Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Getting Reaquainted with Sand Dabs

I grew up eating sand dabs regularly. In our L.A. home, it was one of the few fish my dad enjoyed, relishing the sweet, delicate flesh and crispy skin. Typically, if we went out for dinner and it was on the menu, he'd order it and the server would bring the--usually--pan-fried fish to the table and de-bone them tableside. My mom may correct me on this, but I also remember her cooking them, already cleaned by the fishmonger.

Well, that was a long time ago and my parents and I have lived in San Diego for decades. In all that time my dad has still had cravings for sand dabs, but we've never seen them on a restaurant menu. That's understandable. These flatfish are small--perhaps five to eight inches--and rather fragile. I'm told that for years fishermen could get very little money for them so they've never been a high catch priority.

I've since learned that there are a few local restaurants--The Brigantine in Pt. Loma, King's Fish House in Mission Valley, and Bluewater Boathouse in Coronado--that have them on their menus, so that's something we'll check out.

But I finally found a place where I can buy them fresh--the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market, which is held on Saturday mornings. There fisherman Giacamo Damato is currently selling them at his stall for $6.50 a pound. Now you'll need three or more to feed one person. For a little lunch feast with my parents I took home three pounds.

Fisherman Giacamo Damato with rockfish
Sand dabs caught by Damato on ice. As a flatfish, one side has the scales and both eyes.
Now I know it's so much easier to buy fish already cleaned, but these little guys are good to practice on. Damato explained to me that I needed to scale them, remove the head, then remove the stomach. Rinse, dry, and then dredge them in flour and salt. Then pan fry them. That's it.

And that's what I did. I took on the cleaning at my house, then packaged up my little school and took them over to my parents to cook up.

So, here's a step-by-step guide to what's involved:

1. Scaling: The only challenge here is that these little guys are a kind of slimy. So hold on to their heads and run a knife gently across and against the scales to remove them. They're only on one side, so they make it that much easier to do the job.

 2. Remove the head. Get just under that little fin behind the head and cut through. Yeah, yuck, but you can do it. (And don't throw the head away. Bury them and the guts in your garden to fertilize your plants.)


 3. Remove the stomach/guts. With the head removed, just press gently on the body near where you cut and it will pop out. Pull everything out and any blood you see. There won't be much.

4. The worst is now over. Get rid of the head and guts. Then rinse and gently pat dry the fish (not to mention the counter).

Now, get out a plate or dish and pour on all-purpose flour and seasonings--I used garlic salt here. This will be what you dredge the fish in.

5. Dip the fish into the flour mixture and coat them well on both sides.

6. Heat a pan and add your oil. I used olive oil, but canola or some other vegetable oil is just fine. When the oil is hot, add the fish--only enough so that there's no overcrowding. Give them about two or three minutes on each side.

7. Remove the fish and slice some lemons for everyone to squeeze over them. (Alternately, you can make a little lemon, butter, and caper sauce to pour over them.)

 8. Remember, the skeleton is still inside. No worries. The skin should be crisp and the flesh opaque white. It will easily pull apart, revealing the skeleton. Gently pull it out but still be careful to look for any errant bones left inside.

The Tuna Harbor Dockside Market is open every Saturday morning at 8. While it technically stays open until 1 p.m., my experience has been that it's pretty much cleaned out by 9:30. You'll find it at 598 Harbor Lane--or, more practically, at the end of Pacific Highway where it goes into Seaport Village Parking. On the right you'll see a little road from the parking lot going toward the bay. The dock you walk into from the road is where the market is.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

New Nibble Chocolate: Sweet Single Origin Bars in San Diego

San Diego has a newcomer to the handcrafted chocolate scene: Nibble Chocolate, run by Colombia natives Sandra Bedoya and her husband David Mejía.

When Sandra and David moved to the U.S. 16 years ago making chocolate wasn't on their radar. Nor was it when they relocated from North Carolina to San Diego just over a year ago. After all David is a brand manager for a North Carolina wine broker and Sandra is an accountant.

But the couple have been trying to become more health conscious and in changing their diet gave up meat and dairy. But what do you do when you still love chocolate and have a hard time finding a chocolate that has more cocoa than chemicals or other additives, like soy lecithin, vanillin, and non-fat milk? That piqued their interest and they started researching all things chocolate.

