Cherry Blossoms in Rice: Sakura Gohan

Breathtaking beautiful, but only for a short moment. Cherry-blossoms are known for its short but brilliant blooming season, a natural process that not only symbolizes the start of spring but also metaphorically describes transience of human life. Two weeks until the delicate pink and white petals return to earth like snowflakes in the wind.

Last year I wrote about the Japanese custom to serve cherry blossom tea at weddings. Every time I remember that custom I am filled with the grace of Japanese politeness, which you can glean here.

A different and very common culinary use for salted cherry blossoms is sakura gohan (rice mixed with salted cherry blossoms). Wonderful to take with you for a Hanami picnic, but equally wonderful to be served at home for dinner. For tonight I decided to double the cherry blossom experience and shape our sakura gohan into a cherry blossom itself.

Cherry Blossoms Kirschblüten Reis


The cherry blossom mold equals one portion of rice which is about ½ a Japanese cup (100ml) of uncooked rice. Due to the salt the rice keeps well at room temperature, so you can easily make the sakura gohan cherry blossoms ahead of time and keep it covered at room temperature until the rest of the food is ready to eat.

Rice with cherry blossoms: Ingredients (Japanese rice, salted cherry blossoms, rice mold)
Rice with cherry blossoms: Ingredients (Japanese rice, salted cherry blossoms, rice mold)
  • ½  200ml-cup             Japanese rice
  • 120 ml                          Water
  • 1 Tbsp.                         Chopped, salted cherry blossoms
  • 1                                    salted cherry blossom for decoration (optional)

Method for making cherry blossom rice

Wash the rice well, cook it in a rice cooker or on the stove and leave it to steam with the lid closed for another 15 to 20 minutes after it is done cooking.

Making of cherry blossom rice 1: Sprinkle chopped cherry blossoms onto the cooked, hot rice
Sprinkle chopped cherry blossoms onto the cooked, hot rice

Shake off some of the salt from the cherry blossoms and chop them finely. Keep the salt for another use (remember mottainai – nothing goes to waste in the Japanese kitchen). The salt from the cherry blossoms has a wonderful scent and tastes delicious as a finishing salt on grilled fish.

Making of cherry blossom rice 2: Forming a ball of rice
Forming a ball of rice

After the rice is done steaming you should fluff it up and sprinkle the chopped cherry blossoms on top. Now you carefully work the cherry blossoms in the rice, ideally using a shamoji (a plastic or wooden spoon for rice). Make sure to use cutting and folding motions to avoid the rice to become mush. That’s it. Serve your sakura gohan directly in rice bowls or shape them to your liking into onigiris, logs or cherry blossoms.

Making of cherry blossom rice 3: Put the rice in the wet (!) rice mold
Put the rice in the wet (!) rice mold

Introducing onigiri in more detail has long been on the editorial schedule for this blog. So if you are interested to read about the different kinds of onigiri, how to make them and some of the fillings, I invite you to subscribe to the newsletter.

In order to make sakura gohan in the shape of a cherry blossom you need to have a cherry blossom mold.

Making of cherry blossom rice 4: Make sure to gently press the rice in the corners
Make sure to gently press the rice in the corners

Make sure that both – your hands as well as the mold are wet, otherwise the rice will stick to both and shaping it neatly will not be possible. Gently form a ball with the rice in your hands and drop it into the mold. Use your fingertips to help the rice into the corners, put on the lid and apply gentle pressure.

Making of cherry blossom rice 5: Gently press down the rice
Gently press down the rice

Lift the lid and double check that the rice fills the entire mold. Decorate the top with a single cherry blossom if you like and give the rice a final, gentle press with the lid. To release the rice from the mold hold the lid down with your thumbs while your fingers lift the mold up. Now wiggle off the lid to make sure not to ruin the shape and serve your sakura gohan-cherry blossom.

