Chocolate strawberry daifuku

Strawberry daifukuFor a long time I thought there was nothing better than strawberries dipped in chocolate. I was wrong. Because now I know there are strawberries dipped in chocolate and wrapped in mochi. The succulence of the strawberry and the sweetness of the chocolate combine perfectly with the chewiness of the mochi to create a taste and texture experience like no other.

Ichigo daifuku (“strawberry great fortune,” which I think is the perfect name) is often eaten in spring in Japan and is particularly associated with Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Festival). Normally people use sweet bean paste as the middle layer, not chocolate. However, to be honest, I don’t much like sweet bean paste. Besides, it’s high in FODMAPs, so now I have an excuse not to eat it. It’s not very often that low-FODMAP is convenient, so I’ll take it!

Mochi is normally pounded glutinous rice, AKA sweet rice, AKA sticky rice. (“Glutinous” does not mean it contains gluten; don’t worry.) Traditionally, people put a lot of sticky rice (which is not the same thing as the slightly sticky short-grained rice eaten with most meals in Japan) into an usu, which is a huge wooden platform of sorts with a depression on top. Then they take big wooden mallets and pound the heck out of it. (You can see a dramatic rice-pounding performance here. The men in the video are making a coloured mochi.) Don’t worry; I’m not going to make you do that. Continue reading

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Chirashi sushi

Chirashi sushiHinamatsuri, or Girls’ Festival, is in Japan something of a spring festival as well as a celebration of girls. Though I know my friends in Canada are still shivering and shovelling, spring is starting to show its face here in England. I saw my first open daffodil today as well as a bunch of little white blossoms, so I’ve been getting into the mood for some springy food.

Chirashi sushi (translates as “scattered sushi;” it’s pronounced chirashi zushi in Japanese) is basically just a layer of vinegared rice with toppings. The toppings generally include sashimi, though it’s certainly possible to make an all-cooked version. Chirashi sushi is one of the traditional foods of Hinamatsuri. These are others too, but clam soup is out in my family because my husband is allergic to shellfish, and I didn’t think it was realistic to obtain the ingredients for sakura mochi (pounded rice cakes coloured pink and wrapped in pickled cherry leaves). Chirashi sushi, however, I could do, and easily.

Chirashi sushi is, in my mind, one of the world’s most perfect dishes. It’s super easy, healthy and incredibly delicious. It’s impressive enough to be used for entertaining or just to make a family dinner feel like a special occasion. The possibilities are endless in terms of exactly what ingredients you use and how. It’s virtually impossible to screw up. Continue reading

Happy Hinamatsuri!

Hina matsuri dolls made of paperIn Japan, March 3 is Hinamatsuri, or Girls’ Festival. It’s a time when families with girls display dolls dressed in kimono, often a large number of elaborate and expensive dolls perched on a set of steps covered in red cloth. The top figures are an emperor and empress. On lower steps sit all kinds of ministers, musicians, and I don’t know what else – probably grape-peelers and bum-wipers. Each doll can cost hundreds of dollars.

We weren’t going to do that.

I did, however, want to celebrate Hinamatsuri, since my heritage is Japanese and we have two girls. So we decided to make some of the simpler Hinamatsuri food as well as emperor and empress dolls. Here’s how my four-year-old and I made the dolls. Continue reading