Sunday, November 29, 2009

Daikon Season

Well, I didn't get up quite early enough this morning for the daikon harvest, but I made it in time for the washing! The daikon seeds went into the ground in September - two per spot - and we thinned the seedlings (a process called mabiki) in late September, early October. (The young leaves were great in salad and miso.)

The daikon harvest has been underway for a couple weeks at least. We see them everywhere now - at the supermarket, on the farm stands, in bicycle baskets on their way to dinner - with their cheerful green tops waving. When they are ready for harvest they are about three to six inches in diameter, and often the root measures about twelve to eighteen inches. A good chunk of the white root stands above ground with the tap root going straight down at least that much again.

The washing process is fairly simple. A little preening of the leaves and stems by Shee-chan, and then I inserted the daikon into a washer. The contraption reminds me of a car wash - two spinning brushes the daikon goes between for a good scrubbing - and quickly turns them gleaming white. Takashi-san then dunked the leaves, cut off any unsightly bits, and bundled them up for shipment to the store.

I think I can safely say that before coming to Japan I had never eaten daikon; however, it is a part of nearly every meal here. It's nutritional value isn't enormous, but it is a good source of Vitamin C. Pickled daikon, shredded daikon, and raw daikon slices are all pretty commonplace here. While a member of the radish family, the flavor of daikon only hints at the spiciness usually associated with this group.

The Takashi's suggested making oden for my first cooking experience with daikon. The daikon absorbs all the flavors of this popular winter stew, and turns out to be one of the best ingredients. Following is a the recipe Takashi-san told me, with a variation or two of my own. The measurements are approximations as I just plopped things in until it looked right.

1/2 cup dashi*
1/2 cup soy sauce*
3 cups water*
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup mirin or sake
Half a daikon, chopped into inch size pieces
One carrot, chopped into medium-sized pieces
One medium onion, roughly cut
Three small potatoes, cut into medium-sized pieces
Two medium sweet potatoes, unpeeled, cut into medium-sized pieces**
Tofu, cut into bite size chunks or the inari tofu skins cut into bite size chunks
*I did this by sight. I aimed for a middle brown color - not too light, not too dark - which makes it, well, subjective.
**This is NOT a Japanese recommendation. I just did it and liked it, but when I tell my Japanese friends they look a little...shocked.

Start heating the first five ingredients and give them a stir to make sure the sugar dissolves well. Chop the others and pop them into the pot of simmering brew. I tend to put in the things that take longer to thoroughly cook - carrots, potatoes, daikon, sweet potatoes - sooner rather than later. Bring it to a boil, and then let it simmer. Or, if like me, you then quick run out to the sento for a hot bath on a cold night, just turn it off and let it steam. Reheat when you return, dish it up onto a handful of mizuna and chomp away!

More Links
Here are some other links about oden along with recipes. Please note that some of these do not use the same broth base that I did, but they should be quite tasty.

This short article describing oden and it's ingredients offers a nice overview and some handy links. It's fun to hop around and so some preliminary exploring in preparation for more serious research. This recipe does suggest a soy based broth similar to what the Takashi's recommended.

This recipe from Just Hungry offers, as always, excellent details and information about the ingredients and process of making oden. The broth here is not soy based at all, but relies on the simmering mix of ingredients. (I'm getting hungry...)

If cooking isn't an option or interest, but eating is this page describes oden and offers links describing where to find it in convenience stores. (Yup, convenience stores.) I haven't tried it yet, but one of these chilly days I will!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Researching the Squash

As reported earlier, our pumpkin plants didn't make it this summer. Whether or not it was the extremely hot and humid Tokyo summer or late planting wasn't immediately clear. However, while reading an article from Organic Gardening about Heirloom Pumpkins, the answer seems to be emerging.

Amy Goodman, author and an heirloom enthusiast/expert, explains in her article that there are varieties of squash better suited to a tropical environment. Cucurbits moschata (think butternut) specializes in growing in hot tropical areas. (The light bulb is blazing over my head.) A little research on Seed Savers Exchange, Wikipedia, Google, and whatever other resources I can harness while without an English library revealed to me that this could be the answer to my question. The following is a list of Japanese heirlooms (with one exception) that I hope to find this spring and give a shot.

A unique Japanese heirloom squash that I've not yet seen here. I learned about it in a roundabout way after reading the above article in Organic Gardening. It looks and sounds delicious, and I'm quite hopeful to find seeds here for spring planting.

One of the coolest looking vegetables I've not met yet here in Japan. I'm hopeful, again, to find seeds locally rather than ordering from an American seed company.

Another one that I'm dying to find the seeds for locally, and then grow and eat. The description in this seed catalog made my mouth water!

A squash I, again, don't believe I've met yet here, but I can hardly wait. (It seems I may only be growing squash next year...) This lengthy article in Mother Earth News is some of the best information yet that I've found about heirloom varieties of squash for Japan. It also happens to hit on all the things that I LOVE about heirloom varieties, so I fell hook, line and sinker for this one.

Long Island Cheese
Perhaps the squash listed here with the most unfortunate name, this is the one I'll grow if all else fails for some reason or another. Not a Japanese heirloom but still one with a great little history, this squash sounds quite promising for its tasty flesh, charming appearance, and great texture.

A Good Read?
Amy Goldman, author of several books on heirloom vegetables including her most recent one about heirloom tomatoes, wrote one about squash appropriately titled The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower's Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds. It sounds like recommended reading for an heirloom grower, and I'm giving it some thought.