Kaki no Shira-ae: Persimmons in tofu sauce

Many aspects are simply wonderful about shira-ae (tofu sauce). The most compelling one is probably that it is delicious. Besides that shira-ae is easy to make. It normally doesn’t require cooking and it calls for less than five ingredients. So all you need to do is quickly whip it up. It is frugal. Perfect to use up that little piece of tofu that is left somewhere in the back of your fridge. And it is like a white T-shirt in your repertoire. Savory and sweet – both work wonderful with this healthy sauce that gets its full-bodied flavor from dashi (stock), the secret ingredient of so much Japanese food.


Suribachi (Japanese mortar) with the main ingredients
Suribachi (Japanese mortar) with the main ingredients


You will often find shira-ae paired with blanched greens like spinach or green beans. But the recipe that I will make today is a sweet type, a specialty from the Tohoku, the northernmost region of Japan’s main island Honshu. In Japan it is a typical fall-dish, but as the persimmons in Europe are just perfect right now, it’s now time for me to make it.

Ingredients: Serves 4

  • 1 big or 2 small ripe persimmons (if you want to use the fruit as a serving dish use the smaller Fuyu-type)
  • a couple of fresh leafy greens like mitsuba (Japanese Parsley), alternatively celery leaves – optional

For the shira-ae with nuts

  • 100g tofu
  • 50g walnuts
  • a drop of light (!) soy sauce (usukuchi soy sauce) to taste. Normal soy sauce would stain the dish and spoil the beautiful white color
  • a drop of mirin (sweet rice wine) to taste
  • a drop dashi (stock – use kombu dashi to make it vegan) to taste


If you use really fresh tofu you can use it as it is. If your tofu is a couple days old, you might want to blanch it for a minute in boiling water to hedge you bets with hygiene. Don’t refresh the tofu after blanching it, but let it cool on its own while you roast and grind the nuts.

Ground walnuts
Ground walnuts

Dry roast your nuts over medium heat. When they are aromatic and lightly colored, save a couple to decorate the final dish and transfer the rest to a suribachi (Japanese mortar) or food processor, whichever you prefer to use. Grind them to your preferred size before adding the tofu. I like to notice the nuts in my dish, so I will not grind them very fine.

Add tofu in little pieces
Add tofu in little pieces

Now rip the tofu in small pieces and add it to your nuts. Grind and mix until the tofu-nut-mixture is smooth and thick. If you use a food processor make sure to only pulse-process the mixture to avoid heating it up. Finally add the seasonings to your liking. Be careful though not to add too much. Shira-ae is purposely only delicately flavored to give each ingredient the opportunity to stand out and be recognized. The final sauce should have the consistency of thick yoghurt and can be kept in the fridge for about two days.

Thick, yoghurt-like shira-ae
Thick, yoghurt-like shira-ae

For the final dish, peel and cut persimmons into little, bite-size dices (dry the peels, if organically grown, and use them e.g. as fermentation seasoning). You can also cut persimmons just beneath their ‘shoulders’ and use them as a serving dish, but you will need to scoop out more persimmons for serving than to prepare the dish! Cut the stems of the mitsuba and gently mix them with the persimmons and the shira-ae just before serving it. Decorate with some roasted nuts and mitsuba-leaves and/or with the ‘lids’ of the persimmons that you scooped out.

Final dish
Final dish

As said in the beginning, shira-ae is versatile and can be used with many other ingredients. Replace persimmons with apples, pears, grapes or melons after the seasons is over for a creamy sweet indulgence.

Persimmon Peel Prominence

Almost as if they have been painted. The persimmons that just arrived not only look as though they were freshly picked, their taste tells me that they are: sweet, succulent and juicy. Irresistible, especially to my one-year old who just learns to speak. Her vocabulary is rather limited, but “Kaki” (how persimmons are called in Japan as well as Germany) and “more” is something that we hear quite often these days.

In Japan persimmon season starts a little earlier than in Europe, but right now you can get wonderful fruit at the peak of their season – in Japan called shun. Don’t be tempted to buy them in a supermarket, unless you want to be disappointed.

