Fresh Soy Milk Sheets (Nama Yuba)

2 cups soy milk, preferably rich (with a high soy-solid content) and freshly extracted
½ teaspoon wasabi paste
Soy sauce or Vegan Seasoned Soy Concentrate

Ideally, your stove top provides a low but steady source of cooking heat. Place a 7- or 8-inch shallow skillet or pan, preferably nonstick, over low heat for about 1 minute. Slowly pour the soy milk into the warm pan. It should be about ¼ inch deep. Adjust the heat to the lowest possible setting and allow the soy milk to heat undisturbed.

After several minutes, you will notice the surface of the soy milk beginning to thicken. At this point, the temperature of the soy milk will probably be 140°F. Using an uchiwa (Japanese fan) or a flat piece of cardboard (about 8 by 11 inches), gently fan the air above the pan to cause a drop in air temperature; this, in turn, will cool the surface of the warm soy milk. When the surface of the soy milk cools but the liquid beneath is still warm, wrinkles will form and the surface will thicken, making sheets of nama yuba.

Using a thick chopstick (or wooden knitting needle), scoop under and lift up the sheet and drape it across a small serving plate. Choose a dark or brightly colored plate for a dramatic presentation. Continue to fan, scoop, and lift sheets, arranging 2 or 3 of them slightly overlapping each other on each plate. You should be able to pull at least 8 sheets, and possibly 12 or more, from 2 cups soy milk. The sheets will be wrinkled, not smooth.

Set a small mound of the wasabi on, or near, the fresh yuba. Pour a small amount of soy sauce into individual dipping bowls. Each diner dissolves wasabi to taste in his or her soy sauce before grasping a yuba sheet, dipping it in the sauce, and enjoying.

Sources: Kansha

Gizan Zenrai (儀山善来) – Japanese Death Poem

Died on the twenty-eighth day of March, 1878 at the age of seventy-seven

I was born into this world
I leave it at my death.
Into a thousand towns
My legs have carried me,
And countless homes—
What are all these?
A moon reflected in the water
A flower floating in the sky
Ho!

“Ho!” is a translation of the word totsu, a kind of challenging cry uttered at the moment of enlightenment.”

Sources: Japanese Death Poems

Green Tea (Matcha) Ice Cream

⅓ cup sugar
⅓ cup cold water
½ teaspoon mirin
2 teaspoons matcha
½ cup whole milk
½ cup half-and-half

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water. Stir the mixture over low heat to melt the sugar and then continue to simmer for about 5 minutes, or until a bit syrupy. Add the mirin, stir, and remove the pan from the heat.

In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the warm syrup and the matcha and stir until dissolved. Return this sweet tea concentrate to the saucepan and stir until completely blended. To retain optimal aroma and ensure an intense jade color, do not reheat the mixture. Stir in the milk and half-and-half and mix thoroughly.

If you are using an ice-cream maker:

Pour the tea-and-milk mixture into the machine and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for making a soft-set ice cream. For most models, about 10 minutes of chilling and churning should suffice. Pour the semifrozen mixture into a 3-cup freezer-safe container with a snug-fitting lid. Tap the container gently on a countertop to force out any air bubbles that might be trapped below the surface. Cover and freeze for at least 2 hours, or until firm throughout.

If you are using a blender, electric mixer, or whisk and freezer trays:

Pour the tea-and-milk mixture into a flat, shallow freezer-safe container, filling it no more than two-thirds full (the mixture will expand). Tap the container gently on a countertop to force out any air bubbles that might be trapped below the surface. Cover and freeze for 1½ hours, or until nearly firm. Transfer the semifrozen mixture to a blender and pulse in a few short spurts. Or, with a handheld electric mixer or a whisk, whip the mixture vigorously in a deep bowl. Return the mixture to the same container, re-cover, and freeze again for another 45 minutes, or until firm (but not rock-hard) throughout. Repeat the blend or whip step one more time to achieve a silkier texture.

The final ice cream should be smooth but not too hard. When ready to serve, transfer one or two scoops to pre-chilled bowls. The jade color of the ice cream makes for a dramatic presentation against black tableware.

