Grilled as you like it

Shokutaku tsukemono ki August 21, 2008

shokutaku tsukemono ki

One of the easiest ways to make Japanese style pickles is to use a shokutaku tsukemono ki, or tabletop pickling pot. I picked mine up at Besia recently for under 1000 yen ($10). It’s pretty small, but makes about the right amount for lunch or dinner for two. To use it, I just chop some vegetables (I like a mix that can include cabbage, cucumber, carrot, turnip, daikon, etc.), rub them with salt, throw in some seasonings like ginger, myoga, or kombu, and then put on the lid and screw it down. The pickling pot has a screw and spring-plate combination that applies pressure to the vegetables, helping to squeeze out their liquid and create a brine that they pickle in. If left at room temperature, your pickles will be ready to eat in just a few hours.

The shokutaku tsukemono ki is a handy device that simplifies the old-fashioned way of making pickles in which cabbages and other vegetables are salted and stacked in large buckets and then topped with lids and heavy rocks so that they can pickle in their own brine. When we visited our friend Tomomi’s grandparents in Okayama last winter we saw their pickling shed, which had several buckets full of home-grown cabbages that had been pickling for a few months or longer resting alongside their homemade miso. The rocks are so heavy that they have a pulley system to help lift them off of the cabbages. Since having a pickling shed like this isn’t feasible for most urban denizens, the tabletop pickling pot is a great kitchen tool for those who still crave the taste of homemade pickles even in an urban environment. There’s a recipe for “impatient pickles,” a quick pickled side dish made with a shokutaku tsukemono ki in Washoku.

quick cabbage, cucumber, and carrot pickles made in a shokutaku tsukemono ki (front)

copyright 2008 LMS


Nuka-zuke August 12, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,kansha — laurel @ 10:46 pm
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Tsukemono – quick cabbage pickles from my shokutaku tsukemono no ki (front) and cucumber nuka-zuke (back)

I’ve been meaning to write about the Kansha Club more, really, I have. I wanted to write about the last few Kansha Club meetings but I never got around to making most of the recipes. It’s embarrassing really, that I have all these great recipes and advice from the author herself, and I just can’t seem to find time to make them. I have, though, gotten more inspiration to try new dishes from Washoku and some of my other cookbooks. But enough about that, on to the pickles.

Our last Kansha Club meeting (the third, if I’m not mistaken) was about pickling. Japanese pickles, or tsukemono, aren’t like the vinegared pickles that you can put up in your pantry forever that you might be familiar with. Some, like nuka-zuke, are quite perishable. There are many different kinds, each made according to it’s own technique, but in essence they are vegetables that have been transformed by drawing some of the liquid out and then developing their flavor with salt, vinegar, fermentation, and so on.

vegetables ready to be pickled, from left: cucumber, turnip, turnip greens

One thing that I have made time for recently is my nuka-toko. Elizabeth shared a few cups of her nuka with interested club members so that we could start our own nuka pickling pots at home. I’ve been tending my pot for the last few weeks by turning it daily and checking the additions. My pot is a 3.6 liter ceramic lidded crock for tsukemono. It is narrow at the top and bottom and wider in the middle. Apparently the straight-sided pots are better for nuka-zuke while this shape is good for umeboshi, but I had already bought the pot when I learned that and actually I have had no problems with the shape so far.

I started with Elizabeth’s nuka and added about a kilogram of iri-nuka (toasted rice bran) that I had leftover from preparing fresh bamboo shoots earlier this spring and several tablespoons of dry mustard (a special blend available in Japan for making nuka toko). I moistened the nuka mixture with water (you can use beer too) and then added a few cloves of garlic, some togarashi chiles, slices of ginger, fresh sansho berries. Then I mixed it up and put the lid back on. Later I added some more items that Elizabeth had suggested: washed, dried, and crushed eggshells and leftover iriko (dried sardine) heads. I turn the mixture daily to mix and aerate it. It has a bit of a sour, almost peanut-buttery smell that I’ve grown quite accustomed to. After about a week it was ready to pickle.

To make nuka-zuke, I scrub my vegetables with salt, rinse, and push them into the nuka, patting the nuka down over the top. In the warm summer, the yeasts in the nuka act quickly, and my pickles are ready to eat in just an hour or two. When you’re ready to eat them, just pull them out of the nuka, turn it, and rinse and slice the pickles. I’ve been sticking with turnips and cucumbers so far, but I think I’ll drop by the pickle counter at my grocery store soon to get an idea about what other vegetables I can make into nuka-zuke.

copyright 2008 LMS


Eats shoots and leaves May 25, 2008

seven fresh takenoko | layers of leaves at the tip of the takenoko, the innermost leaves are tender and delicious

Springtime is the season for takenoko, or fresh bamboo shoots. I began to see takenoko appearing in the markets around town in mid-April. I had never prepared one before and I had directions and recipes from the Kansha Club, so one weekend I bought one. I wasn’t sure at the time why they were only in the store on weekends, but now I know: they’re a lot of work to prepare!

