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The Japanese Table / Practicing traditional idea of not being wasteful

Yomiuri Shimbun photo, in cooperation with Ecole de Cuisine Egami

Curry-flavored unohana, left, and dried daikon radish mixed with sesame seeds

By Fumiko Endo / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer This series discusses the present and future of washoku traditional Japanese cuisine. In this installment, we take a look at how traditions are maintained through changes.

The idea of using up ingredients without any waste is a deep-rooted part of the culture of washoku. Although ways of eating have changed with the times, the idea has been inherited from past generations.

Okara, also called unohana, is soy pulp that is left over after the production of tofu. In the past, stir-fried seasoned okara mixed with vegetables and other ingredients was often eaten at home as a dish called unohana-ae. Today, the dish is eaten at home less frequently.

Tofu manufacturers have developed dried okara powder so that people can eat the food more easily. The powder has attracted new attention since being hailed in the media as “rich in dietary fiber and effective for weight loss.”

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Okara powder products, top left, are sold along with tofu and other items at a supermarket in Tokyo.

     

Sato no Yuki Shokuhin, a food maker based in Tokushima Prefecture, began producing okara powder in 2005, considering it a shame to simply throw the highly nutritious okara away. In fiscal 2016, the sales volume was four times that of fiscal 2012.

“While many consumers think okara is only for making unohana-ae, we recommend easier ways to eat it such as sprinkling it over yogurt and salad,” said a spokesperson for the company.

If okara powder is soaked in water, it increases four or five times in volume, and can be used just like regular okara. In a cookbook published in the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867), various recipes using okara are introduced.

“People put okara in miso soup to prevent it from getting cold,” said Ukiyo Kuruma, an expert on the food and culture of the Edo period. “Since okara produces a long-lasting feeling of satiety and holds warmth, it was frequently used for various dishes during those days.”

According to the Japan Tofu Association, since raw okara contains a lot of water, it spoils quickly. However, it became possible to use okara as livestock feed and for other purposes thanks to large production plants equipped with industrial dryers. About 80 percent of okara currently produced in Japan is mainly fed to animals, while 10 percent is for human consumption and the remaining 10 percent is discarded as industrial waste. Will it be possible to again increase the presence of okara at home? It is apparently at a crucial point.

Dried or fermented foods are part of the cultures developed by our ancestors. Processing foods to make them less perishable in case of food shortages or other contingencies has helped us use up ingredients without waste.

Kunitomi, Miyazaki Prefecture, is one of the country’s largest production areas for kiriboshi daikon, or shredded and dried daikon radish. The shredded vegetable spread on drying racks and exposed to cold winds is a traditional seasonal scene in the region.

According to the town government, cold dry winds blow from the Kirishima mountain range in winter while there is no frost. Thanks to the climate, daikon that is laid out for drying in the morning can be taken in at noon the next day, and the vegetable processed in this way becomes especially delicious.

However, passing such tastes on to younger generations is a major challenge.

According to a survey conducted by Tokyo Gas Co.’s Urban Life Research Institute in 2013 on 2,600 people living in the Tokyo metropolitan area, 24 percent of respondents in their 70s said they ate a simmered dish prepared with dried food at home at least once a week, while only 7 percent of those younger than 20 said so.

“It’s time for us to take a fresh look at the idea of using up ingredients without waste, following the wisdom of our ancestors,” said Shoko Higashiyotsuyanagi, an associate professor of comparative food culture at Baika Women’s University. “We should make efforts to pass on to younger generations an idea of washoku that focuses on sustainability.”

Recipes for unohana, dried daikon  

For the following dishes, curry powder is added to unohana and cheese is used with dried daikon radish. By pairing such modern tastes with the traditional ingredients, the impressions of these ingredients significantly change, allowing people of various generations to enjoy the dishes.

Curry-flavored unohana

Ingredients (serves 2):

80 grams okara

1 dried shiitake mushroom

30 grams carrots

3 haricot vert green beans

2 tbsp cooking oil

1 tbsp sake

½ cup dashi broth

2 tbsp light soy sauce

1 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp mirin

1 tsp curry powder

Directions:

1. Cut carrots and rehydrated dried shiitake into fine strips. Thinly slice haricot verts diagonally. Heat cooking oil in a small pan and lightly stir-fry the vegetables. Add sake, dashi and okara, and boil the mixture.

2. Add soy sauce, sugar, mirin and curry powder. Stir-fry the ingredients, mixing until the ingredients become soft enough to suit your taste.  

Dried daikon with sesame

Ingredients (serves 2):

20 grams dried daikon radish

½ cucumber

50 grams string cheese

Marinade (one sixth of chopped naganegi long onion, juice from a small piece of ginger, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tbsp soy sauce, ½ tbsp white ground sesame, ½ tbsp sesame oil, dash of salt)

 

Directions:

1. Wash dried daikon and soak in water. When it becomes soft, lightly squeeze it and cut into bite-size lengths.

2. Cut cucumber into fine strips five centimeters in length. Sprinkle salt over the strips and leave them for a while. Squeeze them when they become soft. Tear string cheese into shreds.

3. Thoroughly mix ingredients for marinade in a bowl. Add daikon, cucumber and cheese and mix all the ingredients.  

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