See the pictures below for more details on the process:

Making of cherry blossom rice 6: Add one cherry blossom for decoration (optional) and give the rice a final press
Add one cherry blossom for decoration (optional) and give the rice a final press
Making of cherry blossom rice 7: Lift the lid body of the mold with your fingers while pressing down the lid with your thumbs
Lift the lid body of the mold with your fingers while pressing down the lid with your thumbs
Making of cherry blossom rice 8. Take off the body of the rice mold
Take off the body of the rice mold
Making of cherry blossom rice 9: Gently wiggle the lid of the rice mold off the rice
Gently wiggle the lid of the rice mold off the rice
Making of cherry blossom rice 10: Now its time for plating
Now its time for plating


Nothing goes to waste: Tskudani from left over kombu

It is often the little things that touch your heart. Little things that become very special for one reason or another. Little things that don’t have a real value but a history that makes them invaluable. One of those precious items that I am referring to is in my sensei’s fridge. Whenever Elizabeth is making dashi she pulls out a little plastic box, decorated with tiny flowers all over. A container that she got from a person that means a lot to her and who has also used it to store the kombu from making dashi. Each time I take my kombu from the strainer to put it in a random, ordinary container I am pulled back into Elizabeth’s kitchen and I can hear her say ‘when the lid doesn’t fit anymore it is time to do something with it’.

Yukari: already powdered on the left and sun dried after making my ume-boshi (pickled plums)
Yukari: Already powdered on the left and sun dried after making my ume-boshi (pickled plums) on the right

Saving the kombu when you make dashi is a very good idea. Not only is it frugal and serves Japanese sense of Mottainai*, you would also miss out on a wonderful opportunity to create something delicious. As I mentioned last week, this time I remembered to take pictures when making a staple food from left over kombu in my house: Tskudani. A soy-simmered kombu relish that I paired with some of my girls’ most favorite seasoning: Yukari.

Ingredients: Kombu, Soy Sauce, Mirin, Sugar and Yukari (not pictured: sake and vinegar)
Ingredients: Kombu,  mirin, sugar, soy sauce and yukari (not pictured: sake and vinegar)

Ingredients for 1 jar Tskudani (ca. 100 ml)

Step 1: Tenderizing the kombu

  • ca. 6-7 pieces Kombu (each ca. 5 x 10 cm) from making dashi
  • 500 ml Water
  • 50 ml (ordinary/ low grade) vinegar

Step 2: Making the Relish

  • Tenderized Kombu from step 1
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • a good Splash of sake
  • 50 ml Mirin
  • 60 -70 ml Soy sauce
  • 1 EL Yukari powder


For the first step cut the kombu into bite size pieces.

Left over combo from making dashi
Left over kombu from making dashi

I usually cut my kombu into 2 cm squares when preparing it with yukari, Bring the water to a boil over high heat (ideally in a non-reactive pan). Add the vinegar and the kombu and cook for about 5-6 minutes or until you can pinch it easily with a fingernail. I find the kombu from Japan needs less time than the kombu from Korea that I bought in Germany, so be prepared to check doneness of your kombu a few times more when you do this dish for the first time, When the kombu is tender, drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water.

Kombu cut into bite-size pieces
Kombu cut into bite-size pieces

Put the kombu from step 1 in a clean pot and add sake, mirin and soy sauce. Simmer over low heat, reducing the liquid until it is almost gone. Pay close attention, because this happens quite quickly and has a tendency to scorch. When the kombu is glazed, add the yukari and transfer it into a clean glass jar.


