Historic sites in the southern Ukrainian port city of Odesa abound, such as the Potemkin Stairs, and, outside of wartime, the near-Mediterranean seaside boasts umbrella-dotted beach resorts. The city’s name also alludes to Odysseus, in reference to an ancient Greek colony on the same site, but there’s no evidence, physical nor mythical, to suggest the Ithacan king ever sailed the Black Sea.
If he had, he might have feasted on prunes stuffed with walnuts, a delicacy of the region. They are often soaked in red wine before being filled with nuts and served with double or sour cream. This version uses Japanese mirin in place of wine. Adding the sourness of thick Greek yogurt, as I’m wont to do, not only balances out this dish’s sweetness but also pays homage to the home of Homer. Delicious on their own, these stuffed prunes are also interesting as an unexpected addition to a cheese board.
As with many ingredients, it will pay dividends in the final product to use high-quality mirin, or hon-mirin. The good stuff will be golden and viscous even before being reduced, and it will taste better and require less reduction to make into a syrup.
1. The day before, bring your mirin to a boil in a small pot. Add the prunes and turn off the heat, then cover and leave everything overnight in the pot to plump.
2. The next day, preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius and bake the walnuts for eight to 10 minutes or until dark. Remove them from the oven and sprinkle with salt.
3. Remove the marinating prunes from the mirin and slip half a walnut into each. If your prunes are large or walnuts small, you may fit another quarter or even a second half inside.
4. Place the pot with remaining mirin back on the stove, then bring it to a boil and reduce by half. It will start watery with small bubbles when it boils, but when the sound starts to change to a higher pitch and the bubbles increase in size a little, it’s done. A sugar thermometer is not strictly necessary, but if you have one, the syrup is ready when it edges over 100 C.