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Welcoming the Cherry Blossom Season with a Little Japanese Flair

March 27, 2011

Japanese Broiled Mackerel

It’s the first sign of spring when I see my mom and Yi Po Po, my great aunt who I consider my grandmother, make multiple trips to Home Depot and lug back bags of mulch and fertilizer. Their big project every year is to prepare the cherry tress in our yard for the blooming season that is to come. I love watching the two of them bicker back and forth debating which twig to snip and to which to keep. Their efforts pay off usually around early April, when the gloomy cold days are behind us and it is officially cherry blossom season. The once bare branches are filled with thousands of pink and white florets, the air smells a little sweet. I usually take that chance to snap a few photos not knowing when the next rainfall will wash the beautiful colors away.

Mai Hua- Cherry Blossoms

Washington D.C is known for it’s cherry blossoms season, every year there is a National Cherry Blossom Festival in the city featuring tours of the cherry blossom trail, and how traditional Japanese culture celebrates their blossoming season. With  the recent devastation in Japan, this spring has been exceptionally difficult for our family since we have family and friends who still reside in Japan. I searched for ways to help and even after making a donation to the Red Cross relief fund I still felt a bit helpless. The cherry blossom season could not have come at a better time, I wanted to honor the Japanese people and their culture and what better way than through their food.

I decided to celebrate the beginning of the cherry blossom season this weekend by exploring a few of my favorite Japanese breakfast dishes. A traditional Japanese breakfast includes steamed rice, miso soup and a variety of side dishes, such as broiled or grilled fish, tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), vegetable, pickles, seasoned nori and so on.

My brunch will consist of a salt grilled whole mackerel accompanied by a bowl of miso soup, green bean salad with creamy tofu dressing and pickled carrot and daikon slaw. Mackerel is one of the most popular fish used in the Japanese cooking repertoire, it is naturally fatty and packed full of flavor therefore is often broiled or grilled with a bit of salt and brushed with a light soy-mirin mixture. The fish is broiled for just a few minutes on both sides resulting in a crispy skin and moist and flaky flesh. Miso soup is usually offered as a free appetizer at Japanese restaurants, it’s often super salty with a few strands of seaweed sadly sitting at the bottom of the bowl. I wanted a bowl of miso soup where I can taste the dashi and seaweed flavors infused the pieces of tofu which definitely called for some homemade dashi. (You can find the Miso Soup recipe here) Both the green bean salad and pickled carrot and daikon slaw adds a nice crunch to the meal. The green bean salad is blanched and sliced then tossed with a creamy tofu and sesame dressing. I pressed a block of silken tofu through a fine mesh sieve and mixed it with the sesame seed paste, sugar, soy sauce and sake; the sesame paste really gives the salad a distinct nutty flavor.

There are a lot of components to this meal, and you may think I’m crazy for going through all this trouble just for brunch but by the time I sat down to enjoy it I had a new found appreciation for how much work goes into preparing an authentic Japanese meal. I thought this was the perfect meal to start what I hope will be a wonderful spring!

Namasu (Japanese pickled daikon radish and carrots)
adapted from Japanese Food

1/4 lb           daikon radish, shredded into 1-2 inch long strips
1/2 lb           carrot, shredded into 1-2 inch long strips
1/2 cup        dashi soup stock
1/8 cup        vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp    sugar
1/2 tbsp       sake

Pickeled Carrot Daikon Slaw Ingredients

1. Put a pinch of salt over the carrot and daikon and leave for about 20 minutes. Rinse them and squeeze to remove excess water. Put daikon and carrot strips in a large bowl. Put dashi, vinegar, sugar, and sake in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Pour the vinegar mixture over carrot and daikon, let sit for 30 minutes to marinade.

Printable Recipe

Green Bean Salad with Creamy Tofu Dressing

adapted from Asian Supper

1½ lb     fine green beans

Tofu Dressing
10 oz      silken tofu, 1 block
3 tbsp    sesame seeds
2 tbsp    granulated sugar
1 teasp   soy sauce
1 teasp   sake
fine sea salt, to serve
toasted sesame seed, to serve

Green Beans with a Creamy Tofu Dressing Ingredients

1. To prepare the tofu, place tofu between 2 heavy boards for 30 minutes or until 1/2 the original height. Drain the excess water.

Pressed Tofu

2. Wash the green beans and trim the ends. Prepare a bowl of ice cold water to shock the cooked green beans in after blanching. In pot add just enough water to cover the beans and add a little salt. Bring the water to a boil and blanch the beans in small batches for just a minute or so. Quickly remove, drop in the ice cold water bath and let cool in a strainer.

3. Meanwhile, roast the sesame seeds on a nonstick pan — they’re ready when they start popping. Grind to a rough paste using a mortar and pestle.

4. In a bowl combine the sesame paste, sugar, soy sauce, and sake. Press the tofu through a fine sieve into the bowl.

Tofu through a Sieve

5. Slice beans diagonally, 1-2 inches in length. Mix with the tofu dressing thoroughly.

6. Divide into individual servings in small dishes and garnish with toasted sesame seed and sea salt

Printable Recipe

Green Beans with a Creamy Tofu Dressing

Salt-grilled Mackerel
adapted from cook it simply
serves 2

2              mackerel, gutted and cleaned, with head on
2 tbsp     finely ground sea salt

Soy Ginger Dip
4 tbsp     dark soy sauce
2 tbsp     sugar
1 inch     piece fresh root ginger

1. To make the soy ginger dip, put the soy sauce, sugar and ginger in a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 2 – 3 minutes. Strain and set aside to cool.

2. To make the mackerel. Rinse the fish under cold water and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Slash the fish several times on both sides, cutting down as far as the bone. Sprinkle the salt on the inside and outside of the fish and rub it well into the skin. Set aside on a plate for 40 minutes in a refrigerator.

3. Thoroughly wash the fish in cold water. Insert 2 skewers along the length of the body to secure the fish in place, one above and one below the eye.


4. Cook the fish under a broiler for 5-8 minutes on each side, turning once. The skin can be basted with a little of the soy ginger dip part way through cooking.

5. To Serve: transfer the fish to a serving plate and serve with a side of carrot and daikon slaw, and soy ginger dip decoratively around it.

Printable Recipe

Japanese Broiled Mackerel


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