Sources: Washoku

Japanese Teas After Matcha

The vast majority of tea consumed in Japan is, and historically has been, green tea. But there are many different options that fall under the “green” category, varying based on qualities like the time of harvest, how much sun the leaves have seen, how the tea is processed, and what parts of the plant are used in the final product.

SENCHA: The most commonly consumed tea in Japan, sencha consists of green tea leaves that have been grown in full sunlight. Meaning simmered tea, sencha is delicate, mild, and slightly floral. It should be brewed for 2 minutes in simmering water (160 to 170° F).

GYOKURO: This high-end tea is made from first-flush green tea leaves grown partially in the shade. Sweet and mild, it should be brewed for about 3 minutes in relatively cool water (120 to 140° F).

BANCHA: This lower grade of sencha is harvested later in the year, and can include some stems in with the leaves. Its flavor is more robust and astringent than delicate sencha. It should be brewed for 1 to 3 minutes in simmering water (160 to 170° F).

HOJICHA: A reddish-brown tea made by roasting bancha in a clay pot over charcoal (most Japanese teas are steamed), hojicha is a roasty, nutty, mellow tea, low in caffeine, typically served during or after an evening meal. It should be brewed for about 1 minute in simmering water (160 to 170° F).

GENMAICHA: Genmaicha refers to any combination of dried green tea and toasted genmai rice grains, the latter of which provides the beverage with a nutty depth to offset the tea’s natural astringency. It can be made with sencha, bancha, or gyokuro tea and sold premixed or created on your own at home. Brew it for 1 minute in water at a steep simmer (185° F).

KUKICHA: Also known as twig tea, this blend of tea leaves, stems, and twigs is available as both a green tea and in roasted, oxidized form. Creamy and mild, it should be brewed for 3 minutes in simmering water (160 to 170° F).

MUGICHA: Not technically a tea at all, mugicha is made from roasted barley. This caffeine-free beverage is traditionally served cold as a summer drink in Japan; outside of Japan, it’s popular as a coffee substitute. Brewing conditions needn’t be as fussy for mugicha as for green teas, but plan to steep it for about 2 minutes in simmering water (160 to 170° F).

Sources: Kyotofu

Masaharu Morimoto Inspired Shrimp, Chicken and Fish Chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し)

3 cups Dashi (dried fish and kelp stock)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon usukuchi (Japanese light-colored soy sauce), plus 1 tablespoon
2 teaspoons mirin (sweet rice wine)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
4 large eggs
8 thin, bite-size slices boneless skinless chicken thigh (from 1 small thigh)
One 3-ounce fillet delicate white-fleshed fish, such as fluke or flounder, cut into 8 thin bite-size slices
4 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
8 drained canned gingko nuts or 4 jarred or vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts, halved
¼ cup loosely packed very roughly chopped mitsuba, thinly sliced scallions or thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms

Combine the dashi, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the usukuchi, the mirin, and salt in a small pot, bring to a boil, then let cool completely.
Gently mix the eggs in a medium bowl so they’re well mixed but don’t develop bubbles. Pour in the dashi mixture, stir well, then strain into a measuring cup, discarding any solids.

Briefly toss the chicken, fish, and shrimp in a bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce, shake to let any excess drip off, and divide them among the 4 small bowls or ramekins. Divide the gingko nuts among the bowls or ramekins, then divide the egg mixture evenly among them and cover with foil.

Line a wide, shallow-lidded pot or a Dutch oven with a paper towel. Add 1 inch of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Carefully add the bowls to the pot and cover with the lid. Cook until the custard turns pale, 3 to 4 minutes, then carefully remove the bowls from the pot. Add the mitsuba, scallion or shiitake mushroom to the surface of the custard and re-cover with the foil.

Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, return the bowls to the water, and cover the pot with the lid so it’s slightly ajar. Cook until the custard is just set but still jiggles when you shake the bowls (or a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean), 12 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Shunryu Suzuki On Bowing in Zen

“By bowing we are giving up ourselves. To give up ourselves means to give up our dualistic ideas. So there is no difference between zazen [meditation] practice and bowing.

