Good Taste: Shungiku

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Shabu shabu or sukiyaki wouldn’t be complete without Japanese shungiku. Called Garland Chrysanthemum in English, or Tong Hao in Chinese, shungiku is a dark leafy green that is an essential ingredient in hot pot-style dishes. The greens are slightly bitter in taste, and very delicate, easily burned and over-cooked. When added to hot dishes, they are generally added last in order to retain their flavor and dark green color. Many modern chefs use shungiku in salads to add just the right amount of crunchy sharpness. The greens can be paired with seafood, persimmons, eggs, mushrooms, poultry, and even stuffed into gyoza (or Japanese style dumplings), or mixed into stir-fries.

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The plants are easily recognizable, bearing daisy-type flowers. They are hardy annuals that grow in mild or slightly cold climates. The greens are also nutritious, containing potassium, carotene, antioxidants and lactobacillus casei, the probiotic widely used make yogurt and support intestinal health.

Originally brought to Japan from Greece and primarily used in Asian cuisines, including Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese and Korean dishes, these vegetables are readily available in the United States in Asian grocery stores and farmers markets. Try our recipes for sukiyaki and add shungiku to your mix!

 

Good Taste: Yuzu!

 

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Yummy for the palette and yummy for the skin!? Yuzu is a gorgeous, cold-hardy citrus fruit used in Japanese cooking, cocktails and beauty treatments. Yuzu is popular in dishes…as an ingredient in dipping sauces like ponzu and in spicy pastes like yuzukosho. It’s even more popular muddled into cocktails like the Yuzu Sour, which is mixed with rum, vodka, triple sec, soda and simple syrup.

The yuzu fruit is small, about the size of a large lime. It’s tart and a little bit bitter, citrusy as if a grapefruit and a lemon were mixed together. Very little juice can be extracted from the fruit, since the fruit has a very thick rind and large seeds relative to its size, but the juice that is available has a concentrated flavor, and zesting the peel releases the fruit’s aromatic oils. Yuzu seeds were also used medicinally.

Yuzu zest in chawanmushi

Yuzu zest in chawanmushi

The hardy yuzu plant is able to thrive in diverse planting zones, and can even survive temperatures as low as 5°F. In April and May, the trees flower with delicate white blossoms. From June through August, the trees remain dormant, laden with dark green fruit. Even though the fruit is not yet ripe like it will be during the winter months, the rind of the green fruit is grated and served with salads and sashimi to add a citrus spice to these dishes. During the winter months, the fruit turns golden and aromatic, and is used fresh and preserved. Yuzu marmalade is extremely popular, and can be used in desserts and teas. Marinades for chicken and fish, as well as dipping sauces for vegetables and beef are also commonly used. We love the Baked Sea Bass with Yuzu Pepper recipe on our website… give it a try!

One of the best uses of yuzu is on Winter Solstice, or Toji. A hot bath is drawn and whole yuzu fruit or sliced fruit bundled in cheesecloth is added to the water. Bathing in this water is said to ward off colds and flu during the winter, and to rejuvenate dry, chapped skin as the aromatic oils are released into the water. The nomilin in the fruit’s oils also produces a relaxing effect and increases circulation.

Luscious and appetizing, yuzu is a treat at this time of year!

Good Taste: Gin-nan (Ginkgo Nuts)

Gin-nan or ginkgo nuts ripen in autumn, and this month, fans around the world will be picking them straight from the trees to bring them to their tables.

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Patience is required to prepare ginkgo nuts. Fresh nuts are encased in three layers – a?pulpy, yellowish outer covering; a hard, smooth white nut case; and a thin, brownish inner?skin. And that’s not the only protection around the nuts! The pulpy outer covering is extremely pungent, likened to durian fruit in intensity and odor. Avid enthusiasts undertake the challenge of removing the smelly outer covering, cracking open the nut case and then scrubbing the inner skins off while the nuts are soaked in hot water to get to the nut within. (The not-so-avid can definitely find fresh, hulled nuts at Asian markets around the world.) The inexperienced novice will certainly come away with skin peeling from their hands and an overfull stomach, as only 4-5 nuts should be eaten at a time (unfortunately, ginkgo poisoning is a thing).

ginnan02Gin-nan grow on female ginkgo biloba trees, which are prized not only for their fruit but for their beautiful and unique foliage. In Tokyo, ginkgo trees turn a splendid shade of gold during the fall season, and locals and tourists alike visit the “Ginkgo Avenue” or Icho Namiki near the Aoyama-Itchome Station and in Showa Memorial Park. Each location is planted with four rows of ginkgo trees, forming broad avenues overhung by leafy branches dappling shade. A ginkgo tree is also at Sensoji Shrine in Asakusa, the oldest temple in Tokyo.

The raw nuts, once harvested from the trees and deskinned, are white in color but turn pale green when cooked. In Japan, the nuts are skewered and grilled, kushiyaki-style and more commonly found in chawanmushi,?a savory egg custard appetizer. The true connoisseur loves these nuts simply roasted, warm and fragrant on an autumn day.

Good Taste: Matsutake Mushrooms

Autumn is here and it is time for the glorious taste of matsutake mushrooms!

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This vibrant mushroom, also called the “pine mushroom”, is traditionally gathered in September in forests where undisturbed red pines grow in Japan, Korea and the Pacific Northwest. It’s a rare and wonderful fungus, whose flavor is so prized it is used as a main ingredient in Japanese dishes.

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How about a matsutake pizza?

The matsutake has a meaty stem, with a light brown cap when fully grown. Prized, tender, young matsutake are paler and smaller in size and are found in the duff at the base of red pine trees, forming subtle bumps called ‘mushrumps’. Because the mushrooms are picked wild and usually eaten before the cap spreads open, devoted gatherers wipe them clean with a damp cloth, trim them closely so as to retain the most woody, aromatic flavor possible, and celebrate their bounty by cooking them in the open air, grilled or delicately sautéed. Two fabulous traditional recipes are Matsutake Gohan, a seasoned rice dish made with wild matsutake, shoyu, mirin, sake and mitsuba, as well as Matsutake Dobin Mushi, a soup made with matsutake, gingko nuts, mitsuba, thin slices of chicken, shrimp and dashi broth, all steamed together in a small teapot.

Because of its short harvest season, cooking with matsutake can be expensive. Last autumn, wild-harvested Japanese matsutake sold for approximately $500 per pound. Prices are significantly lower for US-grown matsutake, but these mushrooms are still considered the most expensive in the world, even beating out wild-harvested French truffles. In the US, fresh matsutake can be found at Japanese and other Asian grocery markets and gourmet food stores, or can be ordered online from various specialty retailers. When shopping for matsutake, it’s best to purchase fresh ones, as the mushrooms are by tradition not dried. Canned matsutake have become available, although they remain a poor substitute for the truly delicious newly-harvested ones.

Have you tasted this wonderful delicacy? Tell us about your favorite matsutake experience!