Making Umeboshi with Sonoko Sakai

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Umeboshi. Break down the word and it means Japanese plum (ume) and dried (boshi), but the flavor is of a salted or pickled plum – salty, sour and sweet.

After spotting her post on instagram, we invited Sonoko Sakai, food writer and cooking instructor to join us this week for a discussion on umeboshi. Sonoko grew up in Japan where every June she would help her grandmother prepare the ume for pickling. Now that she lives in California where ume are unavailable, she is experimenting with making her own apricot-boshi.

The tart plums can also be found dried, powdered and even in pill form (for medicinal purposes) at Japanese supermarkets. If you can take a Japanese friend with you to translate the labeling, Sonoko suggests looking for labels that say “MSG free” or “all natural.”

You can also find umeboshi in dishes around Los Angeles. In his review of Kinjiro in Little Tokyo, Jonathan Gold writes, “it is hard to imagine a better end to a meal here than the simplest ochazuke, a fist-size rice ball topped with pickled plum.”

Right now my favorite way to eat it is in onigiri where bits of salty plum are stuffed inside a rice ball and wrapped in shiso leaf and a blanket of crisp nori. Sunny Blue in Santa Monica and Culver City serves a satisfying version for just $3.12.

Hear Sonoko below describing how she makes her umeboshi and apricot-boshi and for more detailed instructions you can follow this thorough recipe.