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!
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
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.
From her Kamoshimo Kyoto school of cooking, Keiko Matsunaga talks about the foodway traditions associated with the Summer Purification Ritual, Nagoshi no Harae…
About Nagoshi no Harae [Summer Purification Ritual]
Referred to as Oharae or Nagoshi-no-Harae or Minadzuki, this Shinto ritual, which is performed to cleanse all of the harm caused by our actions during the first half of the year, is held at various shrines on the 30th of June each year. A giant purification ring made up of miscanthus reeds, called a chinowa, is erected in the shrine grounds, as well as paper dolls onto which we transfer our impurities and which are then offered in a special purification ritual.
At my home, we like to write our names and our misdeeds onto the paper doll and blow onto it; then we rub the doll all over our own bodies in order to gain protection from disaster. At Shimogamo Shrine, on August 6th, known as Rishu on the old calendar, these purification dolls are released into the stream in a Shinto ritual known as Yatori Shinji that washes away all of our regrets and misdemeanours. The Shinto priests throw the paper dolls into the sacred pond at the same time as young men rush into the pond to claim a sacred arrow that is a good luck talisman.
In the past, when the imperial court was still in Kyoto, on the first day of the sixth lunar month, ice that had been stored in an icehouse from the previous winter was offered at the imperial court. Of course, commoners could never taste such a treat, so they made and ate a confection which imitated the shape of the ice, sprinkled with adzuki beans. This sweet was called minadzuki. These days, on the 30th of June, on the day of the Nagoshi no Harae, people still eat this triangle-shaped sweet made from rice flour (uiro) that is sprinkled with sweetened boiled adzuki beans as a symbol of protection against illnesses common in the forthcoming height of summer heat.
I remember when I was a child that the sweets maker near my home was always really busy at this time of the year. Minadzuki is made using a rice flour dough that is first steamed, then sweetened adzuki beans are sprinkled over the top and it is steamed again. It is then cooled and sliced into triangles. In times gone by, a narrow long-bladed knife was used to cut the minadzuki but these days a special wired frame is used to cut the triangular shapes accurately. Chefs nowadays also make a savoury version of the sweet minadzuki by using gomadofu [sesame tofu].