Usually to bow means to pay our respects to something which is more worthy of respect than ourselves. But when you bow to Buddha you should have no idea of Buddha, you just become one with Buddha, you are already Buddha himself.

When you become one with Buddha, one with everything that exists, you find the true meaning of being. When you forget all your dualistic ideas, everything becomes your teacher, and everything can be the object of worship.

When everything exists within your big mind, all dualistic relationships drop away. There is no distinction between heaven and earth, man and woman, teacher and disciple.

Sometimes a man bows to a woman; sometimes a woman bows to a man. Sometimes the disciple bows to the master; sometimes the master bows to the disciple. Sometimes the master and disciple bow together to Buddha. Sometimes we may bow to cats and dogs.

In your big mind, everything has the same value. Everything is Buddha himself. You see something or hear a sound, and there you have everything just as it is. In your practice you should accept everything as it is, giving to each thing the same respect given to a Buddha. Here there is Buddhahood. Then Buddha bows to Buddha, and you bow to yourself. This is the true bow.”

~ Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

What Are Japanese Death Poems?

“In Japan, as elsewhere in the world, it has become customary to write a will in preparation for one’s death. But Japanese culture is probably the only one in the world in which, in addition to leaving a will, a tradition of writing a “farewell poem to life” (jisei) took root and became widespread. If we examine the wills left by the Japanese throughout their history, we occasionally find instructions and appeals to survivors concerning their moral or social conduct; usually, however, wills deal only with the division of property. It has been suggested, then, that the death poem is perhaps a kind of salutation. The Japanese learn hundreds of polite forms of address so as to be prepared for every possible social situation, and status and prestige are measured, to a great extent, by one’s ability to find the greeting most appropriate to the circumstances. Should we then regard death poems as a final salute to those who remain alive, the last act of politeness? In fact, death poems reveal that before death, the Japanese tend rather to break the restraints of politeness that hold them back during their lifetime; we must comb through hundreds of death poems in order to find one or two written in the style customary for polite greetings. Neither material nor social concerns come to the fore. Death poems seem to reflect, more than anything else, the spiritual legacy of the Japanese.

Dokyo Etan (道鏡慧端) – Japanese Death Poem

Dokyo, also known as Shoju Ronin, lived most of his life in a hut and refused to join the large monasteries. He saw in zazen, Zen meditation, the essence of the Zen way and used to deal harshly with believers who sought him out to hear so-called Zen doctrine. He would occasionally even draw his sword on them and drive them away, in keeping perhaps with his samurai origin. He is said to have once pushed the Zen master Hakuin from the pulpit when the latter rose to speak, whereupon Hakuin fainted from the force of the blow. For as long as Hakuin dwelt with him, Dokyo showed him no preference, and made him beg from door to door for his portion of rice like the other monks.

Dokyo wrote his last words while seated in the upright Zen position. Then he put down his brush, hummed “an ancient song” to himself, suddenly laughed out loud, and died.

Died on the sixth day of the tenth month, 1721 at the age of eighty.

Here in the shadow of death it is hard
To utter the final word.
I’ll only say, then,
“Without saying.”
Nothing more,
Nothing more.

Sources: Japanese Death Poems

Matcha Crème Brûlée

2 cups heavy whipping cream
⅔ cup granulated sugar, plus more for sprinkling
5 teaspoons matcha powder
1 cup soy milk
6 large egg yolks

Preheat the oven to 325° F. In a small saucepan set over medium heat, whisk together 1 cup of the heavy whiping cream, ⅓ cup of the sugar, and the matcha powder; stir until the matcha and sugar are well blended. Add the remaining heavy whipping cream and the soy milk and bring the mixture to a simmer. Remove from the heat.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining sugar.

Whisking constantly, gradually pour the hot milk mixture into the yolk mixture. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.

Place 6 small (7 to 10 ounce) ramekins in a high-sided baking pan and divide the custard between them. Fill the baking dish with boiling water to reach most of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Carefully transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the custard is set (it should still jigglewhen shaken).

Remove the ramekins from the water bath and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours to set.

Before serving, remove the ramekins from the refrigerator and sprinkle each surface with a layer of sugar. Using a butane kitchen torch, melt the sugar until golden-brown all over.