There were actually two inspirations here - one was a cheap cookbook, and the other a giveaway. But, since I've only loaded the pictures for one...
See, I went to a party the other day, a "sayonara" party for a friend who's going back to Germany within the week. The group of friends that we share is extremely diverse, ethnically speaking - of eleven participants, two (he and I) were of European origin (in my case, a fourth generation American Jew); two were Korean; and the remaining members were all Japanese, though at least two of them had studied within the continent of Australia for extended periods. It's a fun bunch, but the basic point is that the party was decidedly "Japanese," and that generally means either "all-you-can-eat" and "all-you-can-drink," with everybody dipping into the same dishes, or - as this one was, and as I happen to vastly prefer - buffet-style.
To be specific, it was at an "Organic Farm Restaurant" called "Moku-Moku," which specializes in fresh, homemade dishes, many vegetarian, all from seasonal ingredients, all extremely healthy. Oh boy. Please don't ask how many "second helpings" in which I partook, but the whole thing filled a comfort quota that's been neglected in my body for some time, and that goes beyond warm, delicious food. The people present were just fun - non-judgmental, inclusive, unconcerned about nationality or language, resulting in flowing conversations that had more to do with life and the present than futile scrapes at cultural barriers that might not even exist. Refreshing, rejuvenating, satisfying in all ways.
(Can you tell that perceived barriers are something that contributes to my stress? Yeah, you're smart like that.)
But, anyways, I wasn't talking about fitting in and finding my way in an unfamiliar environment. I was talking about food! And, for whatever reason, "Moku-Moku" had a big basket by their front counter, full of little bags, full of a grayish powder, with the sort of sign that seems to glitter and flash neon green lights, even when it's jotted on a piece of scrap paper, as this one was:
Everyone was trickling towards and away from the cashier, paying for dinner, chatting, waiting. I grabbed a few sheets of paper, one with recipes, the other two putting a name and information to the mystery ingredient - it was definitely food, something called "kome nuka" (米ぬか). I had seen it before, and knew that it could be made to make a certain type of pickle, but had never bothered to look into it; could this be an impetus to find out? One of the papers, after all, had instructions for making "nukazuke" (ぬか漬け), detailing the pickling process, and it seemed simple enough. Everyone started to leave, and I joined them, walking away, leaving the dust for another day when I knew what it was, what I could do with it, when I wouldn't waste it.
And then I remembered that it was free.
And I ran back for it.
So what was it? Squinting at the sheets of information that I had gathered, and ultimately deferring to Wikipedia, I at last discovered: it was rice bran! (BRAN. Not brains. Why must we all default to the assumption of typos? If I use this much overture to introduce a little baggy full of America's original superfood, I think consumption of brain-matter, or anything that claimed a similar name, would merit a novel at least.) So that would explain all of the health claims. Very nice. Unfortunately, my squinting had also determined that the pickling wasn't of the overnight variety, and would in fact involve several weeks of daily interaction with a bucket of brownish sludge. As tempting as this project seemed, the fact is that I'm slowly killing a basil plant with indifference right now. No, I needed something instant. I needed to consult my favorite Japanese recipe website, Cookpad for anything that I could throw together with zero effort, using ingredients that were gathering dust in my fridge.
Which is how I wound up making miso-bran cookies.
The process - simple. Mix the bran powder, some miso, some sugar (I used brown. Because I can!), some water; roll it out; cut, poke, bake. The appearance was pleasant, not unlike graham crackers. The texture was lovely, unbelievably soft and moist and just a bit crumbly.
The taste, well, opinions diverge.
At first, I thought it was... interesting. Yeasty, a bit sweet, with a strong... something. Hard to judge. Love it or hate it. On the other hand, my neighbor took a bite, made a face, and politely excused herself to go spit it out. She just doesn't like kome-nuka, she explained. Nothing personal. And a day later, my roommate braved the cookies that I introduced as "kind of bad," and announced them to be quite tasty indeed - upon hearing which, I took another, and had to agree. They definitely benefit from aging. That just doesn't seem right with baked goods, but it was true. The yeast in the miso must have something to do with them mellowing over time.
Anyways. There's nothing traditional about these cookies. They probably don't even deserve to be called cookies (health crackers?). But they deserve some time. And with half a bag of bran left... maybe I should just go the expected route this time and make muffins. Or something.