“These are sardines, the fish you eat on ‘setsubun’ day to drive away evil spirits. Now we’re going to fillet them nicely.”
“They’re flipping! Are they alive?”
“They’re flipping! Are they alive?”
Children’s bright voices fill the room where a Kids Kitchen lesson is led by Hiroko Sakamoto, a Kobe-based cooking expert. Ten preschoolers in the “kiddy class,” aged 3 and up, fillet the sardines and grill them in the oven.
“You should learn how to apply pressure on the kitchen knife through actual cooking,” says 69-year-old Sakamoto, who advocates “child-rearing in the kitchen” and helping children become self-sufficient through hands-on experience.
Kids Kitchen, launched in 1998, is a pioneer in cooking classes for children that are spreading nationwide. Even 2-year-olds take part, holding child-size knives.
Sakamoto introduces “sekihan,” the festive red rice beloved by children. “It’s very easy because we use the rice cooker instead of a steamer,” she says.
Sticky rice should be immersed overnight in water so that it absorbs it to the core. The azuki beans need to be cooked slowly, and the russet-colored water in the pot is saved for later to cook the rice.
Sakamoto adds salt when cooking.
Her recipe calls for 1 kilogram of sticky rice.
“You make red rice on festive occasions and share it with neighbors and friends, so I cook a generous amount.”
In the Sakamoto household, it was a custom for her three children to visit relatives with red rice on their graduation from and admission to school. “Thank you for all you’ve done,” was their greeting.
Last summer, a friend took in a stray cat and tried hard to find it an owner. When they found one and the cat was named, she cooked red rice to celebrate and dished it out to everyone concerned.
“We share in the occasion to eat and rejoice. We’re linked by the food we eat,” says Sakamoto.
Her choice to teach children how to cook goes back to her own child-rearing experience. Her eldest son, who is now 41, preferred the tools of the kitchen to toys.
When Sakamoto gave him a small kitchen knife at no more than 18 months of age, he made a sliced cucumber dish following her example. Sakamoto became confident in the idea that there is nothing children cannot do.
“Food education is all the rage, but we can’t discuss food just using books. Making daily meals constitutes the fundamental power to live. If you acquire the means in childhood, you will be fine,” says Sakamoto.
Sakamoto is an expert on food education and cooking. Born in Kobe in 1946, she has been advocating dietary education since about 40 years ago.
She served as the cooking supervisor when “Hitori de dekiru-mon!” (1991-2006), a cooking program for children on the NHK education channel, started airing.
After experiencing the Great Hanshin Earthquake on Jan. 17, 1995, she began focusing on disaster prevention and nursing care problems from the angle of food.
She has written a number of books including “Sakamoto Hiroko no daidokoro ikuji” (Hiroko Sakamoto’s child-rearing in the kitchen). She is the chairperson of the Kids Kitchen Association.
For eight lunch boxes:
1 kilogram sticky rice (mochigome)
1 cup (170 grams) azuki beans
2 tsp salt
Some water used to cook azuki
1 Tbsp roasted black sesame
(Adjust amount for home cooking depending on the size of rice cooker. Half of each ingredient is easy to handle.)
Rinse rice, immerse in water for at least three hours and drain.
Rinse beans. Pour 1200 cc water in pot, cook for about 40 minutes over medium heat until wrinkles on surface disappear.
Separate cooked beans from water.
Place rice, water used to cook beans and salt in rice cooker. Add water so surface barely covers the tip of the grains. Mix thoroughly, sprinkle beans on top and cook.
When done, mix gently, serve and sprinkle with black sesame.