Monday, March 31, 2014

Nanohana no Kurashie: A Recipe for Spring in Japan

This post first appeared over at ecotwaza (back when the address was greenjapan.com) back in April, 2012. The recipe, though, is an absolute classic and worth rolling out once again. (Please do note the point about wasabi at the end, though.) So, while we continue to unpack and settle into our new apartment, I'll leave you to read, make a shopping list, and then enjoy! - jb

Komatsuna gone to seed, a.k.a. nanohana.
Nanohana-
With the moon in the east
And the sun in the west.
  • Yosa Buson, 1716-1783
One of spring's first greens (or winter's last, depending on how you look at it) nanohana 菜の花 are as cheerful as they are delicious with their bright green leaves and yellow flowers. It's easy to imagine the signature bright blooms glowing in the mix of first and last light that inspired Buson, a contemporary of Basho's and a famous poet in his own right, to pen the above haiku. Nanohana, usually the stems and leaves of rape seed Brassica napus, remains a favorite spring vegetable.

Arriving earlier than sakura (cherry blossoms) and lasting a bit longer, these energetic bloomers can be found growing in orderly rows in public parks as well as lining the embankment next to the Yamanote Line. These days, too, community gardens and local farms will prominently feature this spring delicacy. Tightly bunched at the supermarket or loosely bagged at a nearby chokubaijo (direct sale stand) or farmer's market, they are a delightful addition to the table. (BioFarm, an organic farm and restaurant in Chiba, grows a fantastic variety from komatsuna, pak choi, and haksai (chinese cabbage) that shoppers at the Earth Day Market can peruse to find their favorite flavors. Be sure to go early, though, for the best selection!)

Mouth-wateringly spring.
Our local izakaya served up a beautiful plate of them the other night, and the mistress there shared her recipe for this spicy spring dish. Nanohana certainly makes the wait for summer vegetables a little easier!

Nanohana no Kurashie*
1 bunch nanohana (Any variety is fine. It will include stems, leaves and a few flowers either blooming or just about to bloom.)
1 ½ Tbsp. Soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Dashi
Bonito flakes, to taste (optional)
½ Tsp. Karashie mustard**

  1. Fill a pan with water and bring it to a good rolling boil. Make sure the lid is on so it goes a bit faster.
  2. Pop the nanohana into the boiling water and replace the cover. Boil for about 4 minutes or until the stems are soft but still have a bit of crunch to them.
  3. Drain and rinse the nanohana in cold water for several seconds. This quick cooling stops the cooking process and helps retain some of the nutrition as well as crunch. (Remember, too, to save that cooking water for making soup or rice later on!)
  4. Gently squeeze out excess water and then cut the nanohana into two-inch (four-centimeter) length pieces.
  5. In a separate bowl, mix together the dashi, soy sauce, and mustard thoroughly.
  6. Add the nanohana and give it a good stir to fully spread out the flavor of the sauce.
  7. Chill in the refrigerator or serve immediately.

*Not so keen on spice? Simply eliminate the mustard and enjoy the brilliant taste of Ohitashi, another classic spring dish!

**I used the kind that comes in the tube, but it should also be possible to use dry mustard. You'll have to report back if you try the other variety. I also don't recommend substituting wasabi. It's terrible.

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