Recently, we’ve been getting our produce box from Imperfect (which I most certainly would recommend). The produce can be ugly, which is the point. Why we should care about scarring or odd sizing on an item meant to be cut and cooked is beyond me. We’ve gotten a large amount of slightly ugly vegetables. I noticed on a couple of occasions, the radishes were a little hard and not in peak state for devouring raw with salt over the sink (the best things are done with passionate haste). While a little sad, this is not something that cannot be overcome by some thoughtful processing.
Perusing the always incredible selection of spices at World Spice, I came upon a book called My Rice Bowl by Rachel Yang. I pawed through it to see what value it could impart to me while standing in the middle of a spice shop. Luckily, I found a section detailing a variety of pickles. The one that caught my eye was Delicata Sour Pickles. I surreptitiously snapped a picture of the page with my phone, I am slightly ashamed to say. But science requires certain things of me, and who am I to say no to science? Nobody, that’s who.
Recently, my wife (Anne) and I found ourselves facing a table covered in cheeses, dried fruits, olives, crackers, all backdropped by six black-bagged bottles of mysterious wines. This, in the middle of our old digs, a place so deeply familiar yet newly furnished by unfamiliar guts. Our friends, Virginia and Patrick, now lived there and the furnishments were theirs. They also supplied the mystery we faced that evening, having heard of times that we had managed a blind wine tasting. We brought cheese, crackers, and incisive curiosity.
Shiozuke means, literally, salt pickle. This, the simplest of Japanese pickles, is a mainstay of the pickle platter. The process can be achieved with the most basic of kitchen items: salt, bowl, time. The length of time varies according to your needs, with the shortest amount of time not depending on any fermentation whatsoever. One can simply slice cucumbers, grate ginger, salt the two in a bowl, massage them and let them sit until the salt has osmosed the water right out. In this case, the pickles are squeezed out and the resulting vegetables are laid out for eating. This is too simple for my taste and without the added je-ne-sais-quoi of a fermented product. Continue reading
Japan has, for millennia, excelled at the pursuit of umami. This most basic taste profile comes from a variety of sources, from meat to mushrooms to tomatoes to seaweed. It delivers the recipient to places that the other four tastes cannot even begin to imagine. A higher plane of sensory existence. The pursuit was one well worth engaging and it resulted in many good things both discovered and created: kombu seaweed, bonita tuna flakes, shiitake mushrooms, fish sauce, nutritional yeast, soy sauce and miso paste, among many others.
Miso is itself a fermented product, the result of soybeans being overtaken by the filamentous fungus called koji or Aspergillus oryzae. So, it only seems natural that it should be used to ferment other edible items, imbuing those tertiary characters with the enviable umami profile. Of course, the Japanese have given us this gift as well. Called miso-zuke (literally miso pickle), the embedding of vegetables in a miso mixture is a common practice among traditional Japanese cooks. Continue reading