Writer: Tamaki Kashiwagi
I want to introduce “Nukazuke” (vegetables pickled in salted rice-bran paste) as a primeur of this column because it is the best friend of steamed rice, our staple food. Nukazuke also represents the rich fermentation culture of Japan (we eat a lot of fermented food) and is good for your health (it contains the lactic acid bacteria, like yogurt and helps condition your intestine).
When you eat Nukazuke for the first time, you might think it stinks a little bit like Natto (fermented soybeans) or blue cheese. Despite it (or because of it) we love it!! You, the non-Japanese, might think our obsession to stinky food is weird, but that’s what we are!
I shall explain a little more about Nukazuke. The salted rice-bran paste of Nukazuke is made of the skin of rice and its germ (the byproduct of milled rice called “Nuka”). When they are fermented, it is called “Nukadoko”. This is the key for Nukazuke.
There are interesting stories of Nukadoko paste. It can be used many times by maintaining well, adding Nuka, mixing it regularly and giving it enough oxygen. I hear a story like “My mom’s Nukazuke is No.1 because our family uses same Nukadoko for more than 150 years” (Wow! like vintage wine!). Or “My grandmother escape from her home with Nukadoko when attacked by military during the World War II!!”Can you believe that!? Of course many people buy ready-made Nukazuke from supermarket in recent years.
How to prepare “Nukazuke” overseas – the experiences of Japanese expats
Many Japanese expats bring Nuka from home to make Nukadoko. The bacteria in Nukadoko is alive, so we treat it like our pet. Unfortunately, the bacteria dies sometimes due to carelessness, and we fail to maintain Nukadoko. Can you imagine the shock? It’s very depressing and feel like “the pet-loss syndrome”. How can we overcome “the Nukadoko-loss syndrome”in a foreign country where we cannot find Nuka?
When there is a will, there is a way. You can make Nukadoko from white bread, yogurt and salt. Yogurt has the lactic acid bacteria, which will help the fermentation of bread. The bread-based Nukazuke tastes quite like real Nukazuke. I tried to experiment it using the whole wheat flour, instead of white bread. Put the whole wheat flour, salt, yogurt, red pepper, garlic and water into in a ziplock bag and mix them well. Add a little bit of beer if you have. Then put your favorite vegetables into the bag (cucumber, radish, eggplant and carrot are common for Nukazuke in Japan. Celery and bell pepper are also delicious!). Put the bag in a refrigerator for a week for fermentation (This process is called “zuke”). Wash the vegetables before you cut them and eat them.
Nukazuke is a good way to intake the lactic acid bacteria from vegetables, so it’s recommended for vegans and macrobiotic diet practitioners.
whole wheat flour 250g
salt 2 tbsps
red pepper 1
beer to taste