Saturday, June 30, 2012

Cultural Education Journal: Umeboshi and other culinary pursuits

I love pickles of all varieties. By "pickles" I'm including all sorts of marinated and fermented foods, from cucumber dill pickles to natto, and let's not forget natural sourdough bread. I also love making pickles of all sorts... I even attempted natto once, although I'll admit that store-bought natto is much tastier than my personal attempt...

Anyway, it's been a dream of mine to make umeboshi (pickled ume plums) for about 3 years now, ever since I arrived in Hokkaido in July 2009. I saw baskets of leathery reddish brown plums drying in the sun... and they looked so tasty...

Finally this year, the timing is right, so I carefully read through an umeboshi recipe in Japanese class with my teacher, and then a week ago I bought plums! (If you're interested in the process, follow this link for a recipe in English.) Most of them were a little green still when I got them; the greenest ones I made into syrup, and the rest I put in paper bags to ripen up. Today I arranged them in a pickling crock with a vast quantity of salt, put a few weights on top, and now we wait for the plums to release their juices. Exciting!

Beautiful ume plums

I hope everything goes okay... hopefully I'll have another update in a few weeks!

Recently it's been hot here. I'm sitting in front of the fan with a glass of iced houjicha. I'm so glad I live in Hokkaido, since down south it's even hotter... but in Japan, there are lots of nice ways to keep cool. One way is to eat cold soba noodles with dipping sauce. I made a cold soba bento for Keith and me one day, and everyone else at school thought it sounded like a good idea... so the next day everyone brought soba and we shared the leftover dipping sauce!

Recipe: Cold soba dipping sauce with miso and sesame
(The original recipe came from here; I translated it and made a few small changes. This is a bit of a non-traditional dipping sauce, but I really like it!)
  • Soba noodles, cooked according to package directions and thoroughly rinsed with cold water; reserve cooking water (see step 5)
  • 4 Tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
  • 4 Tbsp miso
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 400 ml dashi (400 ml water with a pinch of dashi granules; if you don't have dashi of any sort, I think just using water will be okay, since the miso flavor is quite salty.)
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • Minced green onion to taste
  1. Using a suribachi or mortar and pestle, grind sesame seeds up a bit. (No need to mash them to a paste.)
  2. Add sugar and miso, mix. Then add soy sauce; mix a bit more. Add dashi and stir until smooth. Finally, add the green onion.
  3. Chill the dipping sauce. It's most refreshing when it's cold!
  4. Pour a little sauce into a cup; dip soba into sauce and sluuuuurrrrrppp. (Yes, you are supposed to slurp. Do it nice and loud... but be careful if you're wearing a white shirt.)
  5. If you have leftover sauce, add some of the reserved soba noodle cooking water, and drink it.
There you have it... how to stay cool in the summer. In a few weeks I will have ume-syrup to drink mixed with soda water and ice. :)

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