"We realized how unattended this market was," says Sandra. "We also loved that it was so similar to wine. And that's how we started this project."

The couple decided to start their business making single-origin bars with as few ingredients as possible. The first step, however, was education. Not only did they read everything they could put their hands on, they got certifications at the Ecole Chocolat. And, Sandra, explained, there was a lot of trial and error--with beans, with technique. After extensive tasting they settled on four origins for their beans: Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Madagascar. And within those beans they came up with three cacao percentages: 62, 72, and 77. The ingredients? Just cacao beans and organic cane sugar. It doesn't get any simpler than that.

photo courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

Of course, the buying of the beans gets complicated. Their goal was to get organic, fair trade beans. And beans from their home country. But trading practices in each country vary--and for a small start-up it's even more difficult to buy small amounts of beans. They're still working on getting Colombian beans, but for now all of their beans but the Venezuelan are organic. The Peruvian beans are, in fact, fair trade. The Dominican Republic beans are direct trade. And the Venezuelan beans are ethically and sustainably traded.

With the bean strategy set, they launched Nibble Chocolate a mere four months ago in their La Jolla kitchen. They've since moved into their own commercial kitchen in Sorrento Valley.

The process of converting the beans into bars is simple but time consuming. The beans come to the couple already fermented. They then roast the beans before embarking on the winnowing process, in which a machine breaks down the beans into nibs (which they are considering selling). From there, they put the nibs in a stone grinder for several days and then a refining machine. They add the sugar--another day's effort--and then the mixture is tempered, poured into bar molds, and packaged.

photo courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

While traveling to the various countries where they purchase their beans, the couple learned how to make a local Dominican Republic confection, bolas de cacao. Again, it's a simple if labor-intensive process--grinding nibs together with sugar. Here's David learning to make this from local farmers.

photos courtesy of Nibble Chocolate

With their wine expertise, it wasn't difficult for the couple to develop tasting notes for each of the single origin bars they create. Like wine and coffee, terroir adds to the distinctive flavors of each bean. So, you'll find that the Peruvian bars have a smokey flavor with notes of nuts, dried fruit and malt. Think dried cranberries in the fall.

The Dominican Republic bars are noted as being rich and earthy, and reminiscent of coffee. I actually found the flavor to be brighter.

The Madagascar bars are fruity--with plum, citrus, and raspberry notes. There's a hint of spice and earthiness. And I find a bit of tartness in each bite--or nibble.

Finally, there's the Venezuelan bar. The flavor description for these bars is soft fruity, strawberry, with delicate nuts and coffee notes. I also got soft raisin in my bites.

Regardless of the country of origin or the cacao percentage, the tempered chocolate has a gentle, full-bodied mouth feel to it in each bite.

The couple is now working on truffle recipes in different flavors.

You can find Nibble Chocolate at the La Jolla Open Aire Market, the Little Italy Mercato, and the Hillcrest and North Park farmers markets. The bars are $6 each or $20 for a flight of four.

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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Red Door and Wellington Have a Growing Passion

Who doesn't like to matchmake their friends? I'm not talking romance here, more like connecting like minds to collaborate on something really cool. Like a TV show. So, when my friend Nan Sterman of the KPBS show A Growing Passion was looking for a restaurant that had its own garden, well, who else would immediately pop into my head than Trish Watlington?

As San Diego Foodstuff and Edible San Diego readers know, Trish is a friend of mine who owns The Red Door and The Wellington in Mission Hills--and supplies much of the produce for the restaurants from the large garden she cultivates alongside her home in Mt. Helix. I love what she does--for the restaurants, the community, and healthy eating initiatives--and the innovative fare executive chef Karrie Hills creates.

A Growing Passion is a terrific reflection of Nan's interests--in the nitty gritty details of the garden, as well as its aesthetics, and beyond that to the environment, food and food justice, and water conservation issues. Nan and her team create a show that makes our outdoor environment not just the stuff of hobbyists but a critical part of our daily lives--something to take joy in as well as protect.

So, I thought it would be a perfect match. You'll be the judge when the episode airs as part of A Growing Passion's third season next year. But I'll give you a sneak preview and a recipe for the tomato jam Karrie and Nan made that long, hot afternoon when Nan and her crew arrived for a visit.

