gaijinfarmer

Organic farming, Japanese recipes


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How to make miso–Wakayama style

Tasting Kinzanji miso

The Kinzanji miso is a success! The rice fermented into a very soft paste that holds the whole thing together, the barley is soft but springy, and the soybeans are still nice and firm. It’s quite sweet but also tart and tangy, just right as a veggie or rice topping. Now the final trick will be giving it all away, because there’s no way we can eat 11 kilograms!

(Some pictures are in line; click on any picture in the gallery at the bottom to see the full set.)

Making Kinzanji miso

Making Kinzanji miso takes three days of work—not continual work, but work timed at intervals such that it’s hard to do too much more than just make miso. Luckily for us we were guests of the woman in charge, and she did all the off-hours tasks.

Prepping the grains

The first day we arrived early in the morning and built fires for steaming the grains. We had one portable gas stove and the stove in the kitchen, and we also built three fires in the bays of the traditional stove and one under the outdoor steamer. A hot business, that, in August! I had  my face close in to the fires until someone pointed out the length of bamboo with a hole poked in the distal end–a great way to blow on a fire from afar. It was a bit of a tap on the shoulder about our preconceptions, what we look for and what we overlook in going about our everyday affairs.

The rice had been soaking overnight, and was put on the steamer. While it was steaming for the first hour we hulled the soybeans in a hand mill, then separated the skins with a traditional tool—see videos of these steps below.

The barley and soybeans got mixed and were stacked on the steamers, so the rice was on for a total of two hours and the barley/soy for one.

Both were cooled to 37 degrees C and the special koji mold was mixed in.  The rice was mounded in large containers and loosely covered with a moist cloth to prevent drying; the barley/soy mix was spread out in wooden trays with only newspaper draped over to prevent bugs from getting in.

Here we took a break and a welcome shower. Five hours later, in the evening, we poured the barley/soy back into large containers and gave it and the rice a good mixing to make sure the mold culture was evenly spread. The mold was very apparent on both by this time.

Koji mold fermentation

Many people are probably thinking that moldy food = bad food. Really, the only difference between fermented foods and spoiled foods is the type of microorganisms that are present in them. If you’ve ever had yogurt, cheese, beer … you’ve benefited not only from lactobacillic organisms, but also from yeasts, molds, and much more. As most experienced fermenters know, white mold is usually a good sign, and can be scraped off before eating. Molds of any other color are bad, the darker the worse, and their presence means a good cleaning and starting the project from scratch.

One other note on molds, or any microorganisms really, is that culturing is as much a numbers game as anything else. The salt in sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented foods is there to inhibit the growth of baddies while the desired cultures increase. When a miso maker we know up in the mountains moved into an old elementary school, he first took handfuls of his mold culture and threw it all over the walls, ceiling, and in every cranny of the room that was to be his culturing room. As anyone who’s been in old school buildings here knows, they’re havens for mold and who knows what else—he had to make sure that his mold was the only one growing in his culturing room.

But I digress … we gave our moldy grains a good mix and put them down for the night.

Lacto-fermented vegetables prep

The next afternoon we arrived and started preparing the ginger, eggplant, and ‘uri’ white gourd for pickling. After putting them down with salt we took off until the evening, when we returned to process the shiso leaves and sesame seeds.

Late that night our hostess mixed some salt into the rice and barley mixtures, stopping the koji mold fermentation. When we arrived for our last morning the only thing left to do was to mix the rice, barley/soy mix, and all the vegetables together evenly. We divided it up into buckets, and that’s where it’s been sitting for a month.

What a process! I definitely see why you’d want to do a hundred pounds or more at a time, but would encourage anyone with an opportunity to make miso to give it a try. At the very least you’ll have twenty-some pounds of reminder of your labors!

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Kinzanji miso, Wakayama style

Over the hot, humid summer we made a huge batch of Kinzanji miso with a local grandmother who organized a group to make well over 100 pounds of the stuff. We took home our 25 pounds and it’s been sitting for a month. I think it’s time for a first tasting … tomorrow.

So to get ready for that, here’s a little backstory.

The difference between Kinzanji and regular miso

Kinzanji miso is a young miso that features its ingredients in the whole, rather than smashed or blended, as miso intended for soup does. Most miso is aged for at least 9 months and up to three years, which must include at least one full summer. Kinzanji is aged for one to 18 months maximum. Importantly, most miso for soup is based on one ingedient such as rice, barley, or soybeans; Kinzanji includes all three—and the koji mold fermentation of all three is stopped by massaging in salt after a few hours. However, the addition of lacto-fermented vegetables to Kinzanji before aging adds bacteria to the mix that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

A possible history of Kinzanji miso

Although miso generally means soup to all of us now, the chunky Kinzanji was actually the predecessor of the modern smooth version. It was supposedly brought back from China in the 1200s to a temple in Wakayama, where its preparation was taught and where the liquid that formed on the top of the aging mixture was first tasted and then produced as soy sauce. This is just one of the variations of the story, which can vary by almost a thousand years, but I’ll take it since it’s in Wakayama!

