Momiji (紅葉) in Japan, a guide

Momiji or koyo (紅葉) - both words describing the enchanting, changing autumn-coloured foliage occurring in Japan every year.
The month of November exhibits the beauty of the autumn leaves at their peak in the Kantō, Chūbu and Kansai regions. 🍁

It was close to midnight on the 17th of November, 2018 and we were walking throughout the neon light-clad skyscrapers of Shinjuku, Tokyo, full of excitement and nervous energy. We knew Japan would be unlike anything we have experienced before, and here we were, getting lost with all our senses in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

I have expressed my love of Japan and the Japanese culture plenty a time and in November I had the pleasure of visiting this beautiful country, a lifelong dream. I recently found my primary school arts and writing folder and my dream holiday even as an 8-year-old was a trip to Tokyo, Japan. This was further ignited by my inspiring Japanese teachers and a desire to learn more about the country and culture. My love, Q, and I booked this trip 5 months in advance. As the bookings were confirmed, the planning began.

When deciding where we wanted to go, Q and I created a shared Google document, adding to it as we came across things we adored and wanted to experience. Our first document (of three) reached 11 pages (yes, you can call us avid, enthusiastic planners), which needless to say required revisions in order to create an amazing holiday that also allowed for some spontaneity and didn’t overwhelm with information overload. I had come across several gems of information in amongst planning that I thought an extended blog post was completely warranted and hopefully I will inspire someone to visit this beautiful country, passing on what my previous Japanese teachers throughout my schooling gifted me – a passion for Japan.

As this is one big post, I’ve included some page jumps for ease of navigation. Towards the end of this post, you will find a collection of links that I found incredibly helpful whilst planning our Japanese adventure, hopefully making your planning much easier. This is definitely not an exhaustive list of activities, places to eat, and to see, and I encourage you to find your own quirky places to visit and beautiful sights based on your unique tastes, but it is the itinerary that brought us a lot of happiness and beautiful lifelong memories. Enjoy!

Q & M

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Ottolenghi Cauliflower Cake & a simple dill salad

I’m a big Ottolenghi fan. He is one of my favourite chefs hands down and his cookbook (Plenty More) and Guardian column recipes are on high rotation in my kitchen, continuously inspiring and demonstrating why Ottolenghi is renowned for his excellent recipes and diverse flavour combinations. One evening in late September, for an AFL semi-final, I made this savoury “cake” as an offering which was received tremendously well. If you’re going to a dinner party or an event and need to bring an offering, this is the perfect choice. It is a hybrid between a quiche and a slice – a savoury “cake”. It’s not too “eggy” therefore it doesn’t quite become a frittata. It strikes the perfect balance, you could eat this for any meal of the day, even as a snack.

If you’d like to try your hand at this divine Cauliflower Cake by Ottolenghi, click here for the recipe. I simply had to share. We served the cake with a simple dill salad as per Ottolenghi’s reccomendations, and have written the rough directions of that salad at the bottom of this post. The two combined perfectly and left us wanting seconds… even thirds. This savoury cake tastes even better the next day as the flavours intensified. Delicious!

Note: As nigella seeds can be hard to find, you can either use more white sesame seeds (as I did) or black sesame seeds as a substitute. Otherwise, I followed this recipe exactly as printed.

Cookbook and Minnie the kitty.
Cauliflower “cake” fresh out of the oven, sneakers and Le Petit Prince socks.

Cucumber & Dill Salad

Serves 6

  • 1 bag four leaf mixed salad leaves
  • 1 continental cucumber, sliced into half moons
  • 1 red capsicum, sliced
  • 15g / 1 punnet of fresh dill, chopped

Dressing:

  • 1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil

Place the salad leaves, cucumber, red capsicum and dill in a large salad bowl. Mix the ingredients for the dressing in a small jar, shake it up, and pour over the salad and give this another big stir ensuring all greens are covered. Serve alongside a slice of Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower Cake.

Cacao, Macadamia & Strawberry Granola

Throughout human history, people make an occasion out of dining and similarly, special occasions are organised around the consumption and presentation of food.  From ambiance to seating arrangements, meal times are a way for the society to order itself and the various rituals and practices help to solidify the social fabric and the participants’ relationships.