By 9 in the morning the crew was with Trish in the garden and Trish gave Nan a tour of what was growing--mostly tomatoes and a lot of squash. The focus clearly would be on the tomatoes since it was heading toward the end of the harvest and the ladies were going to make jam with them.

Then everyone headed back to the house and into the kitchen. While the crew set up Karrie got her tools and ingredients organized. Now just so you know, for every shot you see, there are any number of takes needed to capture it just right. Not only do they want shots from different angles, including close ups, but invariably a fly will swoop in or someone will flub a line or clothing is awry or the sound isn't quite right or a spoon that was one place as the previous shot ended winds up somewhere else in the next shot and has to be repositioned for continuity. Anyway, it takes a long, long time and a lot of patience to get what seems a simple shot.

As you'd expect, Karrie started off explaining what is involved in jam making and then showing Nan the various ingredients.

Then they got to work, chopping tomatoes and grating ginger.

Karrie added red wine vinegar to the pot to balance sweet with acid.

As the ingredients began to meld, Karrie offered Nan a taste so she could test the flavors and their balance.

Once the jam was cooked, it was time for the canning process. Under the best of circumstances (no cameras or filming involved) it requires some quick, efficient moves to get this part accomplished. During filming, there are lots of starts and stops, some spills, a lot of moist heat--and a lot of joking around. But when the camera was rolling, it was all business and look at how well Nan got those jars filled for their water bath!

In brief, you wash and sterilize the jars in a hot water bath, fill them with the jam, put on the lids and lightly tighten them, then put them into the rapidly simmering water for another 15 minutes to kill off any remaining bacteria. That allows you to store your jams (or pickles or whatever else you can) in your pantry for a year or so.

Karrie and Nan got most of the jars completed, then they had to leave to finish taping at the restaurants. Trish and I finished off the remaining batch. It was about 4 p.m. by then. I was done but on it went at The Red Door until I don't know when. And, of course, after that would come editing sessions to put it all together into a polished half hour show.

Seamless? Flawless? It takes a whole lot of time and repetition to make it look that easy!

And, here's the recipe. Here we use cabernet sauvignon to enhance the tomatoes instead of ginger.

Red Wine Tomato Jam 
(printable recipe)
From Karrie Hills

We made this jam during an earlier preserving session, but you can adapt this recipe to your own favorite flavors. Trish Watlington happened to have an open bottle of cabernet so in it went, along with some black pepper and orange zest. Hills likes to use the jam with a garden bruschetta and goat cheese, as a dip (mix with a soft cheese like ricotta or Neufchatel), as part of a Bloody Mary mix, as a garnish on soup or chowder, or as a sauce—adding beer and apple cider vinegar—with chicken, fish, or shrimp. 

7 to 8 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped with skins on
5 cups granulated sugar
1 cup red wine
2 tablespoons orange zest (Tip: slide the blade on the orange zest while pressing down to bring out the oils, which is where the flavor is.)
1 ½ teaspoons salt or to taste
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon

Place tomatoes is a large non-reactive pot. Add sugar, red wine, and orange zest. Bring to a boil. Skim the foam, which is filled with impurities, and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 45 minutes, all the while skimming the foam. Add the salt. You’ll stop the cooking process once the mixture has thickened. You can test this by dipping a spoon into the tomato jam and either getting a slow drip from the back of the spoon or carefully placing the spoon with the jam in the freezer for about eight minutes. If the thickness is to your liking, it’s fully cooked.

Once the mixture has thickened, you can use an immersion blender to break it down into a consistent texture or you can leave it chunky. Then skim again. (Note: you may get as much as a cup of impurities from skimming from the time you started with the boil.)

Add the black pepper and lemon juice. Taste and adjust the flavors.

Fill sterilized jars just to the neck and screw on the lids. Process for five minutes in a simmering water bath. Remove from the water bath and let cool. While you can use it immediately, it’s better when it’s had a chance to rest for a couple of days. Otherwise, store in a dark, cool spot and refrigerate after opening.

Yield: 7, eight-ounce jars

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pangea Bakery Café: A Delicious Innovation Village

In the very center of the heart of the Convoy District is one of the few eateries on Convoy St. that isn't ensconced in a strip mall or plaza. That would be Pangea Bakery Café. Opened four years ago by Charles Wang, a Taiwanese immigrant, and now also run with his son Ping, a Stanford grad who is a high-tech entrepreneur, Pangea reflects the changing landscape of this Pan Pacific part of San Diego.