Unboxing persimmon-delivery
Unboxing persimmon-delivery

In a traditional Japanese kitchen nothing goes to waste and as such I not only use the flesh of persimmons. I also have a wonderful use for the peels, as long as they are organically grown. So on my mission to find persimmons that grown accordingly I came across Quiero Naranjas. Quiero Naranjas is a company, run by two brothers, that is specialized in growing tropical fruits in Valencia, Spain. They pick, very carefully wrap and ship the fruit right after your order so that you get to enjoy them when their flavors peak. The persimmons are usually ready for ordering in November, but you can witness their growth on the website all year long.

Removing the flesh from the peels
Removing the flesh from the peels

In my kitchen dried persimmons peels are a seasoning for my nuka-pot, which I use to prepare nuka-zuke. Nuka-zuke is a very traditional type of tsukemono –the Japanese way of pickling and fermenting, which will be featured here soon. To dry them I carefully shave the flesh completely off the (washed) peels before I spread them out to air-dry them above the heater for about 24 to 48 hours.

Removing the flesh from the peels
Removing the flesh from the peels
Persimmon peels ready to be dried
Persimmon peels ready to be dried

So until today, I have not managed to get anything more than the peels. The rest vanished completely in my youngest daughter’s little tummy. So I will order more. For my little one but also because there are so many wonderful dishes that I have been waiting to prepare for almost a year now and which I would like to introduce. So stay tuned for some ideas how to prepare persimmons the Japanese way.

Dried persimmon peels
Dried persimmon peels

Go shiki, Go mi, Go ho

Preparing the pictures for my next post, I cooked Harako-Meshi (Rice with salmon and salmon caviar) and integrated it into last night’s dinner. I know I still owe you an article on Washoku (Japan’s traditional food culture), what it is and how to put it into practice. Take this article as a first glimpse. Cooking according to Washoku guidelines means preparing ‘go shiki, go mi, go ho‘ – meals. Which describes meals that contain five colors, five flavors and have used five ways of preparation.
Coming back to our dinner last night. Here is what you see on the picture and how this complies to the Washoku guidelines:
Go shiki Go mi Go ho
 The Dishes (starting from the lower left)
  1. Harako-Meshi (knowing that it is actually a fall dish)
  2.  Pickles
    • Tskudani with enoki mushrooms (soy glazed kombu and mushrooms)
    • sweet and sour pink pickled myoga
    • nuke zuké (cucumbers pickled in rice bran)
  3. Chawan Mushi with green asparagus and enoki mushrooms (egg custard)
  4. Togarashi (chilli) infused quick pickles with su miso (vinegar-miso-sauce)
  5. Miso soup with snow peas, enoki mushrooms, bright colored yakifu (baked wheat gluten) and slices of fried tofu
  6. Thin, grilled slices of pork with fresh herbs (shiso, myoga, spring onions, young ginger), drizzled with a wasabi infused soy sauce
Five Colors:
  1. yellow: Chawan Mushi, su miso
  2. red: pink pickled myoga, fresh myoga, salmon and salmon caviar
  3. green: fresh herbs, cucumbers, aspargus, quick pickles, wasabi, snow peas
  4. white: enoki mushrooms, daikon (Japanese Radish) in the quick pickles
  5. black: Tskudani
Five Flavors:
  1. sweet: miso, pink pickled myoga
  2. salty: all dishes
  3. sour: nuka zuké, pink pickled myoga, su miso
  4. bitter: fresh herbs
  5. spicy: wasabi infused soy sauce, quick pickles with togarashi
Five Methods of Preparation:
  1. steamed: Chawan Mushi, rice
  2. simmered: miso soup, Tskudani, salmon
  3. seared: pork
  4. fried: fried tofu
  5. raw: quick pickles, nuke zuké, salmon caviar

Plums not Tulips

It was way too warm in Tokyo the past weeks, it felt more like spring and I must admit that I was tempted to decorate my home with the first tulips in happy anticipation of spring. Already two weeks ago I also saw the first mountain vegetables for sale that usually come to market middle of February.

First Plum blossom of the year in our garden
First Plum blossom of the year in our garden

Very odd. But to straighten the seasons winter has kicked in this week and almost suppressed all the happy spring feelings. Almost, but not quite, as this morning I saw the first fully open plum blossom in my garden. I know that plum trees are supposed to bloom when there is still snow on the branches, but nevertheless for me they are a sign that spring is not very far away anymore.

