I've been enjoying Elizabeth Andoh's new book Kansha: Celebrating Japan's Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions. She has a warm, encouraging voice, and she explains process and ingredients in eye-opening ways. Although I've been cooking Japanese food for twenty years and am familiar with some unusual ingredients, I've had several "aha!" moments while buried in this wonderful book.
I got the book specifically for Andoh's discussion of Japanese pickles -- nuka pickles in particular. Nuka is powdered rice bran. To make nuka pickles, you season and culture the bran so that it becomes an intense pickling environment. Vegetables (whole and sliced) are placed in the nuka, and often they're ready in just a day. The nuka pot needs to be tended daily or "fed" new vegetables in order to keep its culture going.
Here's a great article Andoh wrote about maintaining a pickle pot -- including finding "sitters" for it when she travels.
So today I set out to begin my own nuka pot. Earlier this week I found Nuka at Anzen. This is what it looks like:
I wish I had taken a picture while the nuka roasted in the big iron skillet. It smelled mysteriously sweet like cookies from heaven or something. I mixed it with sake and other seasonings, and now it will begin to culture for a couple of days before I begin "feeding" it with vegetable scraps first, then cucumbers and daikon, and then other vegetables.
I covered it up, though, to prevent the light from getting to it.
It's fun to begin adventures like this. I remember when I first learned to make sauerkraut and what worlds that opened up for me.
While I was off hunting for nuka ingredients, I also went to Fubonn Market, where I found this Chinese Pickle Jar. If you're familiar with Harsch Crocks and their water seal, you'll see that these Chinese jars also have a water seal.
This one was just $15 -- compared to the $100+ price for a Harsch crock. (That's the lid on the right. It fits nicely on the rim of the vessel.) I had hoped to use this Chinese jar for the nuka, but I realized that, although I can fit my hand easily through the top, the shape of it wouldn't allow me to work quickly to bury the vegetable pieces and retrieve the finished pickles on a daily basis. I'll use it for kvass or something quick like kimchi.
Speaking of kvass... I made side-by-side batches using whey and pickle juice (fermented) and just decanted and tasted them this morning. Both are perfectly wonderful -- with the same richness, sweetness and intensity. The only difference I could tell this morning is that the batch made with whey was slightly fizzier. Perhaps they will reveal other flavor differences after they're refrigerated for a day or so. In any case, I was thrilled that the pickle juice version turned out so well because I often find it a drag to strain yogurt yet always have pickle juice on hand, as you know.