In the middle of January, it amazes me that we still have a farmers market on Saturdays in the University District. I go every chance I get but I’ll have to admit that I’ve started looking for something different to mix things up and add a little umami deliciousness to our table. If you’re feeling that way too — grateful that we have local fresh food but slightly tired of the same old, same old, my suggestion is to high tail it over to Mair Farm Taki’s market table to check out their latest offerings. For starters, where else can you get 7 different varieties of winter squash — cut and whole?
I bought some Sunshine (squash) but I know what you’re thinking — even with 7 different choices, it’s going to take more than a new variety of winter squash to get me excited. Winter squash with the addition of one magical ingredient I found there — homemade umeboshi plums, pickled with shiso, no less, was exactly the new taste I was looking for. They’re on the pricey side but a little goes a long way and I know of no other place in Seattle where you can find them home grown and homemade. Complex, tangy, salty all at the same time and now I’m in umami heaven. I’ve started chopping them up and adding them to practically everything I eat.
I can’t even imagine Melissa Clark’s Sweet-and Spicy Tofu and Squash without chopped umeboshi plums.
Roasted Squash and Tofu with Umeboshi Plums
Ingredients: 1 package extra-firm tofu/ 1 small or 1/2 large winter squash, seeded and cut into 1/2″ thick half moons – I peeled mine but you don’t have to/ 1 1/2 T soy sauce/ 1/2 t sriracha or other hot sauce/ 1/4 cup oil – I used olive oil but peanut was recommended/ 1 T honey (optional) /2 or 3 chopped umeboshi plums/ 1T toasted sesame seeds/ Salt & pepper.
Directions: Weigh tofu down – I use a couple of wooden cutting boards on top and let it drain for a while/ Heat oven to 425/ In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, sriracha, olive oil and honey, if you’re using it/ Remove 3 tablespoons of the mixture and save for the tofu/ Spread squash on large baking sheet and pour mixture over it/ Sprinkle with salt & pepper and toss well/ Roast for about 20 minutes until bottoms are golden brown/ Flip over and roast the other side for about 10 minutes/ Transfer squash to a large bowl/ Adjust oven heat to broil/ Toss tofu with marinade and broil for about 4 minutes each side, until golden and crispy around the edges/ Toss tofu with squash, sesame seeds, umeboshi plums, any leftover marinade or additional soy sauce.
This is a relatively easy vegetarian recipe that can serve as a main dish, especially on a bed of rice and with greens on the side. And speaking of easy, the same roasted beets you’ve been making all year take on a whole new complexity with the addition of chopped umeboshi plums and some rice vinegar. Not my original idea but thanks to the lovely ladies at Canal House, I’ve discovered my favorite beets — ever, especially nice with the golden beets from Nash’s Organic Farm.
When I spoke to the vendor at Mair Farm, who I assume is Mr. Taki, about how he eats these delicious plums, he said to chop them up and serve on rice with a little vinegar. Basically the same recipe as the beets. I’ve seen photos of Japanese rice balls that have a whole plum in the center, same idea but with a hidden treasure.
Now that I’m an umeboshi-lover I decided to add it to other savory ingredients to make a umami dressing. It’s delicious on rice, fish, spinach and other greens, you name it.
Ingredients: 2T white miso/ 1T tahini/ 3T rice vinegar/ 2 chopped umeboshi plums/ 1 T lime juice/ 1T lemon juice/ 2 t finely chopped ginger.
Directions: Put all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth and thick.
If you look hard enough, there are all kinds of interesting local ingredients to experiment with, even in the dead of winter. Next on my list, another umami favorite– dried mushrooms.