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Monday, February 3, 2014

Setsubun and Ehomaki Recipe!

Today is the day before spring begins according to the lunisolar calendar. On February 3rd, the Japanese celebrate Setsubun, celebrating the start of spring. Setsubun no Hi (節分の日), also known as the Bean-Throwing Festival, celebrates the start of a new year according to the lunar calendar. So several things are done to bring good luck to the coming year, as well as chase away the demons of the old year.

First, is the ritual of mamemaki (節分), which literally translates as bean-throwing, to drive away bad luck and demons (called oni). Usually someone in the family will dress up as a oni and people will stand at the doorway and throw soybeans at the door until the oni retreats. We had way too much fun throwing soybeans at Oni-Tiara, who in turn had way too much fun eating the soybeans.

So now that you've driven out the bad luck and oni (and in our case, attracted a begging pooch), you now eat some soybeans yourself to invite good luck in. Traditionally you eat as many soybeans as your age (Tiara should have stopped at seven beans) but I ended up snacking on them while I wrote this post, so I'm either extra lucky, or more probably, just fatter.

Another ritual is eating ehomaki, a makizuki sushi roll that is completely uncut, and contains 7 different ingredients for good luck. You're supposed to eat it in complete silence while facing a special auspicious direction that changes every year, for instance 2014 the lucky direction is east-northeast.

Now, even if you don't want to eat a whole sushi roll in complete silence, ehomaki are very tasty! They are actually just uncut futomaki, or fat sushi rolls, but it is kinda fun to eat them uncut like a giant sushi burrito. Maki-san at JustHungry has some great ideas for nontraditional ehomaki fillings on this page, as well as the most traditional fillings.

The oni has a skier because of the Olympics coming up
Mr. Mochi pointed out that this is my first sushi recipe, after blogging about Japanese American foods for almost two years that has to be some sort of feat. I guess that proves my point:Japanese food is so much more than just sushi.

Even though the truth is that I'm rather poor, and sushi-grade fish is expensive. Even for Setsubun, I didn't splurge on sushi-grade tuna, which would be much more traditional.

You can buy the simmered shiitake and kampyo (strips of gourd) ready-made in the refrigerated section of a well-stocked Japanese grocery, and even ready-made tamagoyaki. I will have to write a recipe for tamagoyaki, but for now, I refer to the illustrious Maki-san's post. I actually bought my tamagoyaki, which is definitely not as tasty as homemade tamagoyaki.

Ehomaki (恵方巻)

Shari (sushi rice)
3 cups freshly cooked rice
2 tbs rice vinegar
1 tbs sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Simmered shiitake and kampyo:
4 cups of water
1/2 cup shoyu
3 tbs mirin
2 tbs sugar
5 pieces of dried kampyo
5 pieces of dried shiitake

2 sheets of nori
3 imitation crab sticks
cucumber, sliced into 1/2" thick strips
tamagoyaki, sliced into 1/2" thick strips
1 tbs sakura denbu (dried powdered sweetened fish flakes)
1/2 cup katsuo shiso ninniku, minced

To make the shari: mix the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt together. If necessary, warm the mixture slightly in the microwave to get the sugar to dissolve. Pour over the hot rice and mix using a cutting motion to prevent smashing the rice grains. Set aside until just warmer than room temperature, do not refrigerate.

I highly recommend making the shiitake and kampyo ahead of time, or being lazy and buying it already simmered. Soak the shiitake and kampyo in the water overnight in the fridge. Drain and reserve 2 cups of the water. In a saucepan, simmer the softened shiitake and kampyo in the reserved water with the shoyu, mirin, and sugar for about 25 minutes. Let cool and drain. Cut the shiitake into pieces, discarding the stems.

To assemble the roll: place one nori sheet on a bamboo mat, or even a paper towel or dish towel lined with clingwrap. Spread 1 1/2 cups of rice over the nori, leaving a 1/2-1" margin on the one side (as shown). Do not smash the grains, but gently smooth them over the surface. Arrange half the toppings across the rice as shown, don't worry if something isn't long enough. I used one and a half strips of crab, cucumber, and tamagoyaki to fit across the roll, for instance. Grab the mat closest to you (with the rice all the way to the edge of the nori), and roll up over the toppings to the naked nori. If it's not perfectly round it doesn't matter, but you can squeeze the roll a bit after you rolled it up to make it more uniform. Repeat with the remaining half of toppings and rice to make another roll, makes two ehomaki.

See Also:
Kaki Kohaku Namasu


  1. Greetings to the Mochi family! Thank you for this post--I didn't know about Setsubun or Ehomaki. I'll have to teach my family. Love your photos!

    1. Thank you! It's definitely not celebrated here in Japanese American communities as much as it is back in Japan, but I think it's so fun it's something I've started observing. I love the oni masks.