Monday, March 02, 2009
We Japanese eat a lot of seaweed. The more standard ones that are fairly well known these days are Nori (which is used in sushi) and Wakame (which is frequently in soups and salad). The konbu I used in the Dashi post is also a commonly used seaweed. But there are many, many more exotic seaweeds in our arsenal, and today's post is about one of my favorites - Mekabu.
The characters for Mekabu literally translates to Japanese Cloth Radish, although the common understanding is that it means Budding Radish. I am not entirely certain as to what part of Mekabu resembles a radish, but Mekabu is the root of the same seaweed that Wakame is made from - hence, the Budding association comes from the Mekabu portion of the seaweed being where the seaweed buds and grows.
The defining characteristic of Mekabu is its stickiness. It is slimey in the most delicious and satisfying way to those of us who love okra, natto, and yama-imo. It dances in the mouth and slithers down the throat, while maintaining a crunch to it with firmness only possible in seaweed and other plant-like foods. There is a brine-y scent that usually begs to be toned down with some citrus or ginger as to not overpower the palate.
Mekabu is sold either in dried form waiting to be reconstituted or "fresh", packed in liquid. I usually buy mine in liquid, packed with ginger. I take extra caution to get the ones without food coloring in it, because Mekabu is notoriously dyed with food coloring to give it an unnatural (and to me, unappetizing) green color.
My most frequent use of Mekabu is to mix Mekabu with natto and yamaimo in a side dish/salad. Simply mixed with a touch of ponzu, this salad is a goo-ey lover's dream dish! I will definitely post this as I get through natto and yama-imo terms post too. Although this mixture is great alone, it is also wonderful as a dipping sauce for noodles or folded into freshly boiled spaghetti for a unique sauce.
I also like to use Mekabu in salads with avocado, cucmbers, and greens. I simply mix all the ingredients, tie it together with a dash or two of ponzu, and voila! One dish done for parties!
Mekabu works great as a warming thickner for soups too. It adds viscosity without requiring starches, and it also gives off a wonderful deep richness to broth due to its high content of "umami".
Today, I discovered a new use: Mekabu-Kimchi. I chopped kimchi into small pieces, mixed it in with Mekabu, and served it as a palate cleanser - I know, it sounds weird, but we JPs use anything with a drastically different taste from the rest of the menu as a palate cleanser for meals.
If you have a great Mekabu recipe, I'd love to hear it!