Walk into the bakery and you'll find tables filled with cellophane-wrapped pastries--sweet and savory--whose origins reflect the Wangs' Taiwanese heritage. The striped sweet potato and red bean buns and the mung bean buns topped with sesame seeds are just two of a vast menu of Taiwanese-style buns baked daily on site.

Ping explained the origin of the cafe's name. Pangea was the ancient supercontinent that existed before the continents split up. His commitment to the eatery is to evolve it from its Taiwanese roots to embrace the entire Pan Pacific and more. It's also his commitment to the area now known as the Convoy District, whose borders form a triangle from the 52 freeway south within the geography between the 163 and the 805, reaching the point around Aero Dr. and Convoy where the two freeways meet. This district is headed to becoming a BID--or Business Improvement District--and one of its founders is Ping, who is also an organizer of this Saturday's San Diego Night Market. Even Pangea reflect's Ping's bigger plans. You'd think that this space is simply a bakery and cafe. In fact, he operates a business incubator on the second floor, an experimentation space with a 3D printer where food innovators can try out ideas for 3D printed food, and a pop-up space for food entrepreneurs, as well as a large event room in the back.

"I like to call it an innovation village," he says. "It's a place for mixing and crossing cultures and ideas."

But let's get back to the bakery for the moment. If you're familiar with 85°C Bakery Cafe, a Taiwanese concept that spread across the U.S., including Orange County, the treats here at Pangea would be familiar. And it's no accident. When Charles Wang immigrated to San Diego and was trying to identify a business to launch, he was hoping to bring 85°C to San Diego, but they weren't interested. So, according to his son, he decided to fill that need with his own bakery and launched Pangea. Charles Wang traveled back to Taiwan and consulted with master bakers as well as attended baking classes. He brought back both recipes and experienced colleagues to consult as he got the business up and running.

So, you'll find traditional buns that are light and moist, mixing French technique and pastry origins with traditional Asian ingredients, like red bean paste, sweet potato, and mung beans. And the pastries are far less sweet than traditional French fare.

I fell in love with the green onion bun that reminded me of a roll I used to get at the Diamond Bakery in L.A. Divided into three distinct segments, the bun smells heavenly when heated up, with the onion scent becoming sweet and complementing the tender, chewy vaguely sweet bread.

Since Taiwan is a tropical country, one of the most popular fruits in the region is pineapple. The pineapple has a distinct motif in the pastries at Pangea. The poluo buns here have the cross-hatch and hard, crispy top reminiscent of a pineapple, although it's not used as an ingredient.

The taro poluo bun is a purple confection that, again, doesn't include pineapple as an ingredient, but undernearth the crispy exterior, you'll find a filling of sweet taro.

Where pineapple actually does come into play are the traditional square pineapple cakes. The cake itself reminds me of the cakey fig newton cookie. Instead is a delicate compote of pineapple.

I also went a bit crazy over their cookies. The almond cookie is a paper thin sweet, as delicate as a Florentine cookie, filled with almond slices, and crispy as brittle. The Earl Grey cookie is reminiscent of shortbread in texture with a delicate infusion of Earl Grey to give it a unique smokiness. These both are addictive.

Want savory? You can find ham and cheese croissants, hot dog buns, ham and cheese bread, a bun filled with pork pate, another that actually looks like a sesame bagel filled with tun, and a pork bun with barbecue pork. The cross-cultural borrowing from one Asian culture to another is reflected in many of these pastries. The Taiwanese interpretation has a ready explanation, as Ping explained. "Taiwan has shifted hands so many times over the centuries that it became a crossroads of influences, including culinary. It's a crucible of intermingling cuisines, including baking and the pastry arts."

And, this is where the irony of the Pangea idea comes in. After all these years, 85°C is now coming to San Diego at the corner of Genesee and Balboa. So, what spurred the original business is now spurring change. Ping's innovation village will innovate and become more Pan Asian as he and his father make plans to expand the concept to reflect that crucible. They hired pastry chef Jerome Chang, known for fusion concepts, to consult and guide them into a broader, more cross-cultural approach to pastry. And Ping is looking to bring in vendors to add to the mix as part of his "in-provision" food incubator.

