Japanese

Remembering Misao, and Pickled Cabbage or Hakusai

Today was Misao Kasahara's birthday, she would have been 104 today! She was a remarkable woman.

She was one of the first women in Japan to cut their hair and wear modern, Western clothes. Born in Hokkaido, she was a graduate of the only women's college on the island and contributed to the alumni news up to 1996. She wrote every day in her own journals.

She believed in equality of the sexes - a concept which is still barely evident in Japan today.

She raised a family during the war (Grandpa was a translator in Burma) when she had to barter clothes for food, take apart old clothes and re-fashion them into new garments, feed her daughters and nephew on sweet potatoes and dandelion greens when food was scarce. I guess you could say she was a forager before it was cool. She used a small plot of land that she convinced some monks to lend her for growing food.

After my Grandfather died, she got to travel, to the Soviet Union, including Siberia, South America, Europe. She received letters from students she taught until her death. I asked her once if she had loved being a teacher. She looked at me and said "No." I was shocked knowing how much her students loved her. "It was the only job women could have back then."

She loved books and read prolifically, she volunteered as a Braille translator with the National Library for the Blind in Tokyo, sharing that love with those who could not otherwise read. She always said her wish for her grandchildren was that they could study whatever interested them. She sent my mother to the US after she graduated college - both uncommon in 1959, too. She moved to Hawaii in 1971 and loved her independence there. She worked at a pineapple cannery and as a typesetter for a bilingual newspaper where her knowledge of Kanji outstripped that of the younger workers.

She also bought me my first real camera, sent me postcards from around the world. She was full of surprises right up to her death. I only learned she played piano when I heard her playing with Caleb on a banged up old upright my Mother had in her basement.

I loved watching her make hakusai, perched atop a small footstool to get leverage over the large bowl of cabbage, her bony but soft hands strongly massaging the napa cabbage. This is an approximation of hers with my twist.

Misao’s Hakusai

Americans would probably liken this to a slaw or salad more than a pickle, it’s not cooked in brine, simply “pickles” in salted water. It’s a great side to any meal and the basic recipe can be modified to taste. Some cooks add bonito (dried shaved fish) or a splash of fish sauce, soy sauce, or more or less chili flake. If you add garlic and chili you’ll have something more like Kimchi.

 

Ingredients

  • Napa Cabbage, salt, red chili flakes.
  • Vinegar (Rice vinegar or Yuzu vinegar)
  • Yuzo Kosho (optional if you like a little heat. If using, omit red chili flakes.)
  • Soy sauce to taste.

Directions

  1. Napa cabbage is best in winter. Rinse and chop into about one inch pieces.
  2. In a large non-reactive bowl such as glass. Layer napa in bowl, salting liberally as you go.
  3. Dissolve 1 tsp salt in about 1-1 ½ C of water. Add red chili flakes.
  4. Pour over top of salted cabbage.
  5. Place a plate or dish on top of cabbage and weigh down with 3-5 lbs of weight. (I use a big glass bowl and place my cast iron Dutch oven on top, with a big pitcher of water sitting in the pot.)
  6. This should sit at least overnight, up to 3 days.
  7. The cabbage will be naturally fermented, add a splash of vinegar if you'd like to brighten the flavor. I dissolve some yuzo kosho (Japanese green chili paste) in a little rice vinegar and toss it with the pickled cabbage.

 

dogwood Misao's favorite flower.

Ingredient Sleuth - Two New Finds You Must Try: Yuzu Kosho and Bonny Doon's Verjus de Cigare

  Today seemed as good a day as any to start something new. Welcome Ingredient Sleuth! This will be a sometimes series in which I'll share new things I've discovered or old things I believe not enough people know about. Today I'm introducing two things that are very old indeed, one is a product originating in Japan, the other harks back to Medieval European wine production. Both are pretty new to me, so I thought maybe to you as well.

Never mind the un-done items already awaiting my attention. Some things are too good not to share. Now is always better than later in my book. In fact, I’m so bad at keeping secrets I'm routinely excluded from news of surprise parties. Let's just say patience is a virtue I'm still working on.

Today I wanted to give you a quick heads up on two ingredients that are fairly new to me, and too good to keep to myself. Both pair wonderfully with Oysters and in fact, paired together really well with a recent Oyster Century Club© tasting hosted at Janis Tester (author of the BiteMeNewEngland blog and hostess extraordinaire). The occasion that brought us together was a fantastic pig roast and the promise of meeting fine folks IRL (in real life) whom we only know in the online world. What a terrific day! Pics and post soon enough but first I must tell you about two things I think you should seek out for your pantry now.