I cooked my bamboo shoot on the last day of April, while Alex was at a school enkai. I got to work by carefully peeling away the tough, fuzzy outer leaves. When I had peeled to the point where the leaves would split part-way up instead of at the base of the bamboo shoot, I stopped peeling them off. Next, I cut off the tip of the shoot. I found that the tip is fairly tough, so next time I will cut it a bit lower, since the tough layers are hard to cut even with a sharp knife. Finally I slit the leaves halfway through from the base of the shoot to the tip. Be careful here, you don’t want to cut into the base at this point, or it will fill up with nuka while you are boiling it, giving you more work to clean it out later.

After that I tucked the shoot into my biggest pot and added the bag of nuka (rice bran) that came with the shoot. The nuka absorbs toxins from the shoot while it boils. I don’t have an otoshi buta, so I used a smaller lid to keep the bamboo shoot submerged (they tend to float). Finally I added water to cover and simmered the shoot until the base was tender, about 45 minutes.

Once the shoot was cooked and cooled a bit, it was easy to remove the remaining tough leaves. The innermost leaves, called hime-kawa, or princess skin, are tender and delicious so don’t peel them all away!

While Alex was at the enkai, his Kyoto-sensei asked him if he had ever tried takenoko, and offered to bring him some shoots freshly dug from his garden. The next day, I was surprised to find seven more takenoko waiting for me when I got home! Luckily, Golden Week would be starting that weekend, so I would have plenty of time to prepare and cook my shoots. Although the store-bought shoot kept fine for a few days, the cut edge of the garden-fresh shoots began to spoil surprisingly quickly, and the spoiled bits smell terrible. So if you are planning to get some freshly dig bamboo shoots from your friends or neighbors, make sure to cook them within a day. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I thought that the freshly dug shoots had nicer color and flavor than the shoot that I bought at the market too.

takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot with rice) | takenoko arima-ni (simmered bamboo shoot with fried tofu

I used the base of the bamboo shoot for takenoko arima-ni (simmered bamboo shoots with fried tofu), and the top went into takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice). For the arima-ni, I substituted fresh kinome (leaves of the sansho plant) for fresh sansho berries, since I couldn’t find the berries at my market. Both recipes were delicious and I made them each at least twice (I think I may have made takenoko gohan 3 or 4 times).

After my big weekend of takenoko boiling, I avoided the box of bamboo shoots that someone had brought to my school to share the following week. Considering how many we received from friends, it may be foolish to pay for takenoko at the market, unless, of course, you are buying the already prepared ones, which will save you from quite a bit of preparation time and a messy kitchen. The season is short, though. It seems like all the shoots popped up over golden week, and that was the last we saw of them. The fresh shoots are gone from the markets, though the prepared ones remain. Maybe I’ll get one to make the season last just a little bit longer…

I heard that they have takenoko on our friends the Kobayashis’ farm, so I hope that we can go digging for them ourselves next year. I’ve been told that the shoots are at their best if you can find them before they even come up from the ground. I’ve already marked my calendar.

I also just found a great video of harvesting and preparing takenoko at joi.ito.com. Check it out!


Kansha Club May 24, 2008

Filed under: Cooking,Japan,kansha,recipes — laurel @ 6:38 pm
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Simmered ganmodoki tofu dumplings with vegetables

I was offered a great opportunity at my tofu cooking class with Elizabeth Andoh in April, and I jumped at the chance to become a part of it. Ms. Andoh is working on a new book on Japanese vegetarian cuisine called Kansha, which means appreciation in Japanese. I will be working with a group of women (the Kansha Club), most of whom are based in Tokyo, coordinating groups of volunteers around the world who are evaluating some of the recipes. I am really excited to have a chance to learn more from Ms. Andoh, and also to get a view into the process of creating and publishing a cookbook. Of course, I’m also excited to be able to try some yummy new recipes too. I can’t share them here, but I hope that seeing some finished dishes will inspire you to check out the book when it’s published! Look for it in 2010 from Ten Speed Press.

We recently had a meeting/lesson where we made udon noodles from scratch, along with some yummy myoga pickles and marinated kampo. For lunch, we enjoyed a vegetarian version of fuku-bukuro (simmered tofu pouches filled with vegetables and shirataki), simmered ganmodoki tofu dumplings with vegetables, spinach ohitashi with tofu shira-ae, and simmered kabocha. Later we also ate our udon with a “neba-neba” (a Japanese word that basically means “slimy textured”) topping of okra, natto, sliced green onions, and a tangy mustard-soy dressing. We also each made and tasted a pickled myoga temari-zushi (hand-pressed rice ball with myoga topping).