Marinated Cucumbers for Summer

The seasons affect how I cook and what I eat in strong and noticeable ways; this is only exacerbated in Japan, where there are fewer ways to shield myself from the realities of weather, temperature, and climate. In the winter I wanted to make stir fry and soup and then form a human wreath around my space heater, but no longer! Summer is again at our doorstep (or perhaps already standing in the genkan, slipping off its shoes and yelling out “Ojama shimasu! And I’ve brought all these insects with me!”), which means heavy-duty cooking over a hot stove is officially finished. In summers past, I went out of my way not to use the stove, so much so in fact that laziness often prevailed and my diet consisted mainly of chips and salsa, cottage cheese, fruit, and anything that can be marinated and eaten cold. My mom often has a bowl of thinly sliced cucumbers marinating on the counter, and I have continued this practice in my own kitchen.

Big, raunchy looking cucumbers are everywhere right now. Go snap up a bag for 100 yen and make yourself some marinated cucumbers for on a hot day.

The vinegar keeps bacteria from growing in the hot weather.

The vinegar keeps bacteria from growing in the hot weather.

Marinated Cucumbers (makes about 2 servings, or 4 Japan-sized side servings)

Ingredients:

1 large cucumber

100 ml/half cup rice vinegar

30ml/2 tablespoons olive oil

15 g/1 tablespoon crushed black pepper

15 g/1 tablespoon salt

few pinches white sugar (optional)

fresh/dried garlic or herbs to taste (optional)

Directions:

  1. Wash and slice the cucumber into very thin pieces. You can use a knife or, more conveniently, the slicer on a cheese grater or mandolin.
  2. Spread the cucumbers out in a shallow bowl.
  3. Add all ingredients and mix. Cover with foil or plastic wrap.
  4. Let the mixture sit for at least 2 hours. 8 is best, so I usually make it in the morning and eat some that evening.
  5. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Eat it when you want a cool, refreshing snack or meal addition.

What do you eat them with? Naturally, you can eat them by themselves. Or mix them into a salad. I used to eat them with pickled garlic and cottage cheese. But I recently had some with a little rice and a fried egg on top. Total. Heaven.

Enjoy.

Okara Vegetarian Burgers

Even if you’re not vegetarian, this may be one of the best things you ever make.

IMG_0859

Riddle me this: There exists in Japan a food so cheap that vendors often give it away for free. It is nutritious, being high in both protein and fiber, as well as entirely vegan, yet it is more often fed to livestock than to humans. What is it?

It’s okara, the byproduct of soy milk/tofu production, of course. Any similarity to also-delicious okra is in name only; the latter is a green seedy vegetable, while the former is a soft white powdery pulp. If you live near a shop that specializes in tofu products, chances are they’ll give you okara for free, but you can also buy it at the supermarket for 40-89 yen per package. Fresh okara still contains quite a bit of moisture, so it’s best used within the week you buy it (I’ve frozen it before and it’s cooked into fishes fine, though the texture did change a little). You’ll find it near the tofu, usually in a small plastic bag.

Really, 82 yen is too much.

If you’ve never cooked with okara, I don’t blame you. Despite its nutritional content, most people find it bland on its own. As an ingredient, it’s a straight man – the Michael Bluth of soy products. Yet, like Michael, it does extremely well in an ensemble, and one of the best uses for okara is in vegetarian dishes where it can provide structure while allowing the flavors of the other ingredients to shine. This is a welcome change from, say, portobello mushroom or black-bean burgers.

We’ve made okara burgers twice this month. Dane can’t stop eating them. Once you’ve had one of these, you’ll never, ever be able to eat a Boca patty again without experiencing profound disappointment akin to “peeing into a Mr. Coffee and expecting Taster’s Choice,” as Ross Perot once said (okay, so it was Dana Carvey doing an impression of Perot, but that may be more authentic).

These burgers are not vegan, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be. I went to a vegan restaurant in Kyoto one time where I was served amazing deep-fried okara dumplings that were basically vegan chicken nuggets. If you so wish, you could make okara your vegan burger bitch. Let me know, okay?

Okara Vegetarian Burgers

(makes about 14 patties)

Ingredients:

300g fresh okara

200g firm tofu (if you use soft or silken, it’s still possible but the burgers may not hold together as well)

100g cooked, drained soybeans (or bean of your choice)

3 medium eggs

large handful of chopped scallions, maybe more

2 tbsp black pepper (yes, it’s a lot, and it’s important)

1 1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp each oregano, basil, and/or thyme (whatever your taste)

large handful shredded cheese (optional)

breadcrumbs or crushed fu (optional)

Directions:

1. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs until smooth.

2. Add all other ingredients. Knead with clean, bare hands until mixture forms a thick, doughy paste.

IMG_0848

3. Chill the ingredients in the fridge for 30 minutes (optional step, but it helps the patties cohere better).

4. Remove the mixture from the fridge and shape into patties, as you would with hamburger meat.

IMG_0849IMG_0638

5. Cook in lightly oiled nonstick pan over medium-low heat, about 8-10 minutes per side (cook temperature and time could be wildly variable depending on whether you have a Fisher Price stover, like me, or a real one). The outside of the patty should be a lovely golden brown. The inside will still look fairly raw and soft. If you’re worried about the patties cooking through (you basket case!), make your patties slightly thinner and use a meat thermometer – the internal temperature should reach 60˚C/140˚F.

IMG_0854

“Piri-piri” is the sizzling sound in Japanese.

And, finish! Serve on buns or over salad greens, with plenty of mustard, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil. If you work out the cost for ingredients and gas for the stove, each burger ends up being about ¥25. Enjoy!

IMG_0640

*Yo, if you make these, let me know if you needed to adjust my measurements in any way. Peas and thank you.