How to eat Kinzanji miso

The most popular way of enjoying this nameh-miso (lit. lickable; that is, to be eaten as-is) is to dip cucumber spears in it. That’s called moro-kyu, and is a great way to eat a light meal without cooking in the hot summer. Kinzanji is also a popular topping for rice and many other dishes.

Kinzanji is actually a ‘highly recommended local gift product’ (和歌山県推薦優良土産品) in Wakayama. It’s also produced in Chiba and Shizuoka and other places in Kansai but on the whole is a little unusual and rare. It’ll always be available in gift shops around here, but having a big crock we’ve made ourselves to enjoy and give away is an experience that fewer and fewer people have these days; maybe it’ll be us teaching the next generation how to do it in a few years.

Up soon — tasting and the production process!

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Rice harvest: dryer to bags to storehouse

The rice in the dryer reached 15% moisture content today, so we hulled and bagged it and moved it into the storehouse.  We ended up with 28 30-kilogram bags, which represents a good year for rice despite the sometimes very strange weather.

This video is a real quick introduction into the hulling and bagging process.

When it’s done, what do you have?  Wakayama rice!

 

We have two more loads to do, each spaced three to four days apart to account for drying.  So we should be done sometime next week.

では、早速!
(Without delay, let’s eat!)

Rice that was harvested a couple days ago–delicious!!


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Rainy season and ume plum liquor

We’re getting ready for a trip back to America in a couple days, and it looks like we might be taking off through a typhoon! The 2nd of the year is on its way north, over Okinawa right now, and it looks like a doozy.

Seasons around here are wacky. A very popular question for foreigners is, “Do you have four seasons in your country?”, and no amount of meteorological education can sway people’s instinctive belief that Japan is the only place in the world that really has four seasons.

Despite this, you could easily argue that the extended rainy season between spring and summer constitutes a fifth season, and the Japanese certainly treat it as such. Temperatures usually drop a little, the humidity skyrockets, and the typhoons start coming.  As they form in the SW Pacific and start to swing northward they’re a regular feature on the news, and as they get closer they bring days of rain if they swing wide, or an increasing gale and downpour if they come our way.  During the rainy season I’ve had leather shoes grow mold and wool sweaters mildew.  They’re in sealed bags this year!

Japanese plums on the tree

The rainy season apparently started 18 days early this year, and despite the fairly cool temperatures we were lucky that the ume plums ripened a bit early too, in time for our trip.  We like to invite ourselves over to our friend’s house who grows the plums and help ourselves to some of the variety called ‘nan-kou’. That’s the variety used for juice or liquor, rather than pickling, and as such they just leave those trees to themselves and harvest what comes–the other trees they spray, process into salted pickles, and sell mostly on the domestic market.  We always make umeshu, Japanese plum liquor.  If you’ve tried the Choya stuff from the store and found it way too sweet, remember that it’s possible to make your own at any sweetness level you like.  We usually use 40-50% of the standard amount of sugar, resulting in a sweet but very tart liquor.  Delicious!

Finding the best ones

Picking is usually a pretty sweaty affair but this year it was a very pleasant family evening out.

In pretty short order we had 12 kilos or so.

Soaking in water for cleaning

Drying

Processing is pretty easy–just remove the stem connecting point with a skewer or knife, soak overnight to wash, lay them out to dry, and set them soaking in 35% alcohol white liquor and some sugar. That’s it! In as little as 3 months you can enjoy it, but you can soak the plums much longer and then even age the product after you remove the plums. We have some 5- and 10-year stuff around here somewhere… not telling where! 😉

Plums soaking in liquor and sugar

In the last picture you can see the color has changed–these have been soaking overnight at this point.  If you look closely you’ll see that the plums are also floating in the middle of the liquid.  The sugar has dissolved and the sugar-heavy liquid has sunk to the bottom and it’s heavier than the plums.  It’ll all normalize in time.

As a final note on plums, these are not really plums.  They’re actually species of apricot but if we started calling them that no one would know what we’re talking about.  So for everyday purposes, they’re plums! I hope you agree that the misnomer isn’t quite as offensive as, say, the Clean Air or Patriot acts.

And we’re offline for a month and a half!  See you all soon enough in the summer heat!

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World record take no ko bamboo shoot?

We went up to the mountain today and bamboo shoots are sticking out just everywhere!  Quite a change from my last posts on recipes for preparation of bamboo shoots, from which a full harvest was a colander-ful, now we can easily gather more than we can carry off the mountain at once and still leave lots of shoots to grow into bamboo.

Like I mentioned, parts of the  mountain are quite steep but the bamboo has no trouble sending up shoots through its root structure any old where, and many of these are perched out on cliffs, leaving me scrambling for footing while digging and cutting them out.  One that I found today looked like one of those but when I started digging it made a turn underground … and kept on going … and going …

By the time I finally uncovered the roots it looked like this–keep in mind that when I saw it, only the top three or four inches were visible above the ground.  The only way I was able to dig it out was that it was on the edge of a steep section that allowed me to peel back the dirt easily.

Hiro said the final result reminded her of a wild boar.  While the two are an order of magnitude apart, I know what she means.  This was an incredible find–so unusual that we called the newspaper.  Hope they print it!  7.2 kg, or almost 16 lbs, as much as a 5-month-old baby!


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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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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.