When you bring this mushroom shichimi rice bowl (from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks) close to your nose, you’ll be seduced by the sweet, fragrant, citrusy, and spicy aroma of something mysterious. Good, in every sense, but not in the realm of familiar flavors, at least not what I’m accustomed to.
Shichimi is a Japanese finishing spice mixture, dating back to the 17th century Tokyo, which includes seven ingredients: coarsely ground red chili pepper, orange peel, black and white sesame seeds, hemp seed, ginger and nori (seaweed). It’s a common peppery mixture that can be easily spotted in noodle restaurants throughout Japan. You can also get a seven-spice mix that is more citrus forward, with yuzu flavor, or one with more heat. I bought all three on my recent trip to Japan, just to try them out. They come in these tiny cans, which are easy to pack in the spare crevices in your suitcase. I wish I’ve gotten more. They go fast in my household since my husband puts them on everything. Sprinkle them on rice, soba noodles, tofu, blanched vegetables, crackers or bread. They add zing and vitality. If you don’t have shichimi on hand, red pepper flakes would do the trick.
I used a varieties of mushroom I found in H-Mart, a fast-growing chain of Asian grocery stores in the US. They have the widest selection of mushrooms I’ve found anywhere. I got some baby king oyster mushrooms, shitake and bunashimeji mushrooms. Pan fried them separately, since I was not familiar with how long it took for each kind to get cooked. Next, I sauteed the tofu. When it comes to vegetables, I’d just go by whatever greens you have available in the fridge: spinach, kale, even beans. I happened to have some fresh watercress and sakura cress (radish sprouts). I layered them — raw as a salad or as garnish, on top of the bowl of brown rice (with some quinoa mixed in), topped with the pan-fried mushrooms and tofu. A dash of the shichimi spice mix finished this minimalist bowl, as unassuming and grounding as the buddhist chant.
One early morning in September of this year, my husband and I wandered into a Buddha temple in Kyoto steps away from the hotel where we were staying. The young monk was turning on the lights, you can only hear the sounds of “click, click,” and no one was around. The peace and tranquility was felt in every breadth of the crisp morning air. We wanted to return when the prayers began. As it was, we never made it back. But I want to recapture the transporting moment to outer-worldliness. The idea of a making and offering a buddha bowl came from Kim or Deb at IHCC. What a great concept! I can totally get into it.