first obon since my father died and I felt in my heart that he had become this great fiery “dai”.
In olden days, on the following morning the townspeople would gather together and ascend the mountain to collect the charcoal from the fire. When they returned home, they would wrap the charcoal in paper and place it on their gates as a proteciton amulet against fire for the coming year. Nowadays, people don’t tend to do this, but there are members of my family who live near the mountain that has the bonfire in the shape of the characters “myōhō”, meaning “the wondrous teaching of the Buddha”, and sometimes they give me the charcoal amulet from that mountain, carefully tied with red and white string, that provides protection against illness or disaster for the family for the coming year.
Because it is a Buddhist festival, Obon is closely associated with eating vegetarian cuisine, known as “shōjin ryōri”. Prepared foods such as yuba and namafu are an important part of that cuisine and they are also vital to Kyoto cuisine in general.
Here is a video showing the preparation for the Daimonji bonfire
Feast your eyes on this luscious display of gourmet summer offerings from Kyoto’s great ryotei (high-class restaurants). It needs no commentary!
Here is a translation of this video, which is described here using hamachi (yellowtail/amberjack) but which can be applied to any kind of fish and in fact you could use it for root vegetables as well for a quick pickle.
Cut the fish into slices between 5 – 6 mm thick
Sprinkle with salt
Slice the daikon using the technique known as katsuramuki and then finely slice julienne
Place the sliced daikon in water to make it stay crisp. Drain.
Cut the wakame into bite-size pieces
Wipe the kombu with a damp cloth
Brush the kombu with sake
Place the fish one by one along the surface of the first piece of kombu
Place the second piece of kombu on top
To prevent exposure to the air, wrap the kombu sandwich tightly in plastic wrap
Place the wrapped kombu in the refrigerator for about an hour and a half
Mix a little shoyu with dashi
Arrange the sliced daikon, wakame, fish slices on a plate and add a little benitade (water pepper) and wasabi. Serve with the shoyu-dashi dip.
For an awesome video about slicing daikon watch this…