Last weekend on Easter Sunday, instead of cooking the traditional roast lunch, I conjured up a Japanese dinner for Djamo, myself and our amazing neighbours, Ellie + Kaelan. The menu was pretty simple: onigiri, aga-dashi tofu, niku udon complete with runny egg, seasonal vegetables, and a homemade dashi. For dessert: sakura mochi. In many respects, having finally made my first batch of the year (as promised), I can safely say that, after much delay, sakura season has reached the coldest corners of the Peak District.
There is this one particular tree in the Pavilion Gardens here, which we go past religiously during our evening stroll. For weeks, I have spoken none stop about hosting our own little hanami-cherry blossom viewing, and now that the blossoms are just beginning to open, we decided that yesterday morning was the perfect moment to spend some quality time in the park, sitting underneath our favourite little tree, straw hat on, enjoying a picnic brunch and admiring their fragile beauty. Josephine, our little white budgie came along too, to enjoy some fresh spring air and glorious sunlight. As I will probably be back home next spring, where not a single Cherry Blossom resides, I really want to take the time to appreciate all these seasonal wonders I’ve come to love so much.
Of course, I have many seasonal produce to look forward to: mulberries, dates, grapes, citrus, to name but a few. More adventures, more travelling, more flavours to explore. I am pretty excited about that, and cannot wait to share more Arabian and Eastern Mediterranean flavours here on the blog. But, until then, it needs to be noted that for next few posts, I will probably be spamming my website with sakura-inspired desserts, before moving on to other seasonal beauties that are coming our way on this side of the world.
What are your favourite seasonal produce? What do you like to make with them?
Let me know in the comments below. Happy Sunday, guys! x
Cooking time: 1 1/2 hours
If it isn’t obvious already, I am a die-hard lover of sakura. Bring in azuki beans, and we have ourselves one hell of a party. The sakura mochi I have made here are inspired by the Kansai version of the delicacy, which is usually dyed pink (if you wish to do this, simply add a few drops of a natural red dye to the water before boiling), as opposed to the Kanto style sakura mochi, which is more crepe like. I’m a basmati girl, through and through, I love the texture of rice, hence I decided not to grind the cooked sticky rice for my first batch (please feel free to grind your rice to a pulp if you like in order to form a sort of rice paste instead). If you happen to get hold of mochi-gome (Japanese glutinous rice), the resulting rice will be far more sticky and soft.
1cup short-grain (glutinous) rice
1 1/2tbsp granulated sugar
koshi-an paste (recipe to follow)
1/2tbsp homemade sakura extract (see here for recipe)
8 pickled sakura
8 pickled sakura leaves
1 1/2cup water, plus extra (as required)
Place the rice in a bowl with enough water to cover. Using your hand, swirl the water around the rice gently a couple of times before pouring the murky water out. Repeat 6 times or until the water is clean. Pour out all the water and pour the rice into a bowl, placing a damp cloth over the grains and set aside for an hour. Whilst you allow the rice to rest, rinse the pickled sakura and sakura leaves in water (to remove excess salt and brine) and leaving them in a bowl of cold water for approximately 10 minutes. Pat dry and set aside.
When ready, rinse out the water, and place the rice into a saucepan. Add the 1 1/2 cups of water and the sakura extract (and colouring if desired) before turning the heat on to a medium heat, allowing to come to a simmer, before reducing the heat to a low and placing a lid onto the pan and cooking the rice for 10-12 minutes.
When the time is up, take the pan off the heat and leave to rest for 5-10 minutes (do not open the lid).
Meanwhile, you can get your station ready. Retrieve the azuki bean paste balls from the refrigerator. Fill one small bowl with cold water, have the sakura and leaves ready on a separate plate, and lastly, have a clean plate to place your finished product on.
Dampen a fresh tea towel or cloth (to place over the saucepan, which will also be covered with a lid, to ensure that the rice does not dry out) and open the lid. Add the sugar before using a pestle to grind the rice into a paste (try to reserve a few rice grains as I think they look beautiful with some texture). Place the damp cloth over the saucepan and then place the lid on top of this.
Now you are ready to assemble.
Using a tablespoon (the rice is very hot), open the lid and scoop out 1/8th of the rice and place onto a plate (always replace damp cloth and lid after opening as quickly as possible). Wash your hands with the bowl filled with cold water and begin moulding the rice with your hands (note: the water stops the rice from sticking too much to your skin). Take an azuki bean paste ball and place into the centre of each rice ball before covering over with the rice (to hide the filling). Press and turn the rice with your hands firmly a few times, before covering with a sakura leave and placing a sakura on top. Set aside and repeat the process (note: you may want to wash your hands before spooning out the rice as your hands will feel a little sticky). When all the sakura mochi are done, wrap each individually in cling film and store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Eat within 2 days.
Cooking time: 2 hours + overnight
Makes: 12 balls
Koshi-an is a smooth anko (azuki bean paste) as opposed to tsubu-an, which is textured. I’ve chosen to make the smooth paste here, however, if you want something a little more chunkier, simply follow the recipe until the beans are easily squashed between two fingers. Instead of draining and placing in a blender, continue to cook the beans on the stove. Add the sugar and allow to thicken, stirring continuously, until you are able to see the bottom of the pan for a couple of seconds after you have stirred the paste. Add the salt and stir a few more times before turning off the heat and allowing it to cool before placing in an air-tight container or separating into portions for freezer bags to be used later. Use within a week if stored in a refrigerator, or freeze for approximately 3 weeks.
250g dried azuki beans
220g granulated sugar
1/4cup water, plus extra (as required)
pinch of salt
The night before (or at least 8-12 hours prior to cooking), place the dried beans into a bowl of cold water to soak. The next morning, pour the beans through a sieve and rinse, before placing in a sauce pan. Cover with water, ensuring the water level is 1 inch higher than the beans, before bringing to a boil, turning off the heat and covering with a lid for 5 minutes.
Remove the lid and drain the water from the saucepan. Pour new water over the beans (just enough to cover), before bringing to a boil over a high heat and turning the heat down to a medium low. Allow to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are easily squashed between two fingers (note: you will need to pour more water into the pan intermediately as it will evaporate).
Once cooked, which may take up to 1 hour, drain the beans and place in a blender. Blend the beans, adding a couple of tablespoons of water at a time to aid in the mixing and until the paste is relatively smooth and resembles thick custard. Place in a fine meshed sieve and push through with a wooden spoon into a clean saucepan.
Turn the heat on once again to a medium/high and add the sugar to the paste in the saucepan. Stir continuously until the sugar is dissolved and the paste thickens (you should be able to see the bottom of the pan for a couple of seconds when you stir). Add the salt and stir a few more times before turning off the heat and allowing it to cool before placing in an air-tight container or separating into portions for freezer bags to be used later (in either case, I usually roll out the 12 balls now). Use within a week if stored in a refrigerator, or freeze for approximately 3 weeks.
Thank you for reading.