 

Yuzu Kosho

Not the name of a new Red Sox pitcher from Japan - and much more reliable in the "things that delight us" department than those may  be - Yuzu Kosho is going to be the next chipotle in adobo type of ingredient. I doubt it will overtake Sriracha because that is just too convenient and familiar. However, I'm going to make the argument that Yuzu Kosho is poised to break out. At least, I'm doing my level best to spread the word.

What is it already - I can hear you asking, my impatient kindred spirits. Yuzu Kosho is a citrus-chile paste from Japan. Yuzu as you may know already is a bumpy citrus that looks like a gnarly lemon or lime. The zest has a fragrant and very tart scent and flavor, while the "meat" of the fruit is fairly scarce. You can buy dried yuzu zest (never tried) and it's often a component of Shichimi (so actually, I guess I have). I recommend the fresh fruit zested, or this new favorite condiment: Yuzu Kosho. This perky little paste is my new go-to thing when I want to add a green note and some gently assertive heat. This is not like habanero peppers that whack you over the head and announce their presence. This is a sexy heat that sidles up to you, then before you know it, you're smitten.

If you've enjoyed shishito peppers, or been lucky enough to enjoy freshly grated horseradish, you'll love this.

Yuzu Kosho

Of late I have been adding this paste to fish marinades, to mignonette for oysters, and to fried chicken. It is one of these ingredients that makes people go "Oh my God, what IS that?" as they reach for more. Trust me on this one, you'll love it. So far I can only find it at Dean & Deluca where Doc got me this surprise. One of the ingredients in this paste is Kombu which is packed with umami. This amps up the seduction by awakening those "give me more" sensors in your brain. (She's taking some liberties with science here, yes.)

Elizabeth Andoh's Kansha offers a recipe for "Quick Fix Pickles: Crisp and Fiery Chinese Cabbage and Cucumbers" which calls for Yuzu Kosho. It is delicious. It's like a coleslaw without mayo. I think this condiment would also be terrific added to mayo in any old sandwich.

Post Update: 2/25/13 - just discovered this post on yuzu kosho on Harris Salat's very excellent Japanese Food Report. (note to self, read JFR more often!) Also, I used a bit of yuzu kosho with grated daikon and drizzle of soy for a condiment for broiled fish. Also wonderful.

Verjus

Verjus (from the French vert jus literally green juice) is the pressed juice from wine grapes that are thinned out of vineyards before harvest. I like the notion that we might be enjoying something that would otherwise be wasted. I also like things that are tart, acidic and sharp. Verjus I've tried before have been too sweet or too tart without the fullness of vinegar. This one that David (he of EatDrinkRI fame and our very first Oyster Century Club© member!) brought to the oyster shucking pre-party was perfect. We froze it a little while and then found it mixed beautifully with the cucumber-shallot-yuzu kosho mignonette I brought.

Because the grape juice is not fermented it is non-alcoholic and also will not interfere with wines you're drinking the way a vinegar might. I think fully frozen into a granita, this would be a wonderful addition to oysters and kept in the fridge, it could be used to heighten the piquancy of a sauce here or there, added to a salad with some extra good EVOO if you wanted a less acidic and light dressing, or it might be terrific in Sangria. Here's an excellent introduction to Verjus if you want to read more.

Bonny Doon Verjus

 

When the Whole is Greater

So here we are at Janis & Rich's amazing pig roast, with a delivery of 8 dozen oysters from ILoveBlueSea.com (sustainable seafood direct to your door, one flat rate, can't beat it!) and another 2-3 from Matt's (Wicked Random guy, that Matt) local purveyor (Duxbury and Watch Hill RI) several knives, various tools and techniques, ready to rip.

I cut up a lemon which we scarcely touched, David brought the Verjus which we poured into a dish and hid in the freezer) and I brought my favorite mignonette, Janis provided horseradish, too.

Cucumber-shallot-yuzu-kosho mignonette Cucumber, shallot, rice wine, yuzu kosho mignonette.

We pretty much tore through about half the oysters when we decided to check on the freezing of the Verjus. It was just forming crystals, and they were great on the oysters. But the pairing of the mignonette and the verjus together was magical. I could have eaten it with a spoon. On the oysters, though, the gentle heat, coupled with the sweet almost-granita really made everything sing.

One Oyster Century Club© member wanted his oysters unadorned. Go little buddy, go!

Oyster Century Club Youngest Member

 

And who can argue with that?