Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wasabi: worth its weight in gold?

I like to just meander in Marukai to see what they're bringing in from Japan that's mezurashii (interesting) or hisashiburi (nostalgic) for me. I usually don't look at produce, but this huge sign caught my eye. What could be worth $102.79 in the produce section?

Wasabi is a Japanese horseradish root, green in color and put in sushi. The mass market version comes in a green tube and comes out like paste, but since wasabi is so expensive, sometimes the wasabi is made with a mixture of horseradish, mustard and food coloring.
In sushi, the wasabi paste is put between the rice and the fish because once the paste is prepared, it needs to be covered to preserve the flavor or it will lose potency in about 15 minutes. It you go to a high class sushi place that uses fresh wasabi, they will grind it with a fine grater and mix it with water to make the paste. It's usually mixed with shoyu (wasabi joyu) and used to dip sushi or sashimi.

I don't like it because although it doesn't burn your tongue since it has no oils like chili pepper, it goes up your nose and I don't really enjoy that sensation. Still, I've tried fresh wasabi and I must say it has a much sweeter note to it.

Wasabi is a finicky plant wanting the right climate and fresh running water to grow best, so I can see how this little root can be so precious, but I didn't find it hard to just walk away. I may be a snob about some things, but not about wasabi. Besides, somewhere on the Big Island, a farmer has successfully cultivated the wasabi, so if he can up production, this could be a slow foods crop.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

NY101: Kuromame

Kuromame (黒豆) literally “black bean,” is a type of soy bean not related to the black beans used in American and Mexican cooking. They are about two to three times the size of normal soy beans, round when dried, and have a deep ebony color. They're sold at KTA or Marukai near New Years. The ready made ones are on sale too, but to do it right,  use the raw beans.

Kuromame is another part of Osechi Ryori and represents a wish for good health and hard work. For some, it's an acquired taste, but these beans are actually extremely rich in anti-oxidants and iron, so maybe the Japanese knew a little something something.

Grandma Ikeda's Kuromame recipe
2 cups kuromame beans
4 1/2 cups boiling water 
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 T. salt
1/4 c. shoyu
2 cups sugar
Combine the ingredients (minus 1/2 cup boiling water to be added later after removing scum) and soak beans at least 6 hours or overnite.

Bring the mixture to boil over medium heat. When mixture begins to boil add 1/4 cup water and remove scum. When mixture comes to a boil again, add 1/4 cup more of water. Remove scum carefully. Then simmer on very low heat for 4 1/2 to 5 hours. Check beans for doneness. Turn off heat and let stand to cool.

Note: Traditional Japanese recipes call for boiling the kuromame with some rusty nails wrapped in gauze to give them the black, shiny color. Grandma's recipe won't give you the totally glossy beans, but the baking soda will keep the color. She also adds chestnuts after the fact. Instead of the nails, some people will cook it in a cast iron pot, but you'd have to wipe the grease off that's used to "season" the pot then reoil it when putting it away.

Some times grandma forgets and the beans run out of liquid and burn to the pot. In that case, there's no saving them. Throw it out and start again. I'm wondering if the recipe could be made in a crock pot?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

NY101: Konbu maki

Grandma Hughes is always in charge of konbu maki and konbu maki is part of the Osechi-ryōri, the traditional Japanese foods that are served in a laquered box. In Japan, all the food needs to be done before New Year's day because it's bad luck to use a knife on New Year's day. The konbu maki won't spoil and it can last for several days in the refrigerator.

Konbu is the large, thick sheets of seaweed that you buy dry. Grandma puts pork belly in the middle and wraps it with kampyō, long dried strips of a gourd that's soaked to soften and used to tie the konbu maki ("seaweed wrap"). The whole thing is cooked in a shoyu-sugar broth. Kampyō is also used in maki sushi.

Why eat it?
 Konbu, sometimes pronounced kobu is similar to the word yorokobu or happiness, joy. Another wish.

How to make it
  • Soak konbu and kanpyo
  • Soak some shiitake
  • Cut up pork chops, or pork belly into bite sized pieces (use pork chops if you're concerned about fat)
  • Wrap the pork with the softened konbu and tie with kanpyo to make little bundles
  • Mix brown sugar and Club shoyu (grandma says NOT to use Kikoman - too salty) to taste and add slivered ginger and 2-3 cloves of garlic and some liquid from the soaked shiitake (there won't be much liquid) - the liquid should be about 3/4 cup at the most.
  • Put it in a pot and let it slow simmer. The liquid will rise.
  • Every so often toss the pot so the konbu gets evenly basted.
  • Cook for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.