gaijinfarmer

Organic farming, Japanese recipes


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Bamboo shoot recipe: Japanese style

Following up on my previous post on how to gather wild Japanese young bamboo shoots, here is how to prepare them.  Or, as we say in the local dialect, Let’s Cookingu! Please also check out KitchengardenJapan’s interesting post on ‘hatsumono’, or the first foods of the season.

Since you’re working with a plant that grows as much as 2 feet every day, you can be sure that it’s not going to wait around for you.  Bamboo shoots spoil more quickly than most foods, in raw or cooked form.  Get your shoots prepped and cooked as soon as you get home, and enjoy them within a few days.

If you have the sprout as it came out of the ground, hold it firmly in one hand and cut as shown.  You’ll cut 30-50% of the way through the sprout, or as far as the center at most.

Peel the layers back and remove the tough ones.  When you get to the soft core stop peeling, and cut the top off.  To cut the top, start at the tip with your knife–you’ll probably notice that it’s hard to cut through.  Don’t force it.  Continue toward the wide end until you can easily remove the tip.

If you got your shoots at Uwajimaya or another local store (Vietnamese and Thai groceries also often have raw shoots), then you’re at this point already.  Take your shoot and cut it into halves or quarters radially, depending on how big it is.

Add these to a pot of cold water, and add rice bran (what’s left after making brown rice into white rice) in an equal weight to the shoots to remove ‘aku’, or the natural bitterness.  Bring to a boil, simmer for 2 hours, and let cool to room temperature, covered.  Check the hardness of the shoots and boil longer if necessary.

Rinse and then soak in cold water for half a day or longer.  You can keep the shoots in this manner for up to a week, refrigerated, but you must change the water every day.

To flavor your bamboo shoots, use this recipe:

Add a kelp sheet to cold water and heat; just before it boils remove the sheet.  When it boils add a handful of dried bonito flakes and turn off the heat.  Remove the flakes or strain them out after they sink; don’t squeeze them or your broth will be bitter.  If you don’t have these ingredients you can buy ‘hondashi‘ powder and it will work just fine.

Add the bamboo shoots, and for every kilogram of shoots add 2 tablespoons each of sake, mirin, brown sugar, and soy sauce.  Salt to taste.  Simmer until the flavor is as rich as you like.  Before the bamboo gets too soft, add seaweed if you like and season to finish.

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Today's tsunami in Japan

Our hearts go out to everyone who was affected by today’s earthquake and tsunami.  As you probably know, the magnitude 8.8 quake was the most powerful here in 140 years, and the tsunami reached 10 meters high in some places.  We’ll be glued to the TV set tonight, praying for the comfort and safety of the survivors.


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Japanese spring vegetables: wild bamboo shoots

Spring in Japan starts in the depth of winter. At least around where I live, they say that February is the coldest month. It’s a temperate zone so we don’t have to shovel snow off the roofs, but nights hover around freezing or just under, and the days don’t get much warmer than 40 F, if we’re that lucky.

But right in the coldest month, the plum trees bloom and a hazy pink shades hillsides that were brown or a dormant green before. The air is still freezing but the faint smell of the plum blossoms almost fools you into thinking of sunny, warm meadows. No matter how cold it is, we roll down all the windows when we drive by a big orchard in bloom.

The plums are just a tease—it’s cold for weeks longer—but soon the peaches bloom in their vibrant pink, mountain spring vegetables like tsukushi and taranome poke out of the ground, and our strawberry growing friends start talking about the end of the strawberry season. And suddenly take (tah-keh) no ko, bamboo shoots, show up on food trays and in the grocery stores and you think “Is it really that time already?”

But not this year! We haven’t heard a whisper about take no ko, but we went up to the bamboo forest yesterday and dug our first shoots. We beat the Joneses, we beat the grocery stores, and I hope to hear some comment from our customers about the surprising turn of the seasons when we serve it as a side on our lunch sets soon.

