Esoteric veggies start to appear in the spring. I’m calling them esoteric because you won’t really find them easily in America. But yesterday, I drove down the highway to West Hartford, Connecticut to what is now my happy place—a Japanese grocery store. But what blooms in April in Japan does not bloom in April in New England. I satisfied myself with some shungiku, which is decidedly autumnal or wintery in Japan. But my eyes lit up when I found some mitsuba. That feels like Japanese spring… now what should I do with it other than using it as a garnish?
My best resource for simple Japanese recipes is the Japanese magazine Orange Page. When I lived in Japan I’d buy almost every issue. They came out twice a month. Lettuce Club was a similar magazine. These days I use the recipe database online here. These are all basic futsū recipes. I like futsū. Futsū de ii desu. Count me out for fancy time-consuming dishes.
If I was in Kyoto right now, though, I’d be eating some of the esoteric spring veggies like fukinotō and udo. I like them. But the most famous spring veggie, takenoko, leaves me cold. However, every spring I’d still cook up a batch of takenoko gohan because once a year… well, you have to savor the seasonal stuff. Put some kinome on it and it’s very good.
Other than asparagus, I am not really sure what represents haru in New England. I look out my window and there are barely buds on the trees. It’s still grey and frigid looking. Wake me up when the ringo no ki bloom.
- shungiku – 春菊 chrysanthemum leaf is what the dictionary says for this. It’s very good in sukiyaki.
- mitsuba – 三つ葉 honewort. Now honestly, does that have any meaning for you? It’s a green vegetable used often as a garnish as it adds a bit of oomph to a dish.
- futsū – 普通 average, usual.
- Futsū de ii desu – 普通で良いです。An expression I’d often use when my mother-in-law asked me what she could treat she should cook or order. I didn’t like some of the more expensive delicacies she wanted to offer me and I’d just say that she shouldn’t fuss and the usual meal was fine. Truthfully, when I visited their small town, the fried tofu was the most delicious thing there!
- fukinotō – ふきのとう butterbur shoots. A spring mountain vegetable.
- udo – うど spikenard or mountain asparagus. Another mountain vegetable.
- takenoko – 竹の子 bamboo shoots
- takenoko gohan – 竹の子ご飯 bamboo shoot rice. You cook the rice with the bamboo and a few other ingredients. It isn’t spring in Japan if you don’t eat this.
- kinome – 木の芽 Japanese pepper leaves is what the dictionary tells me. It’s primarily used as a garnish and has a very distinctive taste. I have never seen it in America. So sad.
- haru – 春 spring
- ringo no ki – りんごの木 apple tree. Literally the tree of apples.