So, this innovation village will build on its current success to meet a new challenge and epitomize what is burgeoning in the Convoy District--a unique intermingling of Asian and other cultures in a part of town that is constantly evolving.

Pangea Bakery Cafe is located at 4689 Convoy St. in Kearny Mesa. And, be sure to check out the San Diego Night Market on Saturday, Oct. 4 from 4 p.m. to midnight on Engineer Road near Convoy. There will be plenty of interesting food and entertainment. Check out the website to get more information.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sweet Tart Lemon Squares

I'm not a parent but I am an aunt to five nieces and nephews who as young adults now live on the opposite side of the country. Number four--my brother's older daughter--just launched university life. As anyone who loves the  young people in their life knows, communications can be a rare thing. So, it's utter joy when you get a text from them out of the blue to say hi and then even get a modest dialogue going. Last week ours more or less went like this:

"How are you?" 
"School is going well. Nothing I can't handle (I hope)" 
"Anything you'd like from SD?" 
"Homecooked food and sleep are all that I really need." 
"Guess it's time to start baking." 
"You're awesome"
"How do you feel about lemon squares? Or are you craving something else? You name it!"
"Anything as long as it doesn't have caramel!'

Well, the caramel thing was news to me. But the lemon squares were on. 

In my family, lemon squares are one of those treats that seemed always to be part of the family sweets repertoire, along with chocolate chip cookies, mandelbread, lemon cake, and snowball cookies. I have a well-used recipe that I got from my mother but not credited to anyone. When I asked her about it over the weekend, she said she got it from a friend in Palm Springs. Sadly, I don't think she even remembers the name of this blessed creature whose generosity has given us so much joy over so many years.

The recipe is simple and straightforward--very much like pouring lemon curd over shortbread and baking them together. The resulting cookie is sweet and tart, creamy and crunchy. I could eat them all day long. And, they freeze beautifully. I actually made two batches, sending the second to my brother and the rest of his family. Hopefully, they'll arrive intact for all of them to enjoy!

Lemon Squares
(printable recipe)
Yield: About 2 dozen

For cookie:
1 cup sweet butter (2 sticks)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powder sugar (plus more to sprinkle)
Preheat oven to 350˚. Blend ingredients in a food processor. Then spread in a buttered 9" X 13" baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes--until the edges are slightly brown.

Mix together until smooth:
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pour the mixture over the baked cookie. Return the baking dish to the over and bake for 15 to 25 minutes, until set. 

Remove from the oven and sprinkle well with more powder sugar. Cut when cool.

Can be frozen.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making Banchan at Saja Korean Kitchen

I first fell in love with banchan, the little side dishes served at Korean meals, traipsing through L.A.'s Koreatown with chef Debbie Lee. These are tastes designed to be shared throughout the meal. Have a bite of bibimbap and a bit of pickled cucumber. Dig into bulgogi and then pick up a bite of scallion pancake. The variety of flavors and textures can be enormous even if the portions are deliberately petite.

At the new Saja Korean Kitchen down in the Gaslamp, executive chef Jason Velasquez (mostly recently at Katsuya), has create a menu that plays on traditional Korean food but introduces some new flavors and techniques that you probably wouldn't find at your favorite haunts on Convoy.

Hired by restaurateur Alex Thao (Rama and Lucky Liu's), Seattle-native Velasquez has trained extensively with Japanese chefs and also attended classes at Le Cordon Bleu to learn French technique. Korean cuisine wasn't in his wheelhouse, so he spent months eating Korean food here and in L.A. to develop his palate so he could then develop his menu.

Given Saja's lower 4th Ave. location near the San Diego Convention Center and consequently the need to appeal to a broader audience, Velasquez felt that his menu should be Korean inspired, but not literally locked into tradition. He's toned down some of the strong flavors. For example, he doesn't use as much fish sauce in dishes that call for it and uses a milder Japanese variety. He's also keen on cutting down on sugar in his dishes--and, in general, keeping them lighter.

But his banchan reminds me of some of my favorite places here and in L.A. Typically, he services flash boiled and marinated bean sprouts, edamame, pickled cucumbers, kimchi, cabbage with daikon in chili paste and dashi, and marinated broccoli--although he does switch out all but the cucumbers, edamame, kimchi, and bean sprouts. After visiting Saja for dinner last month, I asked Velasquez to teach me how to make a couple of his banchan dishes: his kimchee and pickled cucumbers. He agreed.