Celebrating this finding I spontaneously decided to make my girls umé boshi onigigi (hand pressed rice balls with pickled plum) for their lunchbox today.

Yukari onigiri with umé boshi
Yukari Onigiri with umé boshi

I mixed warm rice (thanks to the programming function of my rice cooker) with freshly roasted white sesame seeds and yukari, which are the red shiso leaves that are dried and pulverized after they have been used in the pickling of umé boshi (pickled plums)*. They are utterly delicious and have a subtle sour and salty plum flavor. My girls are addicted to onigiri with yukari and my oldest one even insisted to shape her own onigiri this morning. She lately enjoys to eat the umé boshi as well, even though they can be quite sour, so we added a little bit of it in the center.

Yukari: Dried and pulverized red shiso leaves after pickling umé boshi
Yukari: Dried and pulverized red shiso leaves after pickling umé boshi

Yukari is especially wonderful when packing onigiri in a bento box to enjoy later, as the containing salt preserves the rice from going bad. Not that this would be an issue with todays temperatures, but when the weather gets warmer and picnics become more popular it is a good thing to do.

A word of caution though. Most of the Yukari that is sold in ordinary supermarkets in Japan contains a lot of questionable ingredients, including Monosodium Glutamate or short MSG. If you are a Japan resident or travel to Japan have a look at a store called Tomizawa.

In Japan Tomizawa Shoten sells Yukari without MSG
In Japan Tomizawa Shoten sells Yukari without MSG

Tomizawa sells Yukari without MSG (as well as other types of Furikake – dry rice seasoning). In Tokyo they have shops throughout the city, including Shinjuku Keio, Yurakucho Lumine, Futakotamagawa and Shibuya Seibu. It is a wonderful place to shop for high quality Kambutsu (dried products) and bakery ingredients. Nowadays they label their products bilingual in Japanese and English, so you shouldn’t encounter problems finding what you are looking for. And it enables you to stroll around their store and discover wonderful new products you might have not known before (like e.g. amazingly purple sweet mashed potato flakes – great if you have guests). I usually leave the store with more than what I had planned, but the good news is that we are talking about Kambutsu, which by nature have a very long shelf life, so I know that at some point I will find a good use for whatever I purchase.


* “Nothing goes to waste in the Japanese kitchen”. For me this is one oft the most important mantras in Japanese Cooking. It is simply amazing how resourceful the Japanese are when preparing their food. Starting with the resources they need for cooking to using an ingredient fully, with many ingredients having more than one use. But discussing this goes beyond the scope of this article and I will write about it in more detail in a separate post. Sign up for the newsletter if you haven’t already and you won’t miss it.

Nanakusa no Sekku

Last week was Nanakusa no Sekku, the festival of the seven herbs in Japan, that marks the end of Oshugatsu, the Japanese New Year. On this day – typically in the morning Japanese – people eat Nanakusa Gayu. This is a variation of rice porridge called okayu that is typically served to sick people, because it is soft and rather bland. With my youngest daughter being less than a year old and an addict to Japanese food, I found myself making okayu quite often in the past months and I must admit that it ranks rather low in my Japanese culinary repertoire.

Nevertheless Nanakusa Gayu is traditionally eaten on the seventh day of the new year as a simple soup made with rice and water (proportion 1:3), or a light dashi broth and seven different kinds of herbs (each having a unique health promoting property) that are quickly blanched and then finely chopped to be added at the end. The soup is meant to let the “overworked” stomach and digestive system rest and bring longevity and health in the coming year.

Traditional Nanakusa no Sekku-herbs
Traditional Nanakusa no Sekku-herbs

The traditional seven herbs that are added to the dish are:
– seri — Water Dropwort
– nazuna — Shepherd’s Purse
– gogyō — Cudweed
– hakobera — Chickweed
– hotokenoza — Nipplewort
– suzuna — Turnip
– suzushiro — Daikon

Freeze-dried Nanakusa no Sekku-herbs
Freeze-dried Nanakusa no Sekku-herbs

In Japan it is easy to source those herbs both fresh and freeze dried in conveniently packaged containers.

