The Enokawa and Inafuku families preserve more than just fermented vegetables.
It was more than two decades ago when Dorothy Enokawa started growing chives out of her home on Booth Road. It wasn’t a whole lot, just a few handfuls of grassy sprigs sprouting from a galvanized pail. Mostly, Dorothy enjoyed the harvested chives by mixing them into a tempura batter, adding canned tuna—“because it was cheap,” says her daughter Doris Inafuku—and frying them into little fritters.
Dorothy knew a thing or two about making meals go a long way. She was the mother of seven and taught her children not to waste, says Doris, the eldest of the Enokawa clan.
She taught her kids ways to keep food from spoiling; like how to make spaghetti sauce or beef stew last in the refrigerator for weeks at a time (“Once your food comes up to boil, don’t put a spoon or ladle back in the pot—it introduces all kinds of bacteria; put your food straight into your icebox container, and it’ll keep for weeks,” according to Doris.)
In 1990, at the age of 75, Dorothy moved to Salt Lake to live with Doris, Doris’ husband Toshi, and her youngest daughter Elaine. She brought her galvanized pail with her. In the backyard of Doris’ Salt Lake home, Toshi replanted their mother’s bundle of chives in a small box he built alongside their lemon, orange, and papaya trees.
The older the chives get, the more tougher and harder to chew.
Twenty-four years later, despite her passing in 1996, Dorothy’s chives are flourishing. Every two weeks, a new growth of the garlicky, oniony herbs springs up, ready to be harvested. The box is small but yields a large portion.
“Sometimes we turn them into the chive and tuna tempura,” says Doris. “We just keep growing them because it was Mom’s chives. More of, not tradition, but just because they were hers, we try to keep them going.”
With more chives than they know what to do with, Doris enlisted the help of her sister-in-law Mimi who mixes the chives with salt, garlic, ginger, sugar, and shrimp paste and turns it into kimchi.
“The older the chives get, the more tougher and harder to chew,” says Mimi, as she cuts away bundles of chives. “Little younger is better because they’re soft. The taste is more better.”
While some prefer to leave kimchi to ferment until it’s bubbling and fizzing out of its container, the full, acrid zing having reached maximum ripeness, Mimi prefers to eat the chive kimchi fresh, over hot rice or mixed with vegetables for a bibimbap.
Unlike the ubiquitous won bok cabbage kimchi, chive kimchi (buchu, in Korean) is “quick and dirty,” as Elaine says, and doesn’t require the days of fermentation to reach prime ripeness, though it’ll keep in the refrigerator for “however long,” says Mimi. The shelf life of kimchi, however, is a matter of taste.
“As a raw, naturally fermented food, kimchi continues to age indefinitely,” writes Lauryn Chun, author of The Kimchi Cookbook, “its flavors intensifying from a simple melody into a complex symphony over time.
She continues: “Decades ago, it wasn’t uncommon for two-year-old kimchi to be retrieved from the onggi (earthenware), rinsed, and chopped up for a soup, stew, ssam (wrap), or pancake. Just as you would scrape off an unsavory spot from a wedge of cheese that might have lingered in your fridge, old kimchi was never thrown out. A precious, valued ingredient, it was always treated with respect.”
To maintain the chive’s robust, peppery flavor—key in fresh buchu kimchi—the dirt in the chive box needs to be replaced every few years. It’s a tedious process that involves uprooting each tiny bulb individually, soaking it in water to loosen the dirt around the roots, and replanting it—a process that can take hours.
“The mother plant that mom brought with her is what continues to grow. If you let it grow long enough, it’ll make seeds sort of shaped like a dandelion, or the keiki will just drop and keep growing,” says Elaine. “After a while, since the roots keep growing, they get all crowded and need to be replanted.”
“Every time we replant, I get nervous and tell Toshi to go look if they are growing okay,” says Doris, who instructs Toshi to check if the chives are in need of a replant. As he steps outside, Doris calls out, “Is it time?”
RECIPE: TUNE AND CHIVE TEMPURA FRITTER
By Elaine Enokawa
1. Korean tempura mix (for batter)
**I used to make my own scratch tempura batter recipe, but you cannot beat the Korean tempura premix packaged kind. You can usually find it at the Korean grocery store (Palama or Queen’s). I look for the shrimp tempura picture on the outside of the package to be sure I get the right type. Watch out because some are the Korean pancake mix, but then the picture shows the pancake (you don’t want that one).
2. Chives (cut into 1/4 inch or 1/2 inch pieces)
3. Two or more cans of tuna (squeeze out oil/water and mash all clumps so it blends better in the batter)
4. Secret ingredients I add to batter: 1/2 tsp. Iriko dashi (Hon-Dashi ok) and sometimes I add 1/2 tsp. of Hotate powder (from Marukai). You can try making it with only the main ingredients and if the tempura is to your liking you don’t have to add the secret ingredients.
1. Measure 1–2 cups of the Korean tempura mix in a bowl.
2. Mix with enough ice water to resemble a very thick pancake batter. Stir together until you get a reasonably smooth batter (OK to still have small lumps).
3. Add chive pieces (for 2 cups of batter, add 3/4 to 1 cup chives; more to your taste) and mashed tuna. I would put three cans of tuna for the two-cup-flour batter since so little bit tuna in the can nowadays. Also, if you feel the batter is too thick you can always add a little more ice water and mix; or if too thin, you can add a little more flour to thicken it up; it’s a very forgiving batter.
4. Drop into the oil with a Chinese soup spoon (that’s about the amount you want to fry) into hot oil and turn over when one side is brown. Watch out that your oil is not too hot as the tempura will brown too quickly, and by the time the inside cooks, the tempura will be very dark. Try a small test one and see if the oil is just right.
5. Drain on rack and/or paper towels to remove excess oil.
For a quick lumpia dipping sauce, mix 4 cloves of chopped garlic, 1/4 c. shoyu, 3 Tbsp. white vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and chili pepper flakes.
**For the extra flour you can put the whole bag in a Ziplock bag and throw it in the freezer; this way it will keep almost indefinitely. The batter is also good for shrimp or veggie tempura too; for shrimp we make the batter thinner and slightly thicker for the veggie tempura. You can even use this batter for imo (sweet potato) tempura. You cook the sweet potato first, roll the pieces in cornstarch or flour, then dip into the batter. The batter should be thicker than the shrimp type. Also, add a little sugar to the imo tempura batter.