Due to our fast-paced lifestyle, our meals are often the first to suffer, repeatedly becoming an afterthought.  In order to stave off hunger and dampen stressful emotions, we turn to cheap, quick, and commonly processed foods to provide the instant gratification our busy lives desire.  Amidst the hustle of life the simple pleasures can become easily forgotten, prompting my constant reminder to appreciate the joyous nature of food. There’s nothing more thrilling than meticulously selecting every ingredient with the specific purpose of surprising a loved one or family.  My Cacao, Macadamia, and Strawberry Granola represents this exact feeling.

With a special someone in mind, the ingredients were selected to warm their heart and remind them that despite the busy nature of life, there is always time to sit down, breathe, and enjoy breakfast in the face of looming deadlines, high-stress days and a never ending stream of life choices to make. Since food is such an integral part of our lives, choosing to be gentle with ourselves and treat our body with love means we need to prioritise slow food wherever possible. Doing this for a loved one, simply out of love or to lend a helping hand, is also a showing of kindness and support that regardless of what life has presented them with, you are there, you are hearing them and you’re providing comfort. Can I bring this back to granola? For sure. Breakfasts can often lack this element of slow food, therefore preparing this on the weekend to have on hand for yourself throughout the week, or jar and gift to someone with a sweet little tag, is the ultimate celebration of slow food, mindfulness and honouring your body even when life gets all a little messy.

The mashed bananas in this recipe act as a binding agent and provide the “crunchy” factor when it fully cools. I am yet to find a substitute but assume that apple purée/sauce can also stand in place of the 2 bananas if you’re not a fan. The riper your bananas, the sweeter your granola. Feel free to substitute different nuts, I suspect walnuts would work perfectly in this mix. The granola is not overly sweet like store-bought counterparts, so adjust the sweetness as you wish but I suggest following the recipe and allowing yourself to be surprised for your first batch as it’s a little treasure. Enjoy!

Cacao, Macadamia & Strawberry Granola

Makes 1 big jar

  • ½ cup / 70g macadamias/walnuts, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup / 70g hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup / 80g rolled oats
  • 1 cup puffed brown rice (or alternatively, another cup of rolled oats)
  • 1 cup / 40g coconut flakes/chips (and more to scatter at the end)
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons chia seeds (optional)
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • ¼ cup / 45ml coconut oil/extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons raw honey/rice malt syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste/extract
  • 2 heaped Tablespoons cacao powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup / 140g strawberries, roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Make the dry mixture. Combine the nuts, oats, puffed brown rice, coconut flakes, sesame and chia seeds (if using) in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

Make the wet mixture. Mash the 2 bananas in another mixing bowl until smooth. If your coconut oil is solid, melt in a saucepan on low heat and then transfer to the mixing bowl with the bananas. Add the honey and vanilla bean paste/extract, and mix until everything is incorporated and smooth. Add the cacao powder and sea salt. Mix again.

Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and, using your hands to mix, ensure everything is well-coated in the cacao-banana sauce. At this point, add the chopped strawberries and press some of the strawberries into the granola, also leaving some chunky for texture.

Turn the granola onto the baking tray, spreading the mix evenly on the tray and pressing with a spatula to ensure it is compact, and place in the oven for 20 minutes. Check at 15 minutes to ensure there is no burning. Take out of the oven, flip the granola in chunks with a spatula. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes. Repeat once again, flip the granola in chunks and place back in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Check regularly to ensure there is no burning.

Take the granola out of the oven, do not touch it. Let it cool completely as this will let it set in chunks, and then stir. Store the granola in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Serve with milk of choice, yoghurt, kefir, berries or any other fruit you desire.


Post written by Maria and Quincy.

Rhubarb & Vanilla Compote

To say I am now obsessed with discovering the world of rhubarb would be an understatement. Ever fixated on it’s crimson red allure, my love Quincy described stories of delicious meals prepared with rhubarb which inspired our creation of a rhubarb compote to accompany a deconstructed Easter cheesecake.

The morning I prepared this compote, I decided then and there that the smell drifting throughout the house was most divine.  As smell is more closely linked to memory than any other sense, it came as no surprise that the sweet wafting smell of rhubarb stewing steadily over the kitchen stove conjured vivid recollections of time spent with family and friends. In my opinion, the je ne sais quoi factor of the compote is the combination of vanilla and orange juice which offsets the tartness of the rhubarb ever-so-slightly. I’ve only used 2 tablespoons of honey in this compote to ensure that this beautiful vegetable shines and isn’t disguised by too much sweetness.