So instead of preparing my family food, which only my youngest daughter would appreciate, I gave it a little twist this year. I combined Nanakusa no Sekku with Sho-Chiku-Bai (pine, bamboo and plum). This threesome – “Three Friends of Winter” is one of the most popular decorative motifs (e.g. the motive on New Year’s chopsticks), representing promise and good fortune.

So I cooked the Japanese rice risotto style: Deglazing the pan with saké and adding the broth little by little while continuously stirring to bring out the creaminess. As a broth I used the liquid from braising bamboo shoots like you would when making Takénoko Gohan. And which were tossed under the rice just before serving. I added pine nuts to the herbs making a raw pesto-like paste to go on top of the rice and added a sprinkle of dried umé boshi powder on top of the dish (hard to see in the picture) to add a splash of color and palate teaser.

Our Sho-Chiku-Bai Nanakusa Gayu
Our Sho-Chiku-Bai Nanakusa Gayu

This variation of Nanakusa no Sekku was a successful experiment. Even my youngest daughter liked the rice. As she is still waiting for her first tooth to come out, there was not much more for her to try. Here is the recipe that I noted while I was cooking:

For the broth :
– 1.100 ml Dashi
–    100 ml Mirin
–    100 ml light colored soy sauce
–    450g     cooked Bamboo
–        2        Turnip
–        2        Mini-Daikon

Put dashi, mirin and soy sauce in a pot on medium heat. Add the thinly cut vegetables, cover with an otoshi buta (or alternatively with a round parchment paper) and allow for low simmering for about five minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Remove the vegetables from the soup and save for their later use.

For the Pesto*:
– 2 packages of Nanakusa no Sekku-herbs
–  70 g freshly roasted  pine nuts
– 100 ml broth
– 15 ml light colored soy sauce
– 1 pinch of salt (optional)

Mix the pine nuts and half of the broth in a blender. Add the rest of the broth bit by bit – depending on your preferred consistency. Proceed similar with the light colored soy sauce, adjusting the degree of saltiness to your liking. Light colored soy sauce is saltier than normal soy sauce, but does not stain the food. So if you substitute regular soy sauce for the light colored soy sauce, beware that it will affect the fresh, green color.

For the rice:
– 275 g    Japanese rice
– 100 ml Saké
– 750 ml broth
– 1 El        light sesame oil
– 1 Prise  Umé boshi powder

Heat the oil in the pot and add the rice, stirring it for one or two minutes until coated with the oil. Deglaze the pot with the saké and add the broth little by little. For a creamy consistency you need to stir constantly, massaging the broth into the rice until it has reached your favorite doneness (mine was al dente).

Before serving mix the cooked vegetables** in the rice and arrange it nicely on a plate. Top with the pesto and sprinkle some umé boshi powder over the dish .

We enjoyed our Sho-Chiku-Bai Nanakusa no Sekku with a glass of chilled Junmai Kimoto Saké from the Daishichi brewery, which I will be introducing in more detail in a separate post.


* The amount of pesto that I got was good for six people, whereas the rice  was for two adults, two little girls and a baby only. Next time I will cut the recipe in half.

** I used way too much bamboo for the dish. The bamboo flavored the broth nicely, but was too much to mix with the rice that I cooked. I assume that 150 g bamboo would probably have been more than enough.

Jubako Plating Plan

Some Jubakos have dividers – either flexible ones or fixed but many come without giving the most plating options. Jubakos are carefully filled, pleasing the eye as much as the food the palate. Not surprisingly those pieces of artistic arranged osechi are carefully planned upfront. Color combinations are in taken into account as much as consistency and shapes. Good practice is to do the design on paper before the filling. Here is the plan my daughter came up with yesterday for arranging osechi in her own Jubako for the next New Years Day:

My daughter's Jubako plating plan for next New Year’s Day.
My daughter’s Jubako plating plan for next New Year’s Day.

In her box she wants to include

– top: Tamagoyaki (rolled omelet)
– second from the top: Kuromamé (sweet, black soy beans)
– third from the top: Cucumbers
bottom: Onigiri (hand pressed rice) with yukari (dried red shiso leaves)

– top: Tori Niku Dango (chicken meatballs)
– second from the top: Tazukuri (candied sardines)
– 3rd and 4th compartment: Some decoration
– second from the bottom: Tataki gobo (pounded Burdock)
– bottom: Cherry tomatoes and
– next to the tomatoes: Edamamé (green soy beans).

