By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsFrom June to July, I love to prepare umeboshi pickled plums for my dishes. Umeboshi are a preserved food often served in bento box meals or with breakfast at ryokan inns or hotels. They are usually salted and then dried under the sun with red shiso leaves.
While traditional umeboshi are extremely sour and salty, today there are many variations suited to different palates, such as reduced-sodium, honey-marinated or even bonito-flavored versions. Honey-marinated umeboshi are often produced by first soaking regular pickled plums in water to dilute the saltiness and then marinating them in honey to create a balanced flavor.
When making umeboshi at home, use an amount of salt equivalent to 20 percent of the fresh plums’ weight to prevent them from spoiling — this is why some people say umeboshi can last even 100 years.
However, like many other preserved foods, there is less of a need for very salty umeboshi today.
Instead, those who have yet to try some of the more modern variations should see if any are to their liking. I finally discovered my favorite type last year and now always order it from a certain brand in the Kishu region, the nation’s primary production center for umeboshi. It roughly corresponds with today’s Wakayama Prefecture.
Throughout Asia, plums have been used for their medicinal properties. They offer many health benefits as they are rich in antioxidants, potassium and manganese; protect the liver; and promote a healthy appetite, among other advantages. Even if you don’t like pickled plums, you can benefit from generally incorporating ume into your diet.
I highly recommend that umeboshi beginners first use the food as a seasoning, as it is perfect for dressings, meat sauces or pasta. In this installment, I’ll share a recipe for a zesty dressing that is refreshingly sweet and delicious. I can eat a whole bowl of salad with this dressing, and it’s nice to eat during hot, humid summers.
The dressing also goes well with protein, so adding either boiled squid or chicken to your salad works well. If you use chicken strips, be sure to keep them moist by letting them sit in the water you used for cooking them. As the water cools, the chicken will also cool while preserving its moisture.
Please also be sure to use honey-marinated umeboshi for the dressing. Salt content varies significantly depending on the type of umeboshi, so your dressing will be too salty if you use a traditional variety. Each umeboshi also possesses a different level of sweetness, so adjust the flavor of the dressing with honey when mixing your ingredients.
Mari’s recipe for chicken salad with umeboshi dressing
Ingredients (serve 4):
3 chicken strips
½ onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
½ carrot, julienned
1 green bell pepper, julienned
3 tbsp honey-marinated umeboshi (about 5 pieces)
1 tbsp whole-grain mustard
3 tbsp chicken broth from cooking the meat, or dashi
2 tbsp olive oil
1 to 2 tbsp honey (optional)
1. Place chicken strips in a pot, cover with enough water and heat. Once the water boils, simmer at lowest heat for 1 minute, then turn off. Let the chicken strips cool in the water used for cooking. Set aside.
2. Soak the thinly sliced onion in plenty of water for 30 minutes, then drain.
3. Mix all the ingredients for the dressing in another bowl. Adjust the flavor with honey if too salty and sour. Shred the chicken into small pieces with your hands and toss with the dressing. Toss all the vegetables together with the chicken and serve immediately.
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