Great Food Fast: Try This Traditional Japanese Daikon and Apricot Sunomono

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I spent this past Saturday cooking with my friend Fumiko Arao in the lovely home she shares with her husband Ken in the hills above Silicon Valley. Fumi grew up in Tokyo and learned traditional Japanese cooking from her mother and grandmother and cooks in a style influenced by kaiseki which I would characterize as light, clean and elegant. We made six dishes which together compose a complete vegan Japanese meal.  In the next few days I will share with you everything we made, but I thought I’d start with the sunomono.

A sunomono is a traditional small side dish. Something between a pickle and a salad, a sunomono involves fresh, raw vegetables, sometimes cooked sea food such as shrimp or scallops, and always includes vinegar (“su” in Japanese). A sunomono which I’ve made many times combines lightly-salted, thinly-sliced cucumber with wakame, a sea vegetable, dressed with rice vinegar, a little sweetener of some sort, and sometimes a drop or two of soy sauce (not so much as give the dish a brown color). As these simple and quick-to-make dishes never contain oil, they are refreshing and low in fat (the vegetarian versions especially). Fumi’s sunomono, her grandmother’s recipe, beautifully balances the tartness of rice vinegar with the sweetness of dried apricots. Step-by-step instructions are after the jump…

Select a 2-inch piece of a large daikon, peel, then cut into slices about 1/8-inch thick.

Stack these rounds and cut them into matchstick-like strips.

Put the daikon matchsticks in a bowl, mix in one teaspoon salt. Weight with a plate on top and let sit 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, make a dressing of three tablespoons rice vinegar, two teaspoons brown rice syrup (or your choice of sweetener) and a tiny pinch of salt. Thinly slice 7-8 dried apricots and marinate them in the dressing.

After 15 minutes or so, squeeze the excess water out of the daikon and put the squeezed daikon into the bowl with the apricots and dressing.

Finally, mix everything together. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. You can let it sit a few minutes for the daikon to absorb dressing if you like, but it is also fine to eat it right away.

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