Every year for the past 5 years, my family and I have attended the US SUMO OPEN, held in the Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State University. Unfortunately, the event was canceled this year due to COVID-19. Cancelations aside, it is an afternoon of good vibes, high energy, traditional taiko drumming, spirited performances, hilarious demos and delicious Japanese food. Good fun all around! Enthusiastic fans from near and far flock to see the world’s heavyweight, openweight, and lightweight Sumo competitors in top form compete for the gold medal and title promotions. Up until the 1900s, the highest title you could attain in the Sumo sport was Ozeki. A few changes were made and now the highest level is Yokozuna.
But, why am I talking to you about sumos and what does that have to do with Daiginjo Sake Osakawa Chobei? Ozeki means champion, big boss in Japanese and it is no coincidence that the name of this sake’s brewery is called the Ozeki Corporation. They have been producing sake since 1711 and are located in the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan. The capital is Kobe, known internationally for many things, including Kobe Beef. Another interesting note about the Ozeki Corporation is that they are the first Japanese brewery to locally brew sake in the US. They looked around for the perfect location that had quality rice production and the water supply they needed and they found it in Hollister, in California’s Central Valley. According to a 2012 article by Mark Bittman for the New York Times, the Central Valley is responsible for one third of all produce grown in the United States. Wow! He also says that “the valley is the largest supplier of canned tomatoes in the world.” Now, THAT’S impressive! There are more recent articles that can tell you more about this part of California, but that was just to give you a little idea of the area and its very fertile soil.
This sake comes in a black bottle with grey and gold lettering, and while it may look imposing, the drink itself is anything but. It is a light, dry, wonderfully pleasant sake. On the nose, you will find aromas of exotic fruits like green bananas, apple skin, green apricots, green strawberries, black licorice, wet almonds, wet rocks like you would smell at the beach (very good minerals), yellow flowers like vanilla, fresh fig leaf and ripe cantaloupe melon. The food pairings should be salty, and can be on the lighter side, like fish soup, grilled or sautéed vegetables, lightly battered fish, vegetable tempura, fresh corn fritters, sashimi, ceviche and oysters. I ate a few Manzanilla olives (the green ones with pimento pepper in the center) while I sipped this and I have to tell you: it was sublime! The fruitiness and minerality of the sake matched with the oily, salty brininess of the olive. It was lovely!
I just rattled off a list of possible happy food pairings, and quite honestly, I could go for ALL OF IT, but the recipe I have chosen is a simple fall carrot soup with a green olive relish. The fall harvest of carrots is just right for this and the salty olive on top will provide the added texture the soup needs. You will need a good stand up blender, not a mixer for this recipe. Feel free to adjust this however you want to. If you want a protein, add some white beans, tofu, poached chicken breast, or some plump fast-fried shrimp. Just make sure you season everything very well with salt and black pepper. Kanpai!
FALL CARROT SOUP WITH GREEN OLIVE RELISH
7 large carrots, cut into chunks
½ red onion, chopped (save 1 tablespoon for the Olive Relish)
1 celery stalk, chopped (save 1 tablespoon for the Olive Relish)
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
4 cups of water
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat then add the chopped onions. Season with salt and pepper and stir, 1-2 minutes. Add chopped carrots, celery and spices. Mix well then add 2 ½ - 3 cups of water. You want the water to just cover the carrots in the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and cover the pot until the carrots are tender, about 20-25 minutes. While you are waiting for the carrots to cook, start making the Olive Relish. When the carrots are cooked, carefully put them in the blender, add some hot pot water and blend until smooth and the consistency you prefer. When all the carrots are pureed, transfer to a clean serving bowl. Taste, season again and set aside. Ladle into individual serving bowls and top with the olive relish.
½ cup or about 20 Manzanilla olives (OK if they are stuffed with pimento, also OK without)
1 tablespoon of chopped red onion
1 tablespoon of chopped celery
Apple cider vinegar or whatever vinegar you have, just a splash
Mix all the above ingredients in a bowl and set aside. The longer it sits, the better. Just before serving, spoon 1-2 tablespoons over the cooked carrot soup for added flavor and texture. This relish is delicious on avocado toast as well.