Guys, I had the best day the other day! My sweet friend Ai invited me over to make lunch together. Her youngest daughter, Ako, checked in on us periodically to make sure everything was going smoothly. Ako-chan is a sassy three-year-old. This goofy little girl loves Cinderella, Curious George, and watching cooking shows.
Ai’s older daughter, Riko, unfortunately had school (stupid school). Riko-chan speaks English with a perfect American accent and makes beautiful origami.
It was Girls’ Day (or Doll’s Day, hinamatsuri in Japanese), a day when people pray for the safety of children. Japanese families display beautiful dolls representing the Empress and Emperor of Japan and sometimes even their royal court. They tend to be very elaborate and ornate, and are passed down from generation to generation. There are also certain dishes that are traditional for Girls’ Day, so we made a few of them and had our own little party.
Our main course was chirashizushi, or scattered sushi. It’s a beautiful bowl of seasoned sushi rice with lots of toppings. First, we cooked very thin egg “crepes” and cut them into the most narrow chiffonade ever.
Then we formed a nest of sorts on top of the rice with the fluffy egg. We also cut up sushi-grade salmon, blanched snow peas, and shiso leaves and scattered them over the egg. Every family has their own version, and Ai’s reflects her international background with the addition of small avocado cubes. Finally, we scooped little spoonfuls of salty ikura, or salmon roe, and nestled them into the toppings. The colors were just spectacular, and the roe had a jewel-like glow to it.
Another traditional Girls’ Day dish is a simple clam soup, called asari no osuimono. We cooked tiny clams in water with a piece of kombu (kelp). The clams opened up and released their briny juices into the broth. The resulting soup tasted like the ocean in the most delicious way. A splash of soy sauce added a little complexity, and a sprinkle of green onions offered a crisp textural contrast to the chewy clams.
I had mentioned that I love a really traditional Japanese spinach and sesame dish, so we also made hourensou no goma-ae. It’s surprisingly easy to make, and you can also prepare green beans, broccoli, rapini or broccoli rabe with the same dressing. It’s definitely one of those dishes that I’ll make for the rest of my life! Ai agreed to let me share the recipe here, so I hope you enjoy it as well.
Pink is another common theme for Girls’ Day, and both Ai and Ako-chan were wearing pink (I missed the memo). Ai also made a pink dessert for us: the lightest strawberry mousse with a touch of whipped cream and a beautiful, fresh greenhouse strawberry. It was the perfect lunchtime dessert! Thank you for a lovely afternoon, Ai and Ako!
- 3 tablespoons ground sesame seeds
- ½ tablespoon sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 bunch of spinach, thoroughly washed
- Fill a large pot with water and salt generously. Bring to a boil.
- While the water is coming to a boil, prepare an ice bath. Place the sesame seeds in a medium microwavable bowl and microwave on high for about 45 seconds. Add the sugar and soy sauce to the sesame, stirring well to combine.
- Blanch the spinach for about 2 minutes. Shock the spinach in the ice bath.
- Squeeze well to remove the water. Cut the spinach into 2-inch pieces.
- Toss the spinach with the dressing.
- You can serve this dish warm, at room temperature, or cold. It’s great in lunch boxes because it is delicious at any temperature!
One year ago: St. Patrick’s Day party straws and whipped ricotta crostini.
Two years ago: Rosemary focaccia. One of my go-to recipes, takes about 4.5 hours from start to finish (and most of that is inactive time. Not bad for homemade bread!)