Leave it to the Japanese to come up with the most appropriate names for the months of the year. June is Minazuki, which literally means “the month of water.” This is the time of year when the rice paddy fields are filled with water, and also of relentless downpours because this is prime rainy season in Japan.
With tea classes cancelled until at least autumn, my desperation for Japanese sweets has reached new heights and so I embarked on making “Minazuki,” a delicious rice cake sweet named after the month.
I first tasted Minazuki when visiting the Chado Research Center in Kyoto in 2015, where the museum entry fee included a bowl of matcha tea and a seasonal sweet. I’m terrible at remembering the times when I traveled to various places, but because I was served Minazuki, I know it was in June. I later also learned that people in Kyoto eat this triangular mochi dessert topped with red beans cooked in sugar often during the month of June.
A mochi topped with azuki red beans sounds relatively simple to make, but there is that stupid perfectionist in me that whispered, “but if you’re making Minazuki, the azuki can’t come from a can, it’s got to be those big Dainagon azuki.” In addition, the whisper continued: “Add some kudzu in the mochi to make it certainly Kyoto style (from my provincial Tokyoite perspective, kudzu is a very Kyoto ingredient).
With all these wild ambitions, I cooked over two days to make the sweet. Alas, the red beans didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped because their skins broke. Ideally, they are supposed to be intact and beautifully plump. I discovered that Azuki cooking is an art, like making the perfect Canelés de Bordeaux. Cutting this delicious sticky thing was a challenge by itself, but I persevered!
Minazuki is eaten especially in conjunction with the day of the summer passage cleansing ritual known as “Nagoshi no harae” on June 30th. The ritual is carried out with the hope of being disease-free and to ward off disaster and misfortune. And since such a wish can be made by making and eating a humble sweet, I virtually send you all Minazuki, to wish you good health for the rest of this difficult year.