Sushi For Sakura Seasons

Spring in Texas means vast fields of bluebonnets, rippling in the wind like waves in the ocean. In Japan, all eyes are on a different sort of flower, filling the air itself into a sea of petals. Sakura are reaching peak season right now across the central Honshu, the main island which includes hot spots Tokyo and Kyoto. It’s the most popular time to visit either metropolis, heralding in a crush of tourists from around the world.

Why Are Sakura, AKA Cherry Blossoms, So Important?

Their aesthetic attraction needs no explanation, but there’s a deeper meaning that strikes at the core of Japanese culture. Their fleeting beauty illustrates that nothing in this world is permanent; blink and you’ll miss it. This philosophy is called “mono no aware.” Translated as “an empathy toward things”, or “a sensitivity to ephemera”, it’s also a vivid reminder to live life in the moment, or else it will pass you by.

Don’t let another sakura season pass you by. This spring, even if there are no blossoms to be found near you, host your own personal hanami and watch as sakura sushi blossoms on your plate.

Ingredients You Need To Know

I’m going to assume everyone understands the basics of sushi by now. Aside from the usual suspects, these pretty pink rolls call for a few specialty items:

  • Sakura powder: Many so-called sakura snacks cheat and use cherry flavoring with red dye. Real sakura blossoms taste nothing like their namesake fruit. Instead, the petals have a delicate floral taste, subtly sweet and lightly sour. Dried sakura blossom powder can be found online or in Japanese markets. If you want to replicate the experience with more accessible ingredients, you can swap 1 cup of the water for beet juice and add 1 teaspoon rosewater instead.
  • Umeboshi: Most people simply define these shriveled fruits as pickled plums, but there’s so much more to them than that. Unripe green plums are first fermented, introducing beneficial cultures and probiotics, then gently sun-dried, and sometimes infused with red shiso leaf. They’re powerfully sour, salty, and slightly bitter. It may be an acquired taste for some; I hated them in my early years but can’t get enough now. The best umeboshi will be sold refrigerated, as shelf-stable options will undoubtedly have added preservatives.
  • Shiso: Also called perilla, ooba, Japanese basil, or beefsteak, there’s no substitution for this unique green herb. The broad, jagged leaves are a member of the mint family, although if you ask me, they have a flavor reminiscent of toasted cumin and sharp citrus.

How Do You Make Sakura Sushi?

The unconventional shape may throw you at first. Don’t overthink it! Rather than taking a complicated mosaic approach to building a whole new art form, these sushi rolls take shape exactly the same way as your classic hosomaki.

  1. Use a thin layer of rice to cover only the bottom 1/4 of the nori. Layer three leaves of shiso and three pitted umeboshi on top.
  2. Roll it up as tightly as possible, taking care not to rip the nori. Seal the end with a light dab of water across the edge.
  3. Use a very sharp knife to cut the roll into pieces. Six is ideal; you only need five to make each flower, so consider the messiest one a mid-prep snack!
  4. Take each individual piece of sushi and use your hands to model it into a rough heart shape; pinch one end into a point, and press a divot into the opposite side, forming two bumps.
  5. Repeat with all the pieces.
  6. Arrange your sushi on a plate with the points facing inward in a circle. Garnish with an extra leaf of shiso and pickled ginger if desired.

Naturally, the best way to enjoy sakura sushi is outside on a picnic blanket while gazing skyward towards the pink petals, falling like snow. I’m happy to report that they taste every bit as good eaten inside on a cold, gloomy day, too. No matter what spring looks like for you, it’s worth taking a moment to celebrate, revive your spirit, and begin the season with a full stomach.

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Top 10 Vegan Recipes To Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

Don’t Kiss Me, I’m Not Irish

If you feel compelled to kiss random strangers for good luck on St. Patrick’s Day, I’d venture to say that you’ve taken superstitions too far. Kissing someone who is Irish is supposedly the next best thing to kissing the Blarney Stone although that’s also an act of questionable common sense. Hundreds of thousands of lips have graced that same limestone; do you really want to share those germs in a post-pandemic world?

Natural Green Cake Coloring

This year, I have ten sweet and savory vegan recipes for you to wrap your lips around instead. Full of lucky four-leaf clovers, potatoes, and glorious shades of green, any one of these treats is undoubtedly a better way to ensure good fortune. In fact, it will even grant you the “gift of gab,” since you won’t be able to stop raving about the delicious results.

Top 10 Vegan Recipes To Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

Celebrate St. Patrick's Day with the best vegan recipes that span from snacks to suppers, drinks to desserts.

