Friday, March 03, 2006

Hina matsuri

Today Japan celebrates Hina matsuri (Dolls festival), also called Momo no sekku (Peach festival). It's a day for young girls, whose families wish for their health and happiness by displaying hina dolls in the house.

The traditional thing to serve on this day, besides bowls of pastel-colored arare rice puffs, is gomoku chirashi, a variation of sushi where at least five ingredients of varying colors cut into confetti-like strips are folded into and scattered over vinegared rice, making for a pretty and festive dish.

I made this for my daughter who loves Japanese food, which is a bit strange to me because it is not really part of my repertoire. Since infancy she has always been partial to umami (the elusive "fifth taste" after sweet, salty, bitter and sour) which you find, for example, in dashi (broth based on dried konbu seaweed and shaved bonito flakes). In the following recipe many of the ingredient are prepared in dashi and includes shiitake, also high in umami. It's therefore no mystery that an entire oke (wooden sushi basin) was so quickly devoured.

Gomoku chirashi:

1) Cut carrots into thin strips, quarter and slice renkon (lotus root), about 2 cups each. Cook in 4 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of salt.
2) Slice 6 fresh shiitake into thin strips and cook in one cup of dashi, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of sake, until most of the liquid is absorbed.
3) Beat a large egg with 1 teaspoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of dashi, a pinch of salt and make a crepe-thin omelette. Slice into thin strips.
4) Blanch a handful of snowpeas and cut into thin strips.
5) Mix into sushi rice the following: carrots and renkon, shiitake, toasted white sesame seeds, red pickled ginger, half of the snowpeas and egg. Scatter over the remaining half of green snowpea and yellow egg, more red ginger and sprinkle with thin strips of black nori.
It is delicious the next day too when the flavors have melded although maybe not as pretty.


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