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DIY kitchen: sunomono

2013 August 15
by Rachel Turiel

“Roger. Over.”


“Headquarters, for you.”


The topic of discussion today in typical, roundabout fashion: Japanese sunomono cucumber salad.


Growing up in Berkeley, CA was like taking the life course: It’s Cool to be Different. (Further courses included: Question Authority and Root for the Underdog). Aside from the blandly conformist years of junior high, where apparently hormones trump geography, being outside the mainstream was a thing to be celebrated.

In high school, in addition to the jock track, there was also the beatboxing/breakdancing track, the purple hair/angsty journal writing track, the re-create the 60’s through smoking much marijuana and learning to play the Led Zeppelin canon on the guitar track, the artsy-sophisticate/date older men track, the mod/I ride a scooter and wear checker-print mini-skirts track, and even the smorgasbord/sampler platter track, in which you could bounce freely around all the social groups. Basically, by age 14, I was clear on the fact that not being blonde, svelte and attired in the latest fashion was not an impediment to, well, anything.

This was my reality partly because I went to the melting pot of public school; partly because I had parents who, after dying my hair orange and then black then purple then maroon, were more concerned that I clean up the spilled hair dye in the bathroom than about any alterations to my appearance. And partly because differentness was reflected back to me all over town.

When I was ten The Cat Lady moved in next door. She had upwards of fifty cats and walked around the neighborhood with a large parrot on her shoulder while toting a cat inside a portable carrier. Everyone knew The Bubble Lady, who wore enormous orange housedresses, blew bubbles and recited poetry on Telegraph Avenue (she also published 23 volumes of poetry). Wavy Gravy’s son was a friend of mine, and I spent a fair amount of my 16th year at his North Berkeley compound, called The Hog Farm, where teenagers were left freely to do what teenagers do best.

There was Rare, a Telegraph Ave regular, who could be counted on to flip a quick sidewalk handstand and growl-shout, “how do you like it?” Also, the guy who had proof that author Steven King shot John Lennon, and was happy to ensnare anyone into a lengthy explanation of his discovery. And Rick Starr, throwback to another era, dressed in rumpled suit and cowboy hat, who dragged a microphone (unplugged) to Sproul Plaza and sang, over and over and over, Frank Sinatra’s, I did it my way, while thousands of people walked by, ignoring him. These were the people in my neighborhood.

Walking through the vast UC Berkeley campus, as we often did to get from North Berkeley to points downtown, was a feast of languages, accents, skin tones. I always felt like I belonged, right smack in the middle of the chaos, the colors, the differentness. Like it was this very diversity which could save the world from its own dangerous pull towards the tidiness of monoculture, in foods, people, beliefs.

When we went out to eat it was Korean, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian, Japanese. Asian food is still my very favorite. And here is where we go from the freaks of Berkeley into a lovely little Japanese recipe.


Also, worth noting here is LOOK AT THIS TILE! Does it look familiar? I know, it’s my logo! (which Dan drew many years ago for a gardening column I used to write called “Sowing in the San Juans”). This was a surprise gift made by writing student and friend, Linda Barnes. I love it so.


Also worth noting is this gorgeous purple pottery handmade by our friend Liz, who said “consider this my sponsorship to your blog.” We love love love our new bowls.

This Japanese cucumber salad, called sunomono, is light and delicious, something you might order as an appetizer before your main course of domburi, yakatori, sukiyaki or udon…if, that is, you lived somewhere with a real Japanese restaurant run by real Japanese people. I’ve been making sunomono a lot because 1) The garden is spitting out cucumbers. 2) Rose loves it, and anything from the vegetable kingdom that the kids love gets put into regular menu rotation. 3) Our town is very far, culturally-speaking, from Berkeley, and it makes me happy to say to Rose when I pick her up from a friend’s house, “did you share the sunomono I packed you?”


(makes enough for appetizer for 4)

2 nice sized cucumbers, the long Japanese or Armenian types are best, but any will do.

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1 tsp sugar (if you use the seasoned rice vinegar, no sugar needed)

1 tbsp sesame seeds


Chop cucumbers into thin slices (traditionally, they are sliced very thin, but I settle for “somewhat thin.”) Place in bowl and cover with all ingredients. Let sit for five minutes, stirring to penetrate cucumbers with vinegar. You can get creative, of course: sometimes I add a splash of sesame oil, tamari diced chives or ginger, but mostly I like the exact recipe above. Also, I give the frugal among permission to pour the vinegar left in the bowl back into the jar. And additional permission for anyone to sponsor me with gifts!

