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In addition to just eating a plump one with a bowl of hot rice to improve digestion and settle your stomach, there are four basic condiment staples made with dried salt-preserved Japanese apricots (umeboshi). If you were ahead of the game and pickled your umeboshi this time last year, now is the time to reap the benefits of your labor. Prepared traditionally taking more time than work, umeboshi could really be the poster child for the slow food movement. These four offshoot preparations of umeboshi are no exception to this time intensity.

Yukari is made with the red shiso leaves used to flavor and imbue color to the umeboshi. Bainiku, umebishio and ume miso are created with the plump meat of well-pickled umeboshi.

Even if you didn’t get around to doing your own last year there are very good umeboshi available for purchase. Some of the best I have found sit on the shelves of local shizen shokuhin-ya (natural food stores). Apricots pickled naturally are free of chemical preservatives and food colorings and have a smooth yet sharp tartness missing in excessively processed umeboshi. Commercial bainiku is available as well and may be used in making ume miso.

Yukari

Yukari stands as a true byproduct of pickling. Rather than buying readily available commercially premade yukari, dry the shiso leaves from this year’s umeboshi and enjoy the true umeboshi flavor without waiting until next season.

1) When your ume are ready to dry in the umeboshi-making process (see The Japan Times, June 3, 2001), air the shiso leaves on a separate screen until very dry. Mid-afternoon sun is best.

2) In a suribachi (mortar), with a surikogi (pestle) grind the dry leaves into a very fine powder. Grinding leaves still warm from sun-drying results in the most flavorful yukari.

3) Sieve through a course sieve, and store the fine powder and the rougher yukari separately. The fine powder may be used in hot tea and when making sweets (wagashi), and the course, finished yukari tastes great on hot rice.

Bainiku

Bai is the other reading for the Chinese character “ume.” Niku means flesh or meat. Bainiku refers specifically to the meaty flesh of umeboshi. Easily made and set aside, bainiku may be used in many cooking preparations, including simmered dishes and cold salads. Add just a bit of freshly grated wasabi and a dollop of wasabi-bainiku is a flavorful complement to hot rice gruel (o-kayu).

1) Carefully remove pits from the umeboshi. With a heavy knife chop the flesh, including the skins, into a fine mash.

2) Push the mash through a fine sieve (uragoshi) to achieve a smooth paste. In a sealed jar this paste will keep almost indefinitely.

Umebishio

Umebishio is the preparation out of the four that is falling out of use. It comes close to what in the West is referred to as “plum sauce.” It is made by cooking sugar, about 60 percent of the weight of the umeboshi, into umeboshi that have had the salt soaked out of them and been pushed through a strainer. Cut with hot water and you can use it as the liquid to make a sweet o-kayu. It may also be used as a sauce for desserts, added to curries and employed when making pork dishes, especially pork saute.

1) With a fine needle poke many small holes in the skins of 30 umeboshi.

2) To remove the saltiness from the umeboshi, soak, covered in water, for 2-3 days, refreshing the water 2-3 times each day. Strain out the water. The final umeboshi should have little trace of salt.

3) Push through a fine sieve to achieve smooth loose paste, free from pits.

4) Put the paste in a heavy-bottomed pot, add sugar (60 percent weight of the umeboshi, for 30 umeboshi about 2 cups) and bring close to a boil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until the umebishio thickens. The umebishio should coat well the backside of a spoon.

5) Remove from heat. Cool. Refrigerated, will keep indefinitely.

Ume miso

A sweet miso used in dressed salads and with cooked fish, ume miso may also be spread on rice balls (onigiri) before grilling. As a dip for raw vegetables, such as cucumbers, ume miso is also delicious. Saikyo-style miso is the sweetest white miso generally available. Most white miso will substitute.

1 tablespoon bainiku
100 grams Saikyo miso
4 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoon sake
90 cc dashi

1) In a heavy-bottom pot combine well miso and sugar. When combined, add sake and dashi and mix well.

2) Cook over a medium-high flame until mixture bubbles, reduce heat and simmer for several minutes until very smooth.

3) Remove from heat and slowly stir in bainiku.

4) Return to heat and bring once again to simmer, extinguish heat and cool. Store in refrigerator; keeps very well.

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