Friday, December 04, 2009

Cooking and eating Koko.

One of the things I miss most about Hawaii is the food. I mean, you know, also this:

Rainbow Falls, Hawaii
Source: TerryMcT, Flickr

And my family. But very much so the food. I've learned to make a lot of it myself, much of that cobbled together with approximations of the actual ingredients and even those I have to run all over town to find and pull together. (Can you hear the tiny violins?)

There are a ton of Korean transplants here and therefore a ton of Korean stores and delicious, authentic Korean kim chee available. But, the Japanese version of this is a much more subtle and delicate pickled vegetable called tsukemono. We call it koko for short. Now, when I say we, I have NO idea if "we" is just my family and we're the only nerds walking around eating koko or if this is a collective "we" referring to all tsukemono loving speakers of the Japanese.

But, whatever the case, one of the things I really miss is a pickled cabbage dish called Yatsumi Zuke. My entire life, I thought my grandmother made this stuff, lovingly pickling the vegetables for her adoring family but it turns out THAT WAS A BIG FAT LIE. She bought that shit straight from the farmers market, brought it home and stuck it in old glass mayo tubs. I love my Baba, she was fucking awesome. And if, as it turns out, she was completely full of shit, I guess the Internet was going to have to come through for me. Except! Y'all! It would appear that we (and this "we" refers to my family and my family alone) ARE the only nerds walking around eating koko. Just try searching koko, you guys. Unless you're trying to cook a gorilla, you're going to be out of luck. (And even then, not a lot of recipes.)

Anyhow, blah blah blah...had to talk Mom into making a trip to the old Ward Farmers Market...blah blah blah...long story short...finally got the real name Yatsumi Zuke and found one lone recipe on these here Interwebz. Slightly modified, like to hear it? hear it go:

3 medium mustard cabbage
1/4 cup alaea hawaiian red rock salt
2 tsp grated ginger
2/3 cup shoyu
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
crushed red pepper to taste

Mustard cabbage is also known as mustard greens (although, not the same as what they call mustard greens here in the Souf), mizuna, gai choy and lord knows what else. It's a weird looking cabbage with a couple of giant leaves surrounding a teeny tiny little head.


On a side note, it totally stokes me out that the Korean grocery I buy my giant leafy leaves and little friends from grows them out back and thus makes this one of the few steps I can make in this area toward a 100 Mile Diet.

So, wash well, chop and sprinkle with the rock salt as you go.


With three heads of mustard greens, you'll end up with a giant bowl like this. Pictured here in human scale for perspective, because I'm helpful like that.


Let the greens and salt sit for about 30 minutes. In the meantime, heat up the shoyu (a.k.a. soy sauce), rice vinegar, ginger, brown sugar and crushed red pepper until it boils. Remove from heat and let cool.

Here's where you better hope you've kept up on your hand moisturizing. After letting the greens sit with the salt, squeeze excess water out and pack into a jar. Dry skin + salt = OW SHIT OW. Believe it or not, you can fit that whole bowl into a much smaller container. Again in human scale:


Once the mixture has cooled, pour over greens, seal the jar and let sit out for 3 hours.

Refrigerate, eat, refrigerate, eat, repeat until The Man eats all the damned koko and you say WHERE THE HELL DID ALL THE KOKO GO and he says you ate it and you say oh then blame it on him on the Internet.

Oh! And! Perfect for bento. Anything with vinegar in it is a natural antimicrobial which is a great addition to a portable lunch.

Technorati tags: tsukemono, Japanese cooking, Hawaii


Alison said...

omg, my grandmother made this too! I've been looking for it forever and you're right, you can't search for 'koko' nothing comes up. I had no idea it had another name. She used broccoli stems, bok choy, cucumbers, anything really. And she kept it in a pot under the sink for days while it fermented maybe? I really hope this is the same stuff she made! I'm going to try it. Thank you for posting, i miss my grandma

shaka said...

glad i found this read through a "koko" search. good read, made me giggle. now i will attempt to make some koko