Skip to main content

Tougan: Introducing Winter Melon

Tougan (winter melon) at Hosotani's natural farm near Nara.
October, 2013.

Tougan (winter melon) has been on my vegetable radar since our very first days in Japan. Large, oblong, and deep green, it is an attractive vegetable nearly irresistible to a curious eater. A neighbor down the road grows them, and each year I ponder a purchase but never quite got around to it. Their chokubaijo (direct sale stand) is a popular one despite its secluded location along the Tamagawajousui. It's best to arrive early and then politely duke it out with the local grandmothers for the choicest bouquet, pickles, and vegetables.) I've also seen it at various farmers markets around town, but somehow lugged one home. Tomiyama-san, manager of the Earth Day Market, even suggested a warm winter punch recipe made with red wine, cinnamon and other spices, that sorely tempted. Somehow I resisted.

This year, though, Hosotani-san, a natural farmer I had the great pleasure of meeting and interviewing during a recent visit to Nara Prefecture, gave me one as a parting gift. Even though it was slightly impractical, I took it with only the slightest resistance. It was an opportunity to finally try it, and his farm, which I also had the great pleasure of touring with he and his wife, was awe-inspiring. To say no on practical grounds seemed rude. I received it with gratitude.

My sister-in-law and I prepared it the next day for dinner. Back at Hamma Farm for another round of visiting and helping, the tougan was easy to incorporate into our meals. I made a big batch of asazuke, a word that literally translates as 'morning pickles' but stands for any quick pickle. The remainder landed in the curry we ate for breakfast the next day. Perfect.

A member of the cucurbit family (think cucumber), tougan vines ramble happily over the garden or clamor up a sturdy trellis with ease. The latter makes good use of space. Our neighbor grows a variety of other vegetables under the trellis that like the shade afforded by the tougan vines and leaves. Harvesting is a straight-forward process, too, with unblemished fruits hanging at head height on sturdy stems. (No yellow spot from sitting on the ground.)

Joy Larkcom writes in her classic Oriental Vegetables: The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook (2007) that tougan "are the hallmark of Chinese communities all over the world." Like so many other things, though, Japan found this little lovely and made it its own. It gets plopped into soups, including the ever-present miso shiro, stir fries, and more. While its white flesh is reminiscent in taste and texture of a cucumber, it makes it a perfect companion for stronger flavored broths and sauces. (Larkcom also writes that tougan's flowers and leaves can be eaten.) It's smooth, waxy outer surface that sometimes gives it a hazy white look, means that it will keep for upwards of six months in a cool, dry place. Usually harvested in October, a family could count on tougan as a food source during a season of scarcity. Hence, the name 'winter melon.'

Tougan asazuke
1 quarter tougan, peeled and seeded
1.5 teaspoons pickling salt (or to taste)
1 half large yuzu (or to taste)
Togarashi (optional)

Cut the tougan into bite-sized pieces and sprinkle with the pickling salt. (Remember to a non-reactive container, such as glass, for making the pickles.) Cut the yuzu into pieces, removing seeds until your patience runs out. Cut togarashi into tiny pieces. Add both to tougan and salt mixture. Massage and mix with fingers until the salt is evenly spread and the salt begins to draw out fluid. Place a heavy lid on top of mixture to encourage liquid formation and pop the mixture in the refrigerator until dinner. Can be made an hour before eating or the day before. Keeps for about three days, give or take.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Finding Heirloom Seeds in Japan

Drying pods of heirloom Hutterite Soup Beans. Since moving to Japan eight years ago, one of my greatest challenges as a farmer-gardener has been to find heirloom or open-pollinated seeds. The majority of seeds available are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) as Japan, at this point, doesn't accept this material. Most seeds, though, are nearly all F1 varieties. Heirloom and F1 Varieties In plant breeding, F1 is the name given to the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents. For example, if I decide to cross an Amish Paste Tomato with another heirloom variety tomato such as Emmy, in hopes of getting a gold paste tomato, the resulting generation of fruit is F1. In order to get that tomato of my culinary dreams, I'll need to choose members of that first generation that are headed in a direction I like - early ripening, medium-sized fruit, good taste - and save their seeds. I'll plant them and repeat the process again and again over time unti

Satoimo: One of Japan's Favorite Slimy Things

Satoimo in all their hairy glory. This post first appeared in slightly different form on Garden to Table as part of the 2012  Blogathon . The website has since moved on to the ether, but the post is still a good one. After all, people here are still eating satoimo on a daily basis, and many others are just seeing these little potato-like objects for the first time. Enjoy! Satoimo is one of Japan's odder vegetables. Under it's rough, slightly furry skin is white flesh that is a little bit slimy even raw, and with a gentle nutty flavor.* Baked, grilled, steamed with dashi, or deep-fried satoimo stands well on its own or paired up with other vegetables and meats in a wide variety of soups and stews . (The leaves are also edible.) Satoimo stores well, and like any root crop worth the effort, stocks are just running low on this household favorite as the farmers in my area of Tokyo get ready to put a new crop in the ground in May. I cannot say I was a fan of this l

Goma Ai Shingiku - Sesame and Chrysanthemum Greens

Last week I had the pleasure of helping some friends work in their parents garden not too far away. Tucked behind the house, the garden sits on a former house lot. When it came up for sale about five years ago, my friend's father jumped at the chance. Open land in Tokyo can be hard to find and expensive, but for a retired professional looking for a little spot to till in the city it was an opportunity to good to pass up. Now, it is a garden to envy. As we came through the gate rose, lily, and peony blooms greeted us with great shouts of color while rows of vegetables stood tidily at attention on the sunny center stage. Small fruit trees along with one of the biggest sansho trees I've seen yet stood quietly here and there. Near waist-high sweet corn, bushy young potato plants, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and beans were preparing their summer fruits, while a handful of still quite luscious looking winter vegetables like komatsuna, mizuna, and kabu held one last ro