22 Dec Dressed for the holidays
There will never be a white Christmas in Mirukashi. If we get snow it comes only in flurries and dustings that don’t stick. But I consider the kaki trees my consolation. Driving the country roads, it seems the hills are dressed for the holidays, the dull winter landscape bedecked with persimmon-jeweled trees. I can’t help but see them as ornaments dangling from the limbs of Christmas trees. They are a festive sight. Farmhouses too have rows of them drying under the eves. One day I’ll figure out how to make hoshigaki of my own, but in the meantime we are enjoying them fresh in a dish that appears often at the table this time of year. It brings together the sweet orange fruit that softly yields to the bite with slightly bitter chrysanthemum greens that even when blanched are crispy and fibrous. All is dressed with a silken blend of yuzu, light sesame oil, a splash of light soy and a sprinkle of salt.
The first key step is to squeeze the juice of a yuzu or other fragrant but not too sweet citrus and have it on hand before starting any other preparations. Both the greens and the fruit have a tendency to oxidize quickly and lose their vibrant color. First use a peeler to remove the thick persimmon skins. Cut them into wedges, then smaller random chunks and lightly coat with yuzu juice before setting them aside. Then work quickly to blanch the greens, plunge them into an ice bath, squeeze the water our, chop them into 2cm lengths, wring them again for good measure and quickly coat them as well with a tablespoon or two of citrus juice to prevent the color from fading. Combine the two ingredients, add a bit more citrus juice, a drizzle of oil, a splash of light soy (just enough for fragrance but not enough to mar the color), and salt if desired. Mix, adjust for taste, and mound in a lovely bowl. This salad is light and fresh, sweet against bitter and sour, and silky smooth with a slight crunch. It’s an all around lovely and lively compliment to the heartier, meatier offerings that fortify the belly on increasingly colder evenings.
As we cross the threshold of the winter solstice the days will again lengthen by imperceptible increments. While the light still feels fleeting, may you all find comfort and cheer in the twinkling of holiday lights or candle flames. Wherever, however, and whatever you may celebrate, I wish you all the happiest of holidays.