Guest Author - Chidori Phillips
Hina-matsuri is also known as momo-no-Sekku or Girls Day. It is celebrated on March 3rd. Today, the holiday honors our daughters but when it began, it actually was known as Japanese Doll Festival which is the actual translation of Hina-matsuri. Its early origins are traced back to the Heian Period (794 E1185) when people believed that dolls had the power to trap evil spirits. In a practice called hina-nagashi or doll floating, straw hina dolls were floated down the river and out the sea, carrying with them bad spirits that could harm children.
In well-to-do family homes, elaborately dressed dolls are displayed on a tiered stand set upon red carpet. Each of the seven tiers hold special dolls like Imperial dolls that represent the emperor and empress, court ladies, musicians, ministers, protectors and items that represent furnishings and belongings of the palace. They are displayed for a few weeks up to March 3rd, then put away immediately. The belief is that if the dolls are left on display beyond that date, daughters will marry late or not at all.
Food served on this day symbolizes the female spirit through the gentle colors of cherry blossoms. Hishimochi, pounded sweet rice, is formed into pink, white and green layers and cut into diamond shapes. Sakura mochi is pink-tinted mochi, filled with sweet red bean paste and wrapped in a pickled cherry leaf. There are two regional variations of sakura mochi. Ushi-jiro or clam soup is another requisite dish as well as hina-arare (pink and white puffed rice) and shirozake (milky white-colored rice wine.) You can purchase most of these foods at Asian markets a few days before March 3rd, but if youre like me, you might like to try to make your own homemade versions. I have never made shirozake but found a recipe for a homemade version online. Im anxious to try it myself soon.
One fun Hina-matsuri recipe you can make at home easily is Hinachirashi. Chirashi, which means scattered, is a sushi rice bowl with scatteredEtoppings. You can use any sushi toppings you like but be sure they are little girl-friendly with pretty colors. I used tamago (egg) strips for a bright yellow and dried ebi powder, bay shrimp and kamaboko for pink and white. Have fun with this and get creative.
3 cups sushi rice (see BellaOnline.com Japanese food site Sushi Rice)
Place cooked sushi rice in a large and pretty decorate bowl. Top with any of the following ingredients. Try to arrange toppings in an attractive way. I mixed in some of the plainer but flavorful ingredients, like the canned seasoned baby clams, bay shrimp, and chopped, seasoned green beans and shiitake mushroom. Then, I topped with other ingredients that looked pretty.
egg omelet, cut into thin strips
bay shrimp, cooked
kogai ajitsuke clams (seasoned baby clams)
green beans, parboiled and sliced thinly
Shiitake mushrooms, cooked, chopped and seasoned.
red pickled ginger
masago fish roe
To make seasoned Shiitake mushrooms, soak about five dried mushrooms in a large bowl of water. Weight it down with a heavy plate to keep them below water level. Let these rehydrate for an hour. Squeeze out the liquid and then place them in a pot with the following ingredients:
4 cups dashi
2 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. mirin
Simmer the mushrooms in this mixture for about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and chop.
To cook green beans, slice them thinly and parboil them in lightly salted water. Keep them crisp. Drain.