On our recent trip to Japan, I noticed instead of iced water, each table had a pitcher of ice cold mugi-cha, or roasted barley tea. I love mugi-cha and as a child, my mother would make mugi-cha to make “chagai” or “chazuke” (tea and rice). She knew that it did not have caffeine and would not affect our ability to sleep that night.
Roasted barley tea is popular in Japan, Korea and China. In Korea, it is called “bori-cha” and “daimaicha,” or “maicha” in Mandarin. In Japan, when the weather gets colder, hot mugi-cha is served.
The health benefits of mugi-cha include the inhibition of bacterial colonization in your gut and the antioxidants or phytonutrients, protect your body from free-radical damage. It is also a digestive aid and a cleanser with meals. According to the Tao Healing Arts, mugi-cha treats thirst and fever, increases chi, promotes blood circulation, moistens skin, calms your stomach, reduces stress and when mixed with fresh ginger juice and honey, effectively treats urinary tract infection. It also interferes with the absorption of oral streptococci. However, on the downside, mugi-cha is not gluten-free.
According to a study at Shizuoka University, mugi-cha contains ten chemicals that are able to scavenge or destroy peroxynitrites (an oxidant and nitrating agent, it can damage molecules in the cells, including DNA and proteins) and the anticoagulant properties improves blood fluidity.
So I was excited when I found tea bags of mugi-cha at a popular retail store, Muji, in Fukuoka. To make cold tea, all you need to do is place a tea bag in a pitcher of cold water and place it in the refrigerator. It does not need heating and I think prevents it from getting bitter, similar to making toddy for iced coffee.
Muji started selling their products in December 1980 in the supermarket chain Seiyu. Today, Muji has more than 260 stores throughout Japan and in 21 countries, including stores in New York and San Francisco, with one opening in Hollywood next month. It is based on a no frills, simplicity, modesty and plainness. They believe in minimalism, recycling and avoidance of waste.
The word “muji” comes from “mujirushi” (no brand) “ryohin”(quality goods) and the design is based on the concept of “kanketsu,” the sense of simplicity and calm from the everyday strenuous lives. Even in the design process, there is resistance to technology and prototypes are produced with paper rather than computers so as to not encourage unnecessary details.
One of the recipes in “An Evening in Paradise with Mayor Billy Kenoi” cookbook uses “umeboshi,” or Japanese pickled plum from Chris Hardenbrook who works at the County Planning Department.
6-8 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut in large pieces
1 large onion, coarsely cut up
12 umeboshi, pitted
A could of fresh shiso leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
This is a savory dish that even folks who don’t care for umeboshi by itself will like it. Umeboshi is Japanese pickled salted plums, and shiso is a leafy herb. Markets will have a variety of umeboshi products; you want the whole fruit with a little MSG and artificial coloring as you can find. Shiso is harder to find fresh (maybe ask you favorite sushi place). Some umeboshi preparations have shiso mixed in already but it is still nice to find a fresh leaf or two if you can. The combination of umeboshi and shiso is a traditional and excellent matching of flavors.
In a heavy skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and sauté the onion on medium-high heat with liberal salt and pepper until almost translucent.
Put in blender with umeboshi, 1/2 tablespoon olive oil, as shiso leaf or two, and just enough sake to make a smooth, pourable (but pretty thick) sauce.
Back in the same skillet, add 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and sauté the chicken pieces, on a little higher heat than you used for the onion, until brown spots start to appear on the chicken. You may need to do the chicken in a few batches.
Put the chicken in a lightly oiled oven casserole dish with a cover. Add all but about half cup of the sauce to the chicken and thoroughly mix together.
Set the reserved portion of the sauce aside.
Put covered casserole in pre-heated 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven, add the remainder of the sauce and stir it in. Replace cover and return to oven. I usually turn the oven off at this point and leave the casserole in there for about ten more minutes.
Serve with rice or mashed red potatoes.
You can substitute firm fish or tofu for the chicken. I also like to add sliced shiitake mushrooms that are sautéed before or after the onions (don’t put the shiitake in the blender), then add it to the chicken mix just as it goes in the oven. Delicious!
The cookbook is a fundraiser for the Hawaii Island United Way and can be purchased for $15 plus $1 for shipping by calling the office at 935-6393 or sending a check to: P.O. Box 745, Hilo, HI 96721-0745.
Hawaii Community College’s Culinary Cafeteria and Ohana Corner Café is open throughl Friday. Call 934-2559 for specials of the day.
Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question. Bon appetit until next week.