Interestingly she has the Washoku color concept already internalized adding all five colors in her box:
– yellow with the tamagoyaki (rolled omelet),
– red with the tomatoes and the yukari
– green with the edamamé and the cucumber
– white with the rice and
– black with the kuromamé .

If you are not yet familiar with Washoku, stay tuned or subscribe to the newsletter. I will be writing about it in more detail shortly.

New Year’s Food in Japan

The turn oft the year is one of the most important holidays for families in Japan – like Christmas in Europe people go home and celebrate the turn of the years with their families. It is the time to reflect on the past year and for a fresh start into the new one. Debts are paid off and arguments are settled before the old year ends. The house gets a good clean and osechi ryori dishes are prepared before the year ends.

Jubako filled with home made osechi after sensei Elizabeth Andoh’s osechi workshop
Two Jubako layers filled with home made osechi after sensei Elizabeth Andoh’s osechi workshop

Osechi ryori (often shortened to ‘osechi’) is a subset of Japanese cuisine. An assortment of traditional dishes – each of which has a symbolic character – are served on Oshogatsu (New Year’s). As historically New Year’s day was not the time for cooking, osechi are made ahead of time, kept and eaten at room temperature. The dishes are therefore typically prepared based on ancient methods of preserving food, like curing with salt or vinegar and simmering in sweetened soy. Some of the traditional dishes are:

Tataki Gobo (pounded Burdock with sesame):
Gobo, or Burdock is a long root vegetable that symbolizes a long and stable life. When splitting the ends of gobo, like you do in this dish, it is believed that the good fortune is multiplied.

Tazukuri (candied sardines):
With the large number of tiny fish Tazukuri symbolizes a bountiful harvest as they were once used as fertilizer. Combining tiny dried sardines with a sweet coating might seem extraordinary, but they are utterly delicious.

Kohaku Namasu (red and white salad):
Typically made from daikon and carrot, this is a recurring color combination in osechi dishes, as red and white stands for happiness and celebration in Japan.

Kurikinton (creamy sweet potatoes with chestnuts):
This is a sweet, bright yellow (golden) dish that is included in the jubako to symbolize wealth and financial success.

Kurumamé (Sweet Black Soy Beans):
Those black soy beans are simmered in thick syrup – and sometimes patiently served as a couple on tiny skewers. It’s thought to have medicinal values and is a symbol of good health.

Hering Roe at my local fish monger a day before New Years.
Herring roe at my local fish monger a day before New Years.


Kazunoko (herring roe):
The roe is being cured in a light soy sauce and dashi and symbolize fertility because of the many tiny eggs.




Kohaku Kamaboko (Red and white Celebration Fish Sausage):
Rarely homemade but store-bought, Kohaku kamaboko, like Kohaku Namasu it is a traditional dish representing happiness and celebration.

Kohaku Kamaboko for sale at my local fish monger
Kohaku Kamaboko for sale at my local fish monger
Kohaku Kamaboko in its typical alternate plating
Kohaku Kamaboko in its typical alternate plating

Daté Maki Tamago (Omlet with Fish):

The golden dish symbolizes a wish for sunny days ahead. For some people it symbolizes knowledge because the rolled shape looks like a scroll. Like Kohaku Kamaboko it is nowadays rarely made at home, as a special omelet pan is necessary that is made of copper and not the everyday Teflon omelet pans.

Plated Daté Maki Tamago
Plated Daté Maki Tamago

On New Year’s day the osechi dishes are then carefully arranged in a two to three layered lacquer box, called jubako. Today ready made osechi boxes can be ordered ahead of time at ordinary supermarkets, depachikas (basement food area in Japanese department stores that carry a wide range of Japanese and international delicatessen) or restaurants. The number of zeros in the catalogue are not a mistake – prices for osechi boxes are usually a couple hundred Euros and can go up to several thousand – depending obviously on the number of persons and the prestige of the chef or producer.

Osechi-ryori boxes in Takashimaya’s 2015 catalogue, an upscale Japanese Department Store
Osechi-ryori boxes in Takashimaya’s 2015 catalogue, an upscale Japanese Department Store