Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are not just beautiful to look at—they taste good too. Like wasabi or pickled ginger, the sweet-and-sour flavor of the blossoms (preserved with salt and vinegar) is a signature flavor in Japan. The bright pink color and distinctive tang are enjoyed all year long, but are especially popular when the trees are in full bloom. You can pickle your own cherry blossoms, but they are easily found online or at Japanese markets. Here are a few simple sakura recipes:
The easiest way is to make sakura tea, or sakura-yu, which is made by pouring boiling water over a few pickled blossoms and letting it steep. The blossoms unfurl and look beautiful, especially in a glass teapot. To reduce the intensity of the sweet-and-sour flavor, you can lightly rinse the preserved leaves before adding the water. This tea is often served at traditional Japanese weddings because it is pure and unclouded, symbolizing a perfect union.
Because tea is traditionally served with a seasonal treat, sakura mochi is a popular favorite this time of year. There are several ways to make this pretty sweet, but the easiest is this quick crepe-like recipe:
2 Tablespoons rice flour
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 ½ Tablespoons water
10 Tablespoons Japanese sweet bean paste/ koshian*
A few drops of sweet cherry syrup or red food coloring
Five salted sakura leaves*
Mix the first five ingredients until smooth and silky. Heat a nonstick pan on medium setting, and when the pan is ready, pour one or two tablespoons of the batter into the center to make a thin pancake. Flip with a spatula as soon as it sets (so it does not brown). Repeat with rest of batter and set aside to cool. Roll the bean paste into five small balls, about two tablespoons each and place in the center of the pancake. Fold the pancake in half and place a salted sakura leaf around the outside as shown. Makes five.
* Available online or at Japanese grocery markets.
Sakura-shio, or sakura salt, is another fun way to add a dash of color and flavor to plain rice or vegetables. To make your own, simply microwaving a few stms of pickled petals in a microwave for a couple of minutes to dry (about two minutes at 800 watts). Removing the petals from the stems and crumble into bowl. Add fresh sea salt and use a pestle to blend thoroughly.