In this photo, the rhubarb compote is served atop a Deconstructed Set “Cheesecake” with orange-infused oil and a hazelnut-sesame crumble. Recipe for the cheesecake is from Ottolenghi’s ‘Plenty More’.

Here are a few ideas for how to use up your jar of rhubarb compote: on top of porridge/oatmeal, overnight oats, on toast, with cottage cheese/halloumi/soft goat’s cheese, yoghurt, crumble, muffins, pancakes, waffles, cake, chia pudding, galettes, cookies, tarts, ice-cream, crepes, sandwiches etc.

Careful deliberation regarding measurements and ingredient inclusions back and forth led to this little treasure.

Rhubarb & Vanilla Compote

Makes 1 jar

  • 400g rhubarb stalks, trimmed (1 bunch)
  • 2 oranges, juiced
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and seeded*
  • 2 Tablespoons raw honey

* can substitute 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

Remove the tough strings running down the rhubarb stalk, if present, much like you would with celery. Chop up the rhubarb stalks into small chunks. The smaller you chop the stalks, the shorter the stringier bits.

Add rhubarb stalks, orange juice and vanilla seeds to a sauce pan or pot, heating on a low-medium heat. Let simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until the rhubarb has completely cooked down into a syrupy liquid, stirring often to avoid scorching. Turn off heat.

Stir through the 2 tablespoons of raw honey and mix well. Let cool and transfer to a jar. Keep refrigerated for up to a week or freeze. Use on anything your heart desires.


Here are also a few more recipes I have found on the web utilising rhubarb that pique my interest:

Orange Rhubarb and Porridge
Rhubarb & Almond Upside-Down Yogurt Cake
Rhubarb Ice Cream Sandwiches
Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble
Chia Rhubarb Apricot Muffins
Rhubarb and Sumac Kimchi
Rhubarb and Strawberry Quinoa Crumble
Overnight Upside-Down Breakfast Muffins
Strawberry Cake with Grilled Rhubarb Vanilla Sauce

Herbed Lemon & Cauliflower Salad with Dukkah Salmon & Pomegranate

One semester left of university then I’m a degree-qualified nutritionist. To say three years have flown by would be a gross understatement, but ultimately I feel quite ready for the next chapter. Generally by the end of the year, when exams and assignments are done, I divert all my energy towards other projects for a few weeks. After three years though, with a bank of built-up burnout, my energies were diverted away from food, creativity and the internet in order to recharge myself. This meant more tennis work, music, TV shows (Stranger Things anyone?), spending time with friends, and a LOT of beach runs. Being far from the bustling city also helped. I’m almost back to my usual self, in time for summer.

PomegranateSalmon2

The beautiful weather we have been experiencing in Melbourne as of recently and my love of café culture inspired this recipe. After having the core ideas of this recipe written in my notebook for a while, only now did I have the inspiration and patience to fine-tune it, take the photos and attempt to write up a little introduction – which has clearly turned out to be a reflection. Nevertheless, this is one of my favourite salads. If you’re anything like me, citrus is really exciting. Lemon zest and juice in everything is my preference, with a heavy hand of herbs and a sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts. I’m not just trying to be trendy with the inclusion of pomegranate arils, although I can appreciate the reference, they truly add a delicious sweetness and texture that make this unique. A simple, fresh spring or summer night dinner with possibly the shortest ingredient list written by myself yet. Yes, I’m working on this one. Enjoy!

PomegranateSalmon1

Herbed Lemon & Cauliflower Salad with Dukkah Salmon & Pomegranate

Serves 4

  • 1 juicy lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons dukkah (I used a lemon & herb variety)
  • 4 salmon fillets
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 head of cauliflower, approx. 500g
  • 20g fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 20g fresh chives, finely chopped
  • 1 pomegranate, deseeded and arils set aside (Google this if unsure, I use the water method)
  • 60g whole hazelnuts
  • pink salt & pepper

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C. In a small bowl, mix 2 Tablespoons of the lemon juice with 2 Tablespoons of the dukkah to make a paste. Depending on the surface area of your salmon, you may need more. Spread the paste over the top of the salmon fillets and place in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Meanwhile, using a box grater with medium-size holes, grate the cauliflower to resemble rice. Alternatively, you can use a food processor and process until finely chopped. Using a microplane grater, zest the lemon and then juice it, reserving these separately for the time being. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Sauté the sliced shallot and garlic for 5 – 8 minutes until softened and translucent.

