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 in Kyoto, 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 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)
Some azuki beans*
Water as needed
Rice ~ 1/5 cup per person
Round mochi ~ 1 per person
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
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).
Toshio Tanahashi is a Zen Buddhist monk, who, at the age of 27, decided to serve as an apprentice at the Gesshinji Temple in Shiga prefecture, near Kyoto. A nunnery famous for its abbess Murase Myodo’s excellent Shojin cooking, he trained there for three years. He had a restaurant in Tokyo for many years, but now he dedicates his time to educating people about shojin-ryori through his culinary institute Zecoow. Toshio travels widely around the world talking about shojin-ryori and has been featured in English-language newspapers such as the New York Times.
Here is a TED talk that Toshio gave in Tokyo in 2014:
Toshio has also written several books (in Japanese) on shojin cuisine.
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!
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
IZUSEN restaurant, Daiji-in, Daitokuji, Kyoto
Leaving behind the frenetic busyness of the modern bustling metropolis of Kyoto, as you step over the threshold of the great gateway that marks the entrance to the vast grounds of Daitokuji, one of the five great Zen temple complexes of Kyoto, you enter into a sacred space that seems timeless and imbued with tranquility. Nestled within this great rambling temple complex, following one of the meandering stone pathways flanked by high earthen walls of secluded little temples and ancient twisting pine trees, you eventually arrive at a small sub-temple called Daiji-in. Within this temple is Izusen, a shojin-ryori (Buddhist vegetarian) restaurant that specialises in teppachi-ryori.
Teppachi literally means “iron bowl” and it refers to the custom of Buddhist monks making daily alms rounds, carrying a bowl in which they received food offerings from people in the neighbourhood who supported the temple. Nowadays, the monks of Daitokuji temple no longer make these rounds, but the traditional bowls they once used are now a feature of this restaurant. The serving dishes are a set of lacquer bowls in which the courses of the meal are served and which fit neatly inside one another when finished.
The delicacies that are served in these special bowls vary according to the season, but what follows is typical spring menu.
This meal begins with light matcha (whisked powdered green tea) and warabi-mochi, a glutinous sweet made not from rice flour (mochi) but from bracken starch (warabi-ko), covered with kinako (toasted soy bean flour).
Next, shirazu-ae: vegetables coated in a light vinegar and sesame paste, served here with fava beans (soramame).
Next, broccolini with yuba (soy milk skins). Yuba is an essential ingredient in shojin cuisine because it is very high in protein.
Next, hassun, which is the main plate and has a selection of delicacies. Here, there is fried gluten, fuki (giant butterbur) wrapped in yuba, and Daitokuji-fu (a special gluten prepared with soy and mirin and deep-fried)
Next, goma-tofu with sliced cucumber and wasabi: goma-tofu is not the usual soy bean tofu, but instead is made from ground sesame seeds mixed with kudzu flour. It is a signature dish in shojin-ryori of Mt Koya.
Next, ganmodoki and fried baby eggplant: ganmodoki, which literally means “mock goose,” is made from tofu mixed with vegetables, made into a ball, boiled first and then fried. It is used as an offering on the altars of temples in Mt Koya.
Next, tempura vegetables, including shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, mitsuba trefoil leaves.
Next, clear wakame (seaweed) soup.
Finally, rice with a seasonal ingredient and pickles – this rice is served with kinome, a new sprig of the Japanese pepper tree, which is traditionally a sign of spring.
Here is a video showing the exterior and interior of Izusen in Kyoto…
Photos courtesy of Hisagon & Yokorin