This month's Japanese Kitchen column in the Japan Times is all about kanbutsu (乾物) . The word kanbutusu just meands "dried things", and a kanbutsu-ya as I wrote in the article is a traditional store that specializes in dried foodstuffs. While there are all kinds of dried foods, in the article I concentrated on dried vegetables, which are a great source of fiber. The salad featured there has kiriboshi daikon, shredded dried daikon radish in it, which is full of fiber. It has a rather pointed odor when it's dry, but once you soak it in water or blanch it and rinse it, it becomes quite neutral and easy to use. The salad also has cooked dried beans. One type of canned bean that is sold in Japan that I wish was available everywhere is 'dry' canned - the beans are not immersed in liquid, so they're firmer and more versatile. Frozen beans may be better to use for the salad unless you can get this kind of canned bean product (or you can cook your own of course).
Traditional dried vegetables are seeing a small resurgence in popularity in Japan, and becoming handier to use. Here's a handy mix of shredded dried vegetables that my mom sent me - it has dried daikon radish (kiriboshi daikon), carrots, burdock root and hijiki seaweed in it. Since the vegetables are shredded so thinly, I can use it by just soaking it for a few minutes in water and adding to soups and stir fries and such.
I wrote about dried vegetables some years ago on these pages - see Dried vegetables . Dried vegetables don't get mentioned that much in Japanese cuisine, but they were an important part of the diet of everyday people for hundreds of years.
I was kind of inspired to write the article by some reactions I got to last month's Japanese Kitchen column, where I wrote about shokupan or sliced white bread . I know...Japanese rice is white as snow, and the most commonly eaten type of Japanese bread is also pure white and devoid of gut-cleansing fiber. (Japanese noodles are mostly made of refined flours too.) While things like brown rice and other fiber-rich main carbs are getting more popular in Japan, most people cling to their pure white fiber-free carbs. Eating brown rice (genmai) or whole wheat type breads is one way to introduce fiber to your diet, but so is adding other fiber-rich products, in the form of fresh and dried or preserved vegetables and fruit, beans and so on.
Eating is all about balance and variety, as is life, right? ^_^