"Banchan to me is very simple--it's a way to get the palate started," he says. "It's not so much that it will fill you up but enough to start up your appetite. It's something you can enjoy eating communally."

Both of these recipes are home-cook accessible, though you'll need to make a trip to an Asian market for ingredients like fish sauce, sweet rice flour, sesame oil, konbu (dried edible kelp), and Korean red pepper powder. And you'll need to plan ahead, since these dishes thrive on time to soak in the flavors.

So, let's start with the kimchee. Done right, the salad will be crunchy where the cabbage is thickest but very pliable with the thin part of the leaves. It definitely has a nice kick to it, but the spice is full of flavor, along with the mild tangy fishiness of the shrimp fish sauce. The flavors are complex and irresistible.

Saja Cabbage Kimchee
From Jason Velasquez of Saja Korean Kitchen
(printable recipe)

Yield: 3 cups

1 head Napa cabbage
Sea salt
2 tablespoons salted brined shrimp
2 tablespoons grated garlic
1/2 grated yellow onion
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1/4 cup sweet rice flour
1/3 Korean red pepper powder
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of sea salt
1 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup shredded green onions

Slice the cabbage head in half lengthwise and partially cut through each half, keeping the quarters intact. Place the cabbage in a large bowl and generously sprinkle the leaves throughout the head with sea salt. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or at least 12 hours. The cabbage will wilt and liquid will release to the bottom of the bowl. This allows the cabbage to act like a sponge to absorb the flavors you'll add.

You can make the sauce while the cabbage leaves are salting or the next day. In a food processor, puree the shrimp, garlic, onion, and fish sauce. It can be a little chunky.

In a bowl, combine the rice flour, red pepper powder, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Place it in a saucepan with enough water to make a slurry. Whisk the mixture over medium heat on a burner. As it heats up it will form a light paste. Take it off the heat and let it cool. Once cooled, add to the shrimp mixture.

Rinse the salt from the cabbage. Then wring out the water. Place the cabbage in a bowl and add the carrots and green onions. Pour the sauce over the vegetables and work it into the cabbage, including between the leaves. Fold each of the four quarters of saturated cabbage in half lengthwise and place into a container. Cover and let sit for 24 hours on the counter, unrefrigerated. Then refrigerate. It will taste fine in a day or two, but if you can, wait a week for the flavors to truly come together. Serve as chunks in a small bowl for banchan.

Now on to the pickled cucumber. I'm particularly partial to these flavors because I've been doing an extremely simple version of this for years that I enjoy during heat waves. With this recipe I can ratchet up the flavor with a sweet, slightly spicy, tangy profile, thanks to Valasquez's dynamite vinegar solution and the addition of very smooth, aromatic sesame oil.

Saja Pickled Cucumber
From Jason Velasquez of Saja Korean Kitchen

1 English cucumber (or other seedless cucumbers)
Sea salt

For vinegar solution:
2 quarts Japanese wheat rice vinegar (called suhiro)
1 cup brown sugar
pinch of sea salt
piece of konbu

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup sesame oil
2 cups of the vinegar solution
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper powder
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Slice cucumbers in 1/4-inch thick slices so they retain their crunch. Toss with sea salt. Let sit 15 to 20 minutes.

Make the vinegar solution. Heat one quart of the Japanese wheat rice vinegar until it reduces by half. Combine with a second quart of vinegar, 1 cup brown sugar, a pinch of sea salt, and a piece of konbu. Heat the mixture until it's combined. Note: keep the konbu in the mixture. (Velasquez also uses this mixture in his sushi rice.)

Rinse the salted cucumber slices, then place in a kitchen towel and squeeze to remove the liquid.

Empty the cucumber slices into a bowl. In another bowl whisk together the brown sugar, sesame oil, 2 cups of the vinegar solution, the Korean red pepper powder, and the sesame seeds. Pour over the cucumber and let marinate at least six hours but preferably overnight. Serve in small bowls for banchan. 

The marinade can also be used as a base for vinaigrette. Add grapeseed oil, Chinese plum sauce, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger.

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