Communal Table's Winter Salon: Pickles Roots and Preserves

What a pleasure to chop, mash and generally make a grand mess with a great group of pickle fresers. Yes, fresers. That’s what my grandfather would have called us for our gluttonous pickle gobbling. I’ve had several good reports on the take home kimchee project. I think even my Yiddish Grandpa could have learned to love kimchee.
The pickles of my youth were the kosher dills, sauerkraut and pickled green tomatoes of Ashkenazi Jews in New York. They were the pickles my grandparents and great grandparents ate. The pickles of my adult life come from culinary traditions far from my own background, but readily available to me in my vast New York City backyard. Pickles from China, India, Japan, Lebanon, Korea, Mexico appear at my table regularly. For my own family, a Japanese umeboshi  is as comfortingly familiar as a half sour dill.
Our Pickle tasting featured a number of homemade and purchased pickled and preserved treats. Moroccan preserved lemons, Russian pickled beets, Japanese pickled garlic and lots of others. I have to say the unanimous favorite had to be the pickled prunes (prunes!) that we served before dinner with some bocherondin. The easy to make recipe came from Seattle’s Boat Street Cafe via Molly Wizenberg in a story on NPR.
(We also tried the pickled grapes from the same source, which were wonderful, but not quite as spectacular as the prunes.)
Annie Hauck-Lauson treated us to her spectacular Kapusta, which for anyone who, like me, has not had any previous exposure to this dish, is a combination of sauerkraut (also known as the kapusta) cooked with onions and fresh savoy cabbage to produce a meltingly tender, savory dish.
Roots made appearances in crudite, Polish potato vodka, sweet potato shochu, ginger beer and rum cocktails, watermelon radishes and striped beet salads and in Oden, a a thoroughly warming Japanese Farmhouse stew and one of my favorite wintertime dishes.
Spicy ginger cookies sandwiched creamy ginger ice cream for a sweet surprise ending.
These great cookies are a frequently requested speciality of Ame’s, chewy and tender, but with a delicate exterior crunch and a sharp ginger kick.
Thank you to everyone who participated in Communal Table’s Winter Salon! It was a great success thanks to you. Special thanks to Nancy Ralph (http://www.nyfoodmuseum.org/)
 and Annie Hack-Lawson( http://www.foodvoice.net/) our guest presenters. So interesting, so charming and such marvelous dinner companions. 

This vegetarian version is a comforting light dinner homey enough for family, lovely enough for company. The light gingery broth is also deeply soothing  for nursing a cold or stomach ache. Like most soups the flavor deepens with an overnight rest in the refrigerator. I like to ladle leftovers over a pile of cooked udon noodles in a deep bowl.
Oden traditionally contains a variety of fishcake items. I am vaguely suspicious of these products, their ingredients and manufacture. I don’t love them, so it’s easy for me to dismiss them entirely. If you like them, they get added toward the end of the cooking as they are pre-cooked. Another characteristic ingredient that I leave out is konnyaku a jello-like paste in block or noodle shape. It’s flavor is so unremarkable that I can only imagine that it gets added for it’s texture, which is, rubbery. It’s easy to find here in NYC, so by all means add it if you like. I never miss it.
Here is my non traditional take on the classic stew.
makes a big potful   8-10 servings
a handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
1 large strip of kombu
3-4 inch piece of un-peeled ginger cut into 6 pieces which will be distinguishable from the other vegetables
1 large or 2 medium daikon peeled or scrubbed and cut into 3/4 inch rounds or half moons
1 foot long stalk of burdock peeled and roll-cut into small chunks
3-4 carrots peeled or scrubbed and roll-cut into chunks
2-3 parsnips peeled or scrubbed and roll-cut into chunks
1 medium rutabaga peeled and cut into large bite size chunks
water to cover
3 TBS Mirin or more to taste
1/2 cup Tamari or soy or more to taste
garnish (optional)
broiled tofu slices
chopped scallions
Japanese hot mustard
grilled tofu slabs 
sesame oil 
Place the shiitake, kombu and ginger in the soup pot with about 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes.
Add the vegetables all at once and add enough water to just cover. Return to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.
Add the Mirin and Tamari, cover loosely and simmer until the vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.
Remove the mushrooms to a cutting board with a slotted spoon and either slice them into strips or halve them according to your preference.
Remove the kombu and divide it into 4 inch lengths. Slice these lengthwise into approximately 1/2 inch strips. Tie each strip into a simple knot for an edible kombu garnish. 
Return the shiitake and the kombu to the pot.
Fish out the 6 chunks of ginger and discard.
Serve in individual bowls with a slab of grilled tofu and any of the other garnishes.
In Japan the scallions and the mustard (or maybe even some bonito flakes or grated daikon) might be served alongside in a separate small dish. 
For our attendees as well as any pickle lovers who may be interested, here’s a list of a few of our favorite sources. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of our frequent NYC haunts.

M and I International
249 Brighton Beach Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11235

187 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11201-5696
(718) 624-4551
179 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002-1024
(212) 475-4880

Han au Reum — 25 W 32nd St, New York, NY 10001

123 Lexington Avenue

New York, NY 10016

Sunrise Mart 
4 Stuyvesant St., 2nd Fl. (at 3rd Ave.)

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