Hot and Bothered Over Hot and Sour Soup

Of all the foods I crave, hot and sour soup is most commonly out of reach. Ubiquitous across Chinese restaurant menus big and small, often given away for free with a lunch combo, it’s a cruel joke that there’s no soup for me.

Traditionally a Sichuan staple, standard recipes include all the usual non-vegan pitfalls: chicken broth, beaten eggs, and sometimes thinly sliced pork. In rare instances, you may luck out and find a vegetarian option without meat, but completely vegan versions are true unicorns.

Hot and sour soup is a snap to make at home, but not without mild controversy. Truth be told, I’ve been making some version of this recipe for years on the down-low. It’s one of those everyday staples that doesn’t feel special enough to share in the spotlight, and moreover, it would undoubtedly raise the ire of culinary perfectionists for all its obvious flaws.

Authenticity be damned; no one should gatekeep good food. When I’m too tired or busy to travel to the Asian specialty store for the conventional ingredients, when I’m just trying to scrape together pantry staples to feed myself, or when I’ve simply run out of fucks to give, this is the soup I turn to.

How To Make Hot And Sour Soup More “Authentic”

  • Use bamboo shoots instead of shredded carrots
  • Swap the balsamic vinegar for black vinegar
  • Replace the shiitake mushrooms with wood ear mushrooms
  • Add dried lily buds

How To Make Hot And Sour Soup Less “Authentic” But More Accessible

  • Use vegetable stock instead of vegan chicken broth
  • Omit the plant-based egg component
  • Add green peas, diced tomatoes, or corn kernels
  • Finish with sriracha or chili oil, to taste

If you find this recipe offensive, categorically distasteful, or personally upsetting, guess what? It’s not meant for you. For everyone else trying to get a hot and sour fix with limited means: Welcome. Grab a bowl and a spoon, there’s plenty to go around.

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Apizza The Action

All apizza is pizza, but few pizzas are true apizzas- And no, that’s not a typo. Pronounced “ah-beets,” this very specific, exclusive subset of flat breads is more American than Italian by birth, not to mention an infant compared to the long-standing domination of their red sauced brethren. Leave your pepperoni in the fridge; clams are the crowning jewels on this East Coast treasure.

Clam apizza can be traced directly to Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven, Connecticut. Growing up in the tri-state area, this was the only choice when ordering pizza from a parlor. Nothing else could even remotely compare to homemade, lovingly made as a family effort on special occasions. To get your hands on Pepe’s pizza, it took almost as much effort. Place an order later than 5pm and you’d be out of luck for same day service.

What Is Clam Apizza?

Invented in the 1960s, this unconventional pairing of cheese and seafood defied all common wisdom. Littleneck clams fresh off the boat from the Rhode Island coast moved from appetizer to entree when they found a place of honor atop this white pie. Peppery olive oil soaks into every crevasse for a lusciously rich bite, accentuating the blend of gooey melted mozzarella and sharp Parmesan shavings. Garlic factors prominently along with a classic palate of oregano and crushed red pepper flakes for seasoning.

Apizza crust shares similarities with Neapolitan pizzas, but is more substantial, charred on the bottom, and crisp on the outside. This is largely a function of using brick ovens to seal the deal, pumping out face-melting temperatures that could incinerate raw dough in seconds. While home ovens can’t get nearly so hot, we have other tricks for making apizza that beats the rest.

What Makes This The Best Clam Apizza Recipe

Leave the littlenecks in the sea for this round. Thick, meaty Sugimoto donko shiitake have already proven their keep as decadent baked clams, after all. Sprinkling those briny morsels into an ocean of melted vegan cheese is a no-brainer. Juicy and succulent following a trip through the oven, shiitake easily have the edge over seafood because you can’t possibly overcook them here. They remain moist, flavorful, and delightfully chewy while the dough beneath them browns and the cheese bubbles.

Speaking of dough, this one deserves an extra shout-out as my favorite version to date. It stretches and rolls like a dream, walking the fine line between toothsome and crisp when baked, and is infused with umami through and through. Shiitake mushroom powder, my favorite flavor enhancer, works its magic to make a pizza crust that’s worth eating alone. No one would dare leave these bones behind.

More Ways To Top Your Apizza

Simplicity is king for this straightforward pie, allowing the delicate umami flavors from the shiitake and Parmesan cheese to shine through at full volume. Additional garnishes should be applied sparingly, if at all, to maintain that harmonious balance. Just a sprinkle of the following will do:

  • Sliced black olives
  • Capers
  • Baby spinach or arugula
  • Finely chopped broccoli rabe
  • Vegan bacon
  • Thinly sliced scallions
  • Lemon Zest

It doesn’t take much to make great clam apizza. Quality is everything, so make it count. Sugimoto shiitake are the only ones I want on my slice.

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