If you can get your hands on sake kasu (sake lees, a yeast by-product of sake making) a subculture of cooking opens up to you. Most commonly used for marinating fish and pickling, sake kasu looks like pizza dough with the consistency of wet clay and aroma of nama (unpasteurized) sake. It's usually available for cheap, next to the okara (tofu lees) in a Japanese or Asian market.
For my first sake kasu challenge, I decided to make some kasuzuke, or sake kasu pickles.
3 Japanese or Persian cucumbers
5 small radishes
(These are just suggestions for vegetables. Other commonly used vegetables are daikon radish, carrots and burdock root)
3 cups of sake kasu (wet or dry)
3 tbsp of salt
1 tbsp of sugar
Splash of sake or shochu (if you are using dry kasu)
1. Salt vegetables liberally. Place in a plastic container and cover with saran wrap.
Leave in a dry place with a weight on it overnight.
2. The next morning, the vegetables should be limp.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine kasu, 1 tbsp salt and 1 tbsp sugar. Mix well. If you are using dry kasu (it will be crumbly) add a splash of sake or shochu to moisten.
4. Spread a layer of the kasu mixture on the bottom of the plastic container.
5. Add one layer of vegetables.
6. Spread a layer of kasu over the first layer of vegetables.
7. Add another layer of vegetables.
8. Spread a layer of kasu over the second layer of vegetables.
9. Cover container tightly with saran wrap and place a weight on it.
10. Wait 3-5 days.
11. Remove the vegetables from the tub and rinse the excess kasu off in cool water.
12. Slice to enjoy. Save the rest in an air-tight plastic container (for up to 2 weeks).
The taste is sweet and mild and the smell is a little fermented (stinky in a sake kind of way). The texture is super crispy and goes really well with a hot, steaming bowl of white rice.
When root vegetables such as radishes are in season, making kasuzuke can be an exciting way to try new varietals without having to think of specific recipes for each. Just throw them into the sake kasu trough and wait a few days and you'll be rewarded with a crunchy, stinky (in a good way) condiment to your rice that will stay good in the fridge for up to two weeks.