With love,


* Also worth noting: many of the “Berkeley characters” had some level of mental illness. But it seems that they made their own way in the community, accepted, tolerated and cared for.

* Also worth noting is that despite all the so-called diversity of Berkeley, I didn’t meet a Republican until I left home.

Sharing with Tasty Traditions and Simple Lives Thursday

16 Responses leave one →
  1. Sara Parks permalink
    August 15, 2013

    Ha. I like your last statement.

  2. Jan Turiel permalink
    August 15, 2013

    Me too, Sara Parks! And I remember the purple hair! :)

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      August 15, 2013

      It probably didn’t fit in so much in Westport, CT!

  3. August 15, 2013

    Thank you for the recipe! We’ll see what the kids think.

  4. Cait permalink
    August 15, 2013

    Cucumber salad was totally delish. Finally something to mix up the endless cucumber marathon we’ve been having. Thanks!

  5. Jessica permalink
    August 15, 2013

    I LOVE Sunomono. So easy. I often add re-hydrated seaweed to it for extra greens. If you can’t get any around your place, let me know and I’ll send you some!

  6. August 15, 2013

    Your post is reminding me of the “Hate” man, Telegraph Avenue circa 1993-94. Oh and the naked Berkeley student! Such fond memories. Great post as usual!

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      August 15, 2013

      Ah yes, the Hate man. He was definitely a fixture.

  7. Susan Spaulding permalink
    August 15, 2013

    I grew up almost exactly the opposite! Strictly meat and potatoes, Republican household, didn’t even have Mexican food until I was 20 years old! Thankfully, things change.

  8. August 15, 2013

    I’m definitely going to try the sunomono — sounds delicious. And, so fun to read your description of Berkeley — we live in North Berkeley, and have for 12 years (another 5 in central) but didn’t grow up here so of course our experience is different. I wonder what our kids will say though in 20+ years? But, yes, wow, the FOOD. Love the food. And our theory is that there are Republicans but they don’t dare admit it.

  9. Amy Carney permalink
    August 16, 2013

    I would not have expected that from you….I love your perspective! Being from Santa Cruz myself I can relate…we still live here in the S.C. Mountains but sometimes I dream of moving further away from all this so called “diversity”. Oh and love the recipe, thanks for sharing!

  10. August 16, 2013

    Having lived in Japan as a child and having spent a ton of time in Berkeley has a teen this post made me smile. You took me right back to the campus and streets!
    Sunomono is now on the menu this week! Thanks!

  11. August 16, 2013

    I love sunomono! and Berkeley. and also have a garden spitting out cucumbers. Perfect timing – thanks for sharing.

    I’m glad to hear that Rose loves it too. My kids eat vegetables lots of ways, but they don’t like salad with dressing yet. We’re working on it.

  12. Melissa Husges permalink
    August 17, 2013

    I made this the other day with some bitter old cubes from my garden. First I salted the slices and let them sit for a bit to get rid of most of the bitterness. They still weren’t edible until I made the salad. Thanks for the recipe!

  13. August 19, 2013

    i grew up like susan above- meat and potatoes and republicans, but then spent 5 years in berkeley for graduate school. i lived on the corner of cedar and grant for most of that time, just on the edge of north berkeley. and also did a lot of walking, as my car died 2 months into my stay there, and i never saved up enough to replace it, what with the crazy ridiculous rent for even the not-quite-up-to-code rentals and all. thank you for helping me remember some of it fondly (oh, telegraph)- i had a hard time there, but really berkeley itself was not to blame. and omg, the food. rent was crazy bad, but the food was always crazy good AND affordable. amazing food.

    ps peach bbq from last year all used up so i made me some more! going to can it tonight…

    • Rachel Turiel permalink*
      August 20, 2013

      You? Five years in Berkeley? Who knew? We may have brushed shoulders in some amazing Asian restuarant at some point, as I’ve gone home almost yearly for visits with family. And amazing food and all, Berkeley aint the quiet countryside of Oregon, where it seems you belong. xo

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