If you have a bamboo forest nearby, here’s how to dig your own. First, you need a pickaxe, or better, a takekuwa (bamboo hoe). In English we think of a hoe as something to turn dirt; in Japanese it means pretty much anything attached to a stick at something near 90 degrees that’s obviously not a rake. So the 3-pronged pick is a hoe, the crowbar for bamboo is a hoe, and everything in between is too. Check out this Google search for the range of tools falling under that category.
The takekuwa looks like half of a pickaxe but with a chisel for the head.

Then you’ll need some gloves. If you’re Japanese you’ll probably have ‘guntei’, or the white woven cotton gloves that actually do an OK job against dirt but get soaked by a bad weather report. If you’re smart you will have somehow gotten a pair of LL or XXLL leather gloves to fit your foreigner hands, and these you will use to sweep ground cover from the bamboo forest floor while feeling for bumps that feel like a shoot about to stick out—as they say, if it’s still underground it’s take no ko; if it’s above, it’s already take.   Many will disagree with me here and say that you’re really supposed to shuffle along with your feet to feel for the shoots, and I’d invite those people to try to shuffle up or down our mountain…

When you find the little shoot sticking out, you’ll use your crowbar of incredible power to somehow cut through the ground, which is not so much dirt as it is a carpet of bamboo roots, without hitting or otherwise breaking the shoot. When you get enough ground cleared away, a powerful stroke or four will separate the soft shoot from the incredibly tough roots, and if you’re really skillful, your shoot will come away unbroken. The pictures show that I failed at this most of the time.

Either way it tastes just as good.    Next: how to cook it.


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Tempura, sashimi, kara-age from one small herring

I think it’s fair to say that my wife and I have breathed a little new life into the family restaurant. For nearly 40 years it’s been known for great handmade food, home-grown rice, and its relaxing atmosphere, but recently it’s also suffered from a lack of workers and slow ticket times.   Being young, foreign (one of us) and two extra sets of hands has earned us some fans from the customer base.

The other day one of our regular customers, the president of a local fishing company, brought a 2 kilo-bag of small fish with incredible kaleidoscopic stripes down their sides for me. They’re called きびなご (kibinago) in Japanese, silverstriped round herring in English. Although I wasn’t present for the flashing of Japanese fingers filleting 100 tiny fish, I sure still enjoyed the meal. We ate them raw, tempura fried, and fried with bread crumbs.

Recipe: Herring sashimi

With a pinch of the fingers, break the head away from the body and pull to remove the organs.  Split from the head down the belly with your thumb, and rinse the interior cavity under cold water and then gently remove the bones with your fingers.  Take off the tail with a pinch.  There’s no need to remove any scales, but I usually pick up the fish by the side fins to eat, and leave the fins. If you can get fresh wasabi, grate and enjoy!

Recipe: Tempura or Kara-age herring

Remove the head and organs as above, but leave the bones (optional for tempura).  Dip in iced tempura batter or roll in raw egg then bread crumbs, then fry in hot oil–either in a shallow frying pan or deep fryer for either.  For kara-age, season with salt and pepper or citrus vinegar; for tempura, season with salt or dip in a tempura dipping sauce.

There were two more presents in the bag, as you can see on the right–if you bite into the head, the cartilaginous bone is exposed and you can pull it out. Dip the rest in soy and it’s a delicious bite. Even given my experience with Japanese food I was a little reluctant but loved it in the end. 😉


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Eye-opening podcast on soil health

If you compost, garden, or are thinking about starting, this is an excellent listen! Soil doctor Doug Weatherbee gives an easy to understand introduction to the components of soil and how we can adjust some variables. Click for part 1 of soil health podcast , then follow the link on that page for part 2.

We’ve had heavy rain followed by light rain for a few days now.  The mulch that we laid down over the potatoes did its job just fine and protected the soil, whereas the rest of the exposed areas took a beating.  In retrospect, I should have saved some mulch to protect the spinach and carrot seeds.  I think they’ll be fine though.

I’m eagerly awaiting my first sprouts, and also the first fruiting of oyster mushrooms, which I’ve planted in a few media for testing! 🙂