Add the cauliflower ‘rice’ to the pan and give this a mix. Leave this for 10 minutes to heat and soften the cauliflower, mixing occasionally so that it doesn’t stick. After 10 minutes, take off the heat and add to a large bowl along with 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice, the lemon zest, pink salt and pepper to taste. Leave to cool a little.

Meanwhile, add the hazelnuts to the frying pan and toast for 3 – 5 minutes, shaking occasionally, until browned but not burnt. Give them a little chop, or halve them and reserve as topping. Add the pomegranate seeds, chopped dill and chives to the salad bowl and give it a mix.

Plate up by adding a serving of salad, a fillet of salmon and toasted hazelnuts on top. Add extra pomegranate seeds, dill and chives if you have leftovers.

Asparagus, Green Bean & Lime Spring Soup

Some people love green smoothies, some find solace in kale. I can’t remember the last time I had a smoothie let alone a green one, and I prefer rocket (arugula) over kale. Health and food trends come and go just like fashion trends, therefore I stopped paying attention long ago and feed my body what it likes and definitely enjoys. By all means if you love them, enjoy them with all your heart. The key here is to remember that food is nourishment, but it is also pleasure and memories.

Cue soups (and dark chocolate). I know, I know, it’s getting a bit ridiculous with this being the 3rd soup amongst a very short list of ‘main meal’ recipes on So Matcha To Love. Call it genetics, but ‘soup love’ runs deep.

July this year I went up to the Padina Plateau, in the Bucegi Mountains of Romania with my cousin and his girlfriend. After a day of hiking and fresh mountain air, we returned to Sinaia, a fairytale-like town and mountain resort of my childhood, with an intense hunger and one simple goal in mind. An extraordinary soup.

My cousin had this place in mind and would not budge, he insisted their beef soup is worth it. I honestly would have been happy with anything, my stomach is easily appeased after exercise. Less connoisseur than usual. We sat down. We perused the menu but we knew what we were getting, so the waitresses response that she had sold out was less than desirable but I could get anything else off the menu, right?

Wrong. He was so passionate about this soup, much to even my discontent, that we visited several restaurants until we landed on one that hadn’t sold out of this mystical soup. Boy, was it delicious. That night we devoured soup, freshly baked bread, and I had a side of goat’s cheese as per usual. Here is a snap I took at the table that night that really captures the atmosphere – Traditional Romanian.

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I’ve since come to realise Australians are less passionate about soup than we are, and that’s totally okay as well. As spring is now in full swing ‘Down Under’, I’ve created this simple soup of fresh spring produce like asparagus and green beans, with a few delicious twists in the form of chilli flakes, fennel seeds, and lime. I served it with a perfect poached egg per bowl (quick instructions below), crumbled goat’s feta and a side of buttered rye sourdough toast. I imagine peas, zucchini (courgette), leeks, spring onions, chives, sugar snap peas or anything green would be great additions. Fresh, delicate, comforting yet not in the absence of an element of surprise, this soup highlights everything that’s important to me when it comes to enjoying my meals. Furthermore, it brings up beautiful memories like that night up in the mountains. Poftă bună!

Asparagus, Green Bean & Lime Spring Soup

Serves 4

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon red chilli flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon fennel seeds
  • sea salt
  • 350g green beans, trimmed and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ‘woody’ root ends snapped off (just bend until it snaps – magic), chopped into bite-sized pieces and halved lengthways
  • parmesan / pecorino cheese rind (optional but delicious)
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced (or lemon if preferred)
  • 1.25 L / 5 cups of water (or stock if you have on hand)
  • 1 x 400g tin lentils, drained (I used the brown ones)
  • 20g coriander or parsley, leaves picked and set aside
  • 2 Tablespoons capers
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • poached egg, wild rice, goat’s feta, to serve
  • buttered rye sourdough, to serve

Heat the olive oil/butter in a large pot over medium heat, add the onion, garlic, chilli flakes, fennel and sea salt. Sauté for 5 – 8 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent.