Mottainai (もったいない?, [mottainai]) is a Japanese term conveying a sense of regret concerning waste. The expression “Mottainai!” can be uttered alone as an exclamation when something useful, such as food or time, is wasted, meaning roughly “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste. … Mottainai has been referred to as a tradition, a cultural practice, and an idea which is still present in Japanese culture, which has become an international concept…”

Source: Wikipedia

Miso Soup: The difference between good and great

Last week I wrote about the beauty of a steaming bowl of miso soup, but realized that I haven’t given you a recipe for miso soup yet. The good news is that you are already 90% there if you know how to make good dashi. The basic stock that is heart and soul of Japanese cuisine. Good dashi is important and if you ever wondered why your miso soup didn’t taste great in the past, dashi is the first thing I advise you to look at. Even though making dashi is easy and fast, there are few tips and tricks you want to be aware of to take it from good to great. Take a moment to look at the recipe and the instructions here, in case you haven’t had a chance to read it yet.

Some of my favorite miso from Osaka
Some of my favorite miso from Osaka

The basic miso soup, also called misoshiru, is made from two ingredients: dashi and miso. And you can add whatever you like or have in your fridge/pantry (see below for ideas). No other seasonings necessary, especially no additives and certainly no MSG ((monosodium glutamate) or other flavor enhancer! So if you have used miso soup or instant dashi in the past you are in for a treat.

Not convinced because Katsuo Bushi (bonito flakes) are relatively expensive outside of Japan? Your are right, the prices that I have seen were quite high, but this wouldn’t be an article from me if I wouldn’t point out that nothing goes to waste in the Japanese kitchen. And as such both, the Kombu and the Katsuo Bushi can be reused to make other dishes, which makes the price more bearable. In fact I made Furikake (a seasoning for rice) and Tskudani (a relish) just this week and this time I remembered to take pictures, so you will get the recipes soon on this blog. If you haven’t already, subscribe to the weekly newsletter and you won’t miss them.

In contrast to eating Japanese food at room temperature, miso soup is always served piping hot, so it is the last thing that you prepare for your meal. But don’t be tempted to prepare miso soup ahead of time and quickly bring it to a boil just before you are ready to eat. You would destroy not only the flavor but also the nutrients. You can and should make the dashi, ahead of time and you can pre-cook the vegetables in it early on as well, but the key to good miso soup is to add the miso at the very end, and don’t let it come to a boil after that.

Ingredients for 1 miso soup (ca. 250 ml)

  • 250 ml         Dashi
  • 1 EL             Miso
  • extra ingredients, cut into bite size pieces


Miso varies widely in consistency, flavor and saltiness. Especially the salt level is what you should be aware of when making your miso soup. The worst thing you can do is to add too much in the beginning. The general rule of thumb is about 1 El per ¼ l (250 ml) dashi, but with a very salty red miso you might need less.

My miso koshi with a whisk
My miso koshi with a whisk

Heat up the dashi, and simmer any hard ingredients, such as potatoes or carrots. Add the softer ingredients that only need a short cooking time like e.g. tofu just before (ca. 1 min) the hard ingredients are tender. Take the dashi, from the heat to add the miso to the soup.

While the dashi, heats up add the ingredients into the soup bowls that don’t need extra cooking time, but will be refined through the retained heat of the soup (e.g. reconstituted wakame seaweed).

Final Dish
Final miso soup with wakame, turnip, carrot and chives

Add the miso when you are ready to serve the soup. There are two common ways to do that. One is to mix the miso with a bit of the hot dashi, in a ladle or bowl until the miso is dissolved and stir it into the soup afterwards. I prefer to use a miso koshi (a fine, deep strainer with a long handle) and an ordinary whisk. I take out the miso from the pack with a clean whisk and mix it directly into the soup through the miso koshi. Both ways avoid lumps in the soup. Ladle the soup in the bowls and serve immediately.

Ideas for Ingredients according to their cooking time*

Directly into the soup bowl

Short cooking time

Long cooking time

Reconstituted wakame Fresh Tofu Potatoes, sweet potatoes
Tops of enoki mushrooms Stems of enoki mushrooms Fresh shiitake mushrooms
Chives Green onion Leek
Mitsuba, young celery greens Snow peas Green beans

*The exact cooking time varies according to the size of the cut vegetable.

