All kinds of seasonings are a passion of Yoshiaki Takei, editor of the website "Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun," who enjoys overseas travels that allow him to experience local life through cooking.
He visits markets and stores; chats with the proprietors; learns where and how ingredients are grown and how they should be cooked.
Takei, 52, says he "cannot help but buy" the seasonings of wherever he is visiting. He seeks them out thinking of them not as being in "supporting roles" but as the "leading figures" in cooking.
"I find those that are loved by the locals and incorporate them in cooking. It is especially gratifying when the dish tastes so authentic," he says.
Takei’s love of seasonings has reached the level of an aficionado, and he has even co-written a book on them with a buyer for a renowned department store.
This week, Takei introduces a seasoning based on the chili pepper that he encountered in 2012 when he was traveling through the Basque Country extending across southwestern France and northern Spain.
The chili pepper of the Basque Country is said to have been brought over by Columbus from the New World and grown in Europe. It is a traditional seasoning that was used as a substitute for expensive pepper back then and now to add flavor to simmered dishes and ham.
The local market offered heaps of chili peppers in vivid red and green. At the local bars, they were not only used as a seasoning, but also served as dishes in their own right where they are pickled in vinegar or sauteed with salt. As they chat, customers order them to go with wine. Takei says he was surprised to discover a smell resembling hay and sweetness like tomato beneath the spiciness when he bit into a red chili pepper.
Upon his return to Japan, Takei came up with a unique seasoning to recreate what he had tasted at the bar. He calls it the "Basque salt." In addition to Basque red chili pepper, it contains salt, black pepper, dried parsley and other ingredients. Red chili pepper from the Basque Country is available in Japan at some department stores and also online.
To retain the flavor, the mixed salt should be placed in a bottle immediately and kept in the fridge. It goes well with any dish, be it meat, fish or salad, and it can also make a nice gift.
(Amount for a small bottle)
3 Tbsp each of sea salt (coarse salt) and black peppercorn
2 Tbsp red chili pepper powder from Basque Country
1 Tbsp each of dried parsley and pink pepper
Place salt and black pepper in mortar, crush and mix. Rock salt should not be used since it is hard to blend with other ingredients.
Add powdered red chili pepper and mix.
When mixed, add dried parsley and pink pepper and mix with a spoon.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column