Add the green beans, asparagus and lime zest, and give this a stir – cook for a further 3 minutes. Now add the water/stock, parmesan rind (if using) and bring to the boil. Simmer for a further 5 minutes, we do not want to boil the crisp vegetables for too long – they should be perfectly tender. Add the lentils, capers, lime juice, coriander/parsley leaves and take off the heat. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls (with a base of wild rice if preferred), and serve with crumbled goat’s feta, rye toast and a perfectly poached egg. Plus extra pepper is always nice.

Notes: you can always substitute ingredients with what you have on hand or easily obtained. For example tinned white or cannellini beans can be substituted for the lentils.

 

Quick Poached Egg

In a small saucepan, bring a lot of water to the boil. Add a big splash of apple cider vinegar (or any other vinegar) to the pan and decrease heat until it’s a simmer. This is crucial as we do not want the egg to break apart by a violent boil. Crack the egg in a little cup and lower smoothly into the water in one motion. For a semi-runny yolk I find 3 minutes to be a good guide. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and place on a tea/paper towel to soak up the excess water. Then use to top your soup, toast or salad.

Sumac & Orange Spiced Pumpkin Wedges

I recently shared this easy and inexpensive one-pan dinner side on my instagram and thought they were too delicious not to add to the blog. Now that uni is nearly done for the year I can’t wait for summer, beach, tennis and I’m hoping to devote more time to simple recipes that are totally dinner party worthy as well.

Disclaimer: if you are a pumpkin lover, you may devour a whole tray before they make it to the platter. If you despise pumpkin, will you allow me to change your mind with these zesty, delicious bites?

I’ve been expanding my recipe repertoire and experimenting with flavours and cuisines previously untouched by me, documenting everything I’ve loved in my many notebooks. I have also been cooking recipes like a madwoman from books and online columns by my culinary crush, Yotam Ottolenghi, which is where the inspiration for these wedges came. I even brought one of his cookbooks with me to my recent skiing trip because I read cookbooks in bed, like narratives, soaking in the stories, flavours as well as cultural influences that seep through the pages. I’m not a dag, I just really love books.

I adore Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influenced meals, hence the addition of spices and zests that some may not be used to. Orange zest/peel and sumac bring out a surprising zesty flavour in the pumpkin whilst cinnamon just oozes the comfort and warmth only roasted root vegetables bring. When zesting the orange, do not zest the pith as this is bitter – stick to the deep orange peel. Sumac is a versatile spice, so if you do buy a mini jar to make this recipe, do not restrict yourself to roasted vegetables. It works beautifully in soups, stews, salad dressings and even on eggs and toast.

I imagine these would work equally well with sweet potato but am yet to depart from my foolproof method just yet. Ottolenghi often serves his roasted roots with yoghurt and herb oil or pesto which is what I’ve done in the pictures. If you’re lucky enough to have some dukkah and pomegranate arils, a sprinkle of those on top before serving would look beautiful. Goat’s feta or ricotta and parsley would be equally delicious. I served these alongside some organic grass fed sausages, rocket, tomatoes and kalamata olives. I’m sure any other protein would suit or falafels and lentils for vegetarians.

Sumac & Orange Spiced Pumpkin Wedges

Makes 2 trays full of wedges / 1 platter

  • 1 kg Kent/Jap pumpkin, with skin
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon sumac
  • 1 orange, zested (an excuse to eat the inside whilst you prep)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes
  • black pepper
  • sesame & pumpkin seeds, yoghurt, pesto, hummus, herb oil, goat’s feta, parsley, to serve

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Deseed and chop the pumpkin into large, thumb-sized wedges. Keep the skin on if you like, I do. Place in a large bowl and add the olive oil, spices, salt and a few good grinds of pepper. Toss to evenly cover the pumpkins in this mix.

Spread out the wedges on two lined baking trays, ensuring there is space between them so they get a little crispy at the edges and not soggy.

Roast for 25 – 30 minutes until soft, nicely golden and caramelised. Leave to cool. Arrange in a platter with the toppings and devour!