Save your Veggies, Save the World
(This article is not sponsored.)
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, one-third of food produce in US households goes to waste.
One study by the American Journal of Agricultural Economics calculated “the total annual cost of the wasted food… to be $240 billion or $1,866 per household.” (via Forbes)
In the UK, Fare Share.org reported that the food industry alone expels 3.6 million tonnes of waste every year whilst 7 million Britons struggle to find their next meal.
Even the rather “eco-forward” country of France released a government report on dietary waste in May, which stated that 10 million tonnes of products were thrown away — which roughly equated to 16 million Euros.
However, all is not just wasted on the western front — Japan is certainly no exception. Last year, the Ministry of Environment released a report that stated the nation accumulated 25.31 million tonnes of food waste in 2018 with 6 million tonnes of that still being safe for consumption.
So, how to reduce waste?
On top of voting for representatives who include environmental safety within their political allegiances, we can support organisations that attempt to mitigate local food waste like food pantries and shelters through means like donations. Another option is to use apps like Too Good To Go & Olio which sells soon-to-be-expired foods from big chains and supermarkets at a fraction of the cost!
An at-home (& Japanese) option to use up those old vegetables is to make some pickles!
Before food cooling systems like freezers, humanity had to get creative to preserve food in their own unique climate. In Japan, making tsukemono (漬物/‘pickled things’) began in the earliest days of this East Asian culture.
In a traditional teishoku (定食/‘set meal’), pickles are an essential component of a balanced meal. Along with the main protein, the pickles are almost always on a little dish next to miso soup, rice, and dressed vegetables. On top of giving your dish an extra serving of vitamins and minerals, it will add a refreshing note to your set meal to make flavour combinations a little more interesting.
With that being said, what are some pickles you can make at home?
Firstly, shiozuke (塩漬け) — where all you need is salt. This is the simplest type of pickle that can be ready to eat in almost one hour. Slice up vegetables like cucumbers, daikon, or napa cabbage and sprinkle them with a generous amount of salt. After that, lightly massage the salt into the batch and leave on the counter. You can wait 30 minutes and check to see how much water has come out. If the slices no longer feel like you just cut them, then gently squeeze the water out with your hands or a cheesecloth. That’s it!
Another quick pickle (quickle?) is amasuzuke (甘酢漬け), or sweet vinegar pickle. Here, the vinegar of choice is rice vinegar which is a bit more delicate than the red wine or white distilled kind. Slice the vegetables as you would in the shiozuke and add into a container with a lid. Sprinkle in some salt, a pinch of sugar, and a dash of vinegar before closing the lid and shaking it up! Expect it to be ready after one hour on the counter!
Any of these options would be great for making use of those veggies that are getting old without having to go to the store to make something new!
So you like the pickles and want to try something new. Luckily, more Japanese groceries abroad (and lifestyle stores like Muji) are selling easy-to-make pickle packets like a nukazuke (糠漬け) sachet!
‘Nuka’ means rice bran, which began to be commonly used in the 1600s of Japan. Rice bran by itself is just a toasty brown powder made from the outer shell of the rice grain before it’s milled into the typical white rice. According to Global Kitchen Japan, it is rich in vitamin B, dietary fibre, and will provide healthy probiotics to vegetables during fermentation. Once you get your hands on some rice bran powder, you mix it with some salt, water, and flavour like kombu. Follow this recipe by Global Kitchen Japan if you’re the DIY type!
If you don’t have the time or cannot be bothered to make things from scratch, don’t worry. Japanese people feel the same way. Fortunately, you can just buy a readymade pouch online or at your local Japanese store!
All you have to do is trim your veggies, shove them in the ziptop bag, massage until covered, and leave overnight. By the next day, you will have a tangy, crunchy side dish made from that half a cucumber you were going to toss!
Another option would be to use an essential ingredient from the Japanese pantry — miso. Misozuke (味噌漬け), like nukazuke, is alive with cultures that will transform the flavour of your veggies and add some healthy gut bacteria to aid your digestion.
Like the nukazuke, the most basic misozuke can be made by 1) just trimming the vegetables, 2) place in container (cut in half if they are too big) 3) lightly coat each piece with miso and wait!
If you’re going to be eating it the same day, I would do this in the morning and leave it on the counter wrapped or in a closed container. If you’re in no rush, just toss it in the fridge! All you have to do after that is to rinse some of the miso off (if you like) and slice!
Different misos will give you different flavours. To learn more about the different kinds of miso, check out our other post!
So there you have it! No need to throw away those vegetables that are getting old but aren’t mouldy — just pickle it! If you want to check out more authentic types of Japanese pickles, click here for a guide made by Just One Cookbook.
In the heat of the summer, even chilled food can provide some respite to the scorching temperatures. For such comforts, look no further than Japanese cold noodles like Somen. Check back on July 31st at 12pm EST for a look at this traditional summer favorite! In the meantime, follow us on Facebook and Instagram for more fun facts, photos, and tidbits!