Sake Day + A Japanese-Inspired Catalan Salad

Last Monday October 1 was Sake Day, which in Japan traditionally marks the beginning of sake production in the country. Due to our mutual admiration and love for Japanese culture and cuisine, my friend Chiara decided it was the best day possible to inaugurate Slow Food Kitchen Barcelona.

I didn’t have a say in the date, though I would certainly not have chosen a Monday, which is a very heavy teaching day for me. So after 6 hours of teaching straight, I hopped onto my electric scooter (Barcelona is now full of them, and I’ve joined the crowd) to speed over to the new kitchen right by the Santa Caterina market. We had had to do the last recipe tests the week before at my house, because the kitchen wasn’t quite ready yet, so this was the first day the kitchen was going to be officially in use.

The event was planned for 7pm, though Barcelona was in utter chaos that day, as it also happened to be the first anniversary of the referendum, the Catalan vote for independence which ended in violent reactions by the Spanish government, and all the political chaos that ensued. University students were striking, and I had to teach my afternoon class with helicopters circling above, kind of freaky when you’re talking about Homage to Catalonia and the Spanish Civil War. A massive protest was scheduled for the afternoon, with the whole city center’s traffic cut and thousands of people filling the streets. The Catalans are a peaceful crowd, though, I must say. Not once does one ever feel unsafe in this kind of event here, quite the opposite. It’s almost festive, if only the events weren’t that sad.

 The fourth dish was a fried tofu in dashi with a fried shrimp and a Padron pepper on top, garnished with grated daikon and ginger.

The fourth dish was a fried tofu in dashi with a fried shrimp and a Padron pepper on top, garnished with grated daikon and ginger.

Our entire kitchen tools order was due to arrive that morning (which is already last minute), but when I got to the Kitchen, of course it hadn’t, because the streets were blocked. Neither had the design stools that 20 people were supposed to sit on to taste and drink comfortably instead of standing up. My dear friend S., who really gets me (she’s a planner too), had offered to come in to help prep during the morning, as I was going to be in class and unavailable. I texted her between classes to check in and see how it was all going. She said ok. She left shortly before I arrived. Everyone had apparently left right before I arrived. Or some people hadn’t even arrived yet. My co-chef In fact, was scheduled to arrive at 3pm and didn’t show up until 5pm because she had to make her dashi three times for it to turn out just right. When I got there, the whole place was a mess, ingredients were there but nothing had been prepped, and S., I found out, had spent the entire morning cleaning. As soon as I walked in the door I was ready to call her crying, to ask why she had abandoned me, but she beat me to it, and checked in to make sure I hadn’t had a heart attack yet. I almost did. My friend JP offered to come help and I accepted and put him on the mushroom grilling station (which, served with a shiso pesto and chopped sun-dried tomatoes and Maldon salt, turned out to be my favorite of the 4 small plates we served).

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Returning to Barcelona has shown me how much I learned working in California for 5 years. It has also reminded me that in Spain doing everything at the last minute is the norm, not the exception. Nevertheless, in spite of all obstacles, we made it, people came, ate, drank, and were very merry together at the table.

Kensho is a locally produced sake; founder Humbert Conti’s wife Meritxell comes from a generations-old rice-growing family in the Delta del Ebro, the rice-growing region a couple hours south of Barcelona. Humbert came up with this crazy plan to make local sake, which Japanese people might scoff (the only other local producer imports his rice from Japan, in fact), but Humbert, who is young, energetic, and smiles a lot, truly follows the Slow Food philosophy, so it was a perfect event for the Kitchen’s big day.

We paired the 4 types of sake with equally Japanese-inspired, locally produced ingredients and recipes, including some of Kensho’s other products, such as their miso and sake kasu, the fermented rice remnants of the sake producing process.

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I’m sharing the first course, which was paired with Kensho’s Chill Junmai, a lighter, fruity tasting sake. We had intended to prepare a typical Japanese fall-time salad of persimmons and chrysanthemum greens. The summer in Spain being quite long, the the time the event rolled along, persimmons were not quite ready yet. Peaches, however, were still amazing, so we tested and… it worked! We were not able to source high quality chrysanthemum greens either, so we came up with this salad, which much to my surprise (I’m usually not at all a fan of fruits in salads), tasted amazing. The dressing is very sharp, which contrasts with the sweet and refreshing peach. Samphire and crispy kale added crunch and umami. Chiara had bought the peaches at the Boqueria market that same morning, and their texture was just perfect to emulate the Japanese version with persimmons. Kanpai!


End of Summer Japanese-Inspired Peach and Kale Salad withe Sake Kasu Dressing

Ingredients:
curly kale, a few leaves, torn into small pieces
peaches, not too ripe, 1 or 2, in 1/2-inch cubes
lemon juice, a few drops
samphire, torn into small pieces
white and black sesame seeds, for garnish
shichimi togarashi, optional, garnish
for the dressing:
miso, 1 1/2 Tb
sake kasu, 3 Tb
tamari, a drizzle
EVOO, enough to bring it all together

Preheat oven to 130ºC/260ºF. Prepare the kale chips: wash the kale and dry thoroughly. Tear into small pieces and massage in a bowl with some EVOO. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the kale on top, well distributed and making sure the leaves are not overlapping. Bake for 12 min. or until crispy. Remove and sprinkle with Maldon salt.

Prepare the dressing by whisking all the ingredients into a bowl, adding the oil last. If you find it too pasty, you can add a bit of water to thin out.

Peel the peach and cut into 1/2-inch dice, sprinkle with some drops of lemon juice to prevent oxidation. Tear the samphire into small bits.

Combine the peach with the dressing in a bowl, and mix gently. Serve onto individual plates and top with samphire bits, and crispy kale on top. Finish with some toasted sesame seeds (white and black), and/or shichimi togarashi for a bit of heat (Spaniards aren’t too big on heat). Serve immediately so the kale won’t get soggy. You can also prep the salad ahead of time and let the peaches marinate in the sauce for a while, adding the kale at the last minute.