nukazuke

Japantown is only 3 blocks out of my way from my bike commute to work, but I’ve only recently started going to the Japanese food market on a regular basis. They have pretty great vegetables and their meat is organic/antibiotic free. If you get there an hour before they close, they sell their leftover bento meals for 25% off so you can get a decent Japanese meal with roasted fish, stewed vegetables, brown rice, pickles, and whatnot for 4 bucks. A damn good deal if you ask me.

Anyway. I was there about 2 weeks ago and they were selling a nukazuke set. I’ve been meaning to try my hand at this Japanese fermentation pickling since my mom started doing it down in LA a little while ago. So I went ahead and bought it. The set contained a bag of ground, roasted rice bran, strips of konbu (kelp), a few dried red chili peppers, and a packet of salt.

Nukazuke ingredients
Nukazuke ingregients

First, you dissolve the salt in hot water, which you then let cool.

Then you mix the other ingredients in a bowl and slowly pour the salt water into the dry mixture until it becomes this soupy mud-like gunk. You pour that into a ceramic container or glass tupperware, which is what I did.

Before you can actually start pickling vegetables to eat, you have do several rounds of “sutezuke” which literally means “trash pickles.” You get pieces of vegetables you don’t wanna eat and mix it into the nukamiso so you extract some of the salt and feed the bacteria so they get stronger and happier. (You can use vegetables you’d want to eat otherwise, but it’d just be a waste to turn them into trash pickles.)

Sooo, I found a bunch of asparagus in my fridge so I snapped off the bottoms and stuck em in the nukamiso. Tomorrow I’m gonna get some apples and peel them to feed the lil guys. According to some blogs that apparently helps to make the pickles a bit sweeter later on. I’d think it also speeds up the fermentation process better than something like asparagus because of the higher sugar content in the apple.

Then you have to mix it with your hands every day to aerate it. If you want it to ferment the vegetables faster, you can leave it out in a cool dry place. But if you want it to slow down, you just stick in the fridge.

It sorta feels like I’m getting a pet that I need to feed and give oxygen to…and get pickles in exchange. Excited to see how it turns out.

picklin' time

okonomiyaki

When someone asks what your favorite food is, I think there are three factors that should be considered:

1) high frequency and intensity of craving for said dish
2) sentimental/memory attachments
3) strong desire to make everyone you care about eat it

So given these self-made qualifications, my favorite food is okonomiyaki.

my drawing of shrimp/corn okonomiyaki.

Okonomiyaki roughly translates to “cook/grill it the way you like,” and it’s pretty much a Japanese savory pancake whose basic ingredients are cabbage, flour, water, and egg, topped with various garnishes: red pickled ginger (“benishoga”), seaweed flakes (“aonori”), shaved bonito (“katsuobushi”), mayo, and okonomiyaki sauce (pretty much sweet soy sauce). These garnishes are pretty standard across Japan, but the ingredients you put inside it AND the way you cook it varies by the region. You can make it vegetarian but it’s standard to put pork, shrimp, scallops, clam, etc. in it.

You can of course search for your own recipe, but here’s my rough one below which I typed up following a potluck. I eyeball most of the ingredients and steps but I tried to describe it as best as I could.

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OKONOMIYAKI RECIPE

Ingredients (Serves 4)
– Cabbage, chopped into about 1 inch pieces (3 cups or about 5 leaves depending on the size of the cabbage)
– Green onions, chopped small (1/2 cup or about 4 stalks)
– Flour (1 cup)
– Baking powder (1/2 teaspoon)
– Eggs (2)
– Water, with veggie/chicken stalk stirred in (3/4 cup)
– Protein (pick 1~3)
* Grated mozzarella (1/2 cup)
* Meat: thinly sliced pork, chicken, or some other animal
* Seafood: shrimp, squid, scallops (1 in pieces)

Optional additions:
– Moyashi sprouts
– Corn (1/2 cup)
– Kimchi (1/4 cup)
– Grated mountain potato (watery slime. so adjust water input accordingly)
…the possibilities are endlesssssss

Garnishes/Sauces
– Aonori (seeweed flakes)
– Mayo (the one I like is kewpie mayo)
– Okonomiyaki sauce (If you don’t have this, you might be able to substitute with mixing ketchup and soy sauce, or Worcestershire sauce or even A1 sauce and ketchup. Never tried either of these but it could totally work.)
– Beni shoga (red ginger)
– Katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes)

Preparation:
1) Combine chopped cabbage, chopped green onions, flour, eggs, water, and your proteins and mix.
2) Heat pan to medium. Once heated, oil pan with canola, vegetable, or some other gentle-flavored oil.
3) Scoop batter into the pan, each should be about the same size as a regular pancake.
Some people like to make bigger ones but they’re harder to flip.
4) Cook for about 5~7 min or until the underside starts to brown. While waiting, sprinkle aonori on one side.
5) Flip. Wait another 5 min or so, or until it browns on that side.
6) Serve with mayo (stripe it for cool design), okonomiyaki sauce, beni shoga, and katsuobushi on top.
7) Enjoy!

* If you have leftovers, they can be frozen and are perfect when heated up in a toaster oven.

foodie 4 lyfe.

Cooking is a big hobby of mine. Part of it is that I love eating what I cook (actually maybe a large part). But I also love it because I always approach it like a puzzle and an experiment. I rarely use a recipe unless I’m dealing with an ingredient I’m unfamiliar with (turns out people eat nettles??) or the dish is just plain challenging to prepare (principles of baking never ceases to get lost on me). There’s also something that feels innately human to me…taking various raw materials and organizing them into an other enjoyable creation.

My mom told me that after her first choice of “lawyer”, her second choice for my future profession was  a chef. She’d say it was because “I’d go to your restaurant and eat good food whenever I wanted”. Perhaps out of this ulterior motive (not really), she always had me help her cook in the kitchen and taught me all the basics of food preparation. More recently, I’ve been partaking in cooking projects with my uncle Terry who is by far the most gourmet, non-professional chef I know. He has a giant industrial grade gas “Wolf” stove in his kitchen, the sharpest knives of every imaginable size, and an extensive collection of animal fats in his fridge. He’s friends with all the vendors at the farmers market and knows exactly which vegetable from which stall is to die for this season.

Today, I spent 2 hours making pasta from scratch.

1 egg per 3/4 cups of flour.

Starting from making an egg reservoir out of flour, I slowly mixed the flour into the egg with a fork. Being careful not to break the wall of flour around the pool, it slowly turns from soupy to gooey. After a while, it became this stretchy, heavy yellow mass. From there I used a rolling pin and did my best to flatten it while it kept bouncing back into a hunk.  Once its flat enough, I cut it into fourths, then using the Pasta Queen, a pasta maker, I flattened and cut the pieces until getting long lasagna-like sheets of pasta, all the while dusting each piece with flour to prevent it from sticking to the hand-cranked machine. The last stage was to cut them into spaghetti and hang them from this rack before boiling them for no more than 30 seconds.

 

 

Voilá!