Five Points to remember:

  1. Take good dashi
  2. Add the ingredients to the dashi, or soup bowl according to their cooking time
  3. Remember that each miso has a different salt level and start with less miso than you think is necessary
  4. Dissolve the miso before putting it into the soup or use a miso koshi
  5. Never let miso soup boil after adding the miso and serve it immediately

What can you do with old Miso?

A steaming bowl of miso soup – for the most Japanese a piece of home and the essence of nourishment. A steaming bowl of evoking memories of childhood, family and tradition. It is likely that the number of ‘traditional’ miso soups equals the number of families in Japan and every sip of that soup functions like a time machine back into mom’s kitchen. So the ‘traditional’ miso soup is not only a nutritional powerhouse, but also full to the brim with taste and emotional memories.

A colourful bowl of miso soup
A colourful bowl of miso soup

Miso is one of the two major elements in miso soup, but it is certainly not the only use for this super food. Miso is an essential staple in the Japanese diet and is widely used in preparing dips and sauces, marinades (take a look here for a recipe) or in pickling and it also lends its flavor to wonderful deserts. Even though miso is so versatile, it happens that a pack is sitting in the fridge longer than aroma-wise beneficial (yes, you should keep your miso in the fridge to slow down deterioration). So what to do which ‘old’ miso? Throw it out? Of course not, because nothing goes to waste in the Japanese kitchen!

Here and now is not the time and place for an extensive, scientific essay on miso that has filled hundreds of pages in various books (see the link to a free download below)*. But generally speaking miso is a fermented food product with the fermentation process itself having the potential to function as a natural preservative. Miso also contains quite an amount of salt that acts as a natural preservative. So all in all, miso can be kept for a long time. It will not go bad easily, but once opened it will loose its aroma rather quickly.  So when you tend to use more than one type of miso or don’t use miso on a daily basis you’ll be likely to end up with some miso sitting in your fridge longer than two weeks. For me personally two weeks is about the cut off date for the aroma, but that is personal preference. I do know people that consider four weeks to be ok for them. Test it and trust your taste to find out what works best for you.

Version 2
Pickled turnips with neri miso as a dip

Whenever you find your miso has become old, it is time to rejuvenate it. Add some aromas and some dashi to create a wonderful sauce that works as good as a dip for fresh vegetables (e.g. cucumber, celery) as it does as a scalloped topping on tofu or wheat gluten or even thinned with dashi as a sauce to pan-fried vegetables. Miso prepared this way is called neri miso and means ‘stirred miso’. It is usually made from red miso (aka miso), though i have successfully experimented with all kinds of miso. Today’s recipe is a basic version of this sauce. Stay tuned for more options how to further pimp neri miso with herbs and nuts in the coming weeks.

Ingredients for one jar (ca. 125 ml)

  • ca 100 g    red miso
  • 20-30 g     sugar
  • 30-50 ml   sake
  • 30-50 ml  water or (kombu) dashi


Miso varies widely in consistency, flavor and saltiness, so the measurements for sake, sugar and water/dashi are guidelines only. When making neri miso start by using the lowest quantities and adjust consistency and taste to your liking, should it be necessary.

Version 2
Scalloped neri miso on fried tofu

Combine all the ingredients in a pot and mix them until they are blended well. If you have, use a deep pot, because the sauce tends to splatter. Reduce the sauce on medium heat, stirring constantly (!) until the consistency is creamy again. Don’t be tempted to reduce it too much, because neri miso will thicken in the cooling down process, so take this into consideration. Now is a good time to carefully (it is very hot!) taste your neri miso and adjust the flavor. Let the neri miso cool down and fill it in a clean and disinfected jar.


* Tip:

  1. Add ginger juice while the neri miso cools down for a quick twist on the basic recipe
  2. If you want to dive deeper into the history, the science, nutrition of miso, you may be interested in the free pdf-download of the ‘Book of Miso’ by William Shurtleff & Akiko Aoyagi