Category Archives: japanese cuisine

Hydrangea in bloom, minazuki, and a very hot June

Where did the time go? Or perhaps I should say ‘how have you been holding up in this awful heat?’ Italy has been experiencing a hotter than usual month of June with daily temps within the range of 32°C-40°C, depending on when and where the sun shines. This heat has had great affect on me wanting to be anywhere other than next to the fan, but after MotH set up the kiddie pool under the big patio umbrella today, I think we’ll be seeing more wrinkled toes from here on out.

Anyway, before June goes sayonara I want to share somthing that I read in the spring/summer edition of Kateigaho. Kateigaho is a highly interesting and sublimely visual digital magazine on Japanese culture, and if you grow hydrangeas, you might want to do this just for fun. Love good luck charms? Well, you can make a talisman, or a whole bunch of them, with hydrangea blooms. Take a slip of paper and write down your name and birthdate as you imagine a wish. Next, wrap the paper around the flower stem, fasten tightly with string, and suspend it at the entrance of your home. I rather like the one I made as it looks way better hanging upside down rather than wilting on the bush in this miserable h-h-h-HEAT!

And one last thing before I run off to dip my toes into the pool. I’ve been waiting for June 30th to make minazuki, a rice flour and azuki bean dessert that is meant to suggest cool fragments of ice. The last day of June particularly stood out in my mind as it marks a summer rite and you can read about it here Kyoto’s minazuki recipe. There’s another recipe for minazuki and 2 more delicious treats at Japanese sweets. I didn’t have enough rice flour and blended 50/50 rice with all-purpose. The 300cc water is a tad over 1 cup. So glad I found azuki beans at the healthfood store to cook and make my own sweet red beans. Eating minazuki with a cold glass of shakerato really hit the spot; I’ll have to make it again but with the addition of matcha tea powder to the rice flour batter. What a cool summer treat!

Red shiso furikake made in a microwave

The only plants to escape the ruinous hailstorm earlier this week were the red shiso seedlings. They were protected by a hard plastic tunnel cover that even with strong winds and a barrage of golfball-sized hail, managed to stay put and nary a leaf was bent out of place. I wouldn’t have minded if half of the lot was wasted, because each year I end up with more than I know what to do with. Shiso leaf oil, in pickles (the leaves bleed a dark purple red), in salads, pesto, and even as leaf wraps for ground pork, I have done them all but it never makes a dent in the crop.

This morning I got it in my head to decrease the production so I snipped off the top half (I’m hoping they’ll die out) and gathered a small bowlful of young leaves. I’ve seen the leaves used in furikake, but not wanting to turn on the oven for hours to dry them, I used a trick that I’d seen on MasterChef Australia…I dried them in the microwave!

What you’ll need:
Fresh shiso leaves (I didn’t bother to measure mine but let’s say half of a colander’s worth)
White sesame seeds
Golden brown sugar
Bonito flakes
Sea salt

The process is simple: loosely place rinsed and dried leaves (no need to destem) on a plate large enough to fit in the microwave and nuke for 2 minutes at 1-minute intervals. After the 2 minutes, remove plate – careful, it’ll be hot! – and allow to cool until leaves are easy to handle. Feel them. If they are crisp-dry, good. If not, zap for another 30 seconds. Transfer cooked leaves to a large bowl and repeat process with remaining leaves. My microwave doesn’t have a high/med/low; I just use the preset factory setting, that is, ON and OFF.

This next part is optional but it adds some umami to the end result: microwave a half cup (loosely packed) of bonito flakes for 30 seconds until super dry. Set aside to cool.

While you’re waiting for the leaves and bonito flakes to cool, place 1/2 tablespoon of toasted white sesame seeds and 1/2 tablespoon golden brown sugar in a spice blender and pulse to a coarse texture. Tip into a small bowl and stir in 1/2 TBSP whole sesame seeds and 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes.

Make your furikake: gently crumble leaves with your fingers, removing the bits of stem as you go. I ended up with a third of a cup. Crumble bonito flakes and stir into the shiso. Add the sesame seed mixture and stir to combine. Taste for salt and add more salt flakes if needed. Store in an airtight container.