First of all, I'd like to apologize for the long absence, I just went on a trip to Nantucket to visit family. While I was there I was without internet, plus I was babysitting my adorable eleven-month-old niece which kept me pretty busy. However, I was not completely negligent and was in fact working on a new and exciting project. At this time I am in the process of writing a short book about the pillars of Japanese cooking, which I intend to publish as an ebook. At this point I am about a third of the way through, having just finished the section about vegetables. For this post I am happy to give you an excerpt, which doubles as a list of Japanese vegetables. Enjoy!
"Following is a list of the vegetables most commonly used in Japanese cuisine. Some will probably be familiar to you, but others might be entirely new.
Cabbage: Japan is one of the worlds top cabbage producers and it is one of the most frequently bought grocery items there. A very versatile leafy vegetable, cabbage can be added to just about any dish, going especially well in stir-fries and soups. Another popular use is thinly sliced cabbage in accompaniment of fried foods such as tonkatsu or korokke.
Hakusai (Napa Cabbage): This is a variety of Asian cabbage that is commonly used in pickled dishes like kimchi. In Japan it is a common ingredient in hot pot soups.
Horenso (spinach): Horenso no goma-ae is a popular dish made from spinach and sesame dressing. Also common in soup.
Komatsuna (Japanese mustard spinach): Similar to spinach, though less bitter, this green is eaten raw, boiled, pickled, and in soups and stews.
Mitsuba: Also sometimes called Japanese parsley, this herb is primarily used as a garnish. It has a wonderful flavor that is a classic in Japanese cuisine.
Mizuna (Japanese mustard, spider mustard): Usually found as a garnish or making an appearance in soups and hot pots.
Shiso (Perilla leaf): A member of the mint family, shiso comes in two different varieties, green and red. With it’s fresh, slightly peppery flavor, green shiso is used in salads, as garnishes, in soups, and for onigiri wrappers. Red shiso is more commonly used for pickling Japanese plums.
Daikon (giant white radish): An extremely popular vegetable, daikon can be eaten raw or cooked. Many pickle recipes include takuan (pickled daikon), and grated daikon is paired with fried foods to cut the oil. When raw they can have a bit of a mild spice but when cooked they are slightly sweet.
Kabu (turnip): In Japan turnips are always boiled, but once cooked they can be found in soups and hot pots, or made into pickles.
Jagaimo (potato): Potatoes are a pretty recent addition to the Japanese pantry, only starting to be cultivated in the 1800s. However, since then they have become a popular ingredient in soups and stews.
Satsumaimo (sweet potato): Different from the sweet potatoes you are probably familiar with, this variety has purple skin and white interiors. It is sweeter and drier than other varieties. A very popular snack in Japan, they are often grilled and eaten plain. Grilled sweet potatoes are called yaki-imo and in Tokyo are sold from trucks like ice cream in America. Aside from grilling they are also common in stews, curries, and soups.
Satoimo (taro root): Another soup and hot pot ingredient, satoimo are known for their slightly slimy texture.
Nagaimo (yam): Another slimy root vegetable, this mountain yam turns to a sticky goo when grated. This goo is used in okonomiyaki to give it a spongier texture, it is also used as a topping to rice or noodles. Nagaimo can also be sliced and eaten raw or grilled.
Renkon (lotus root): A very unique looking root, renkon has cavities throughout giving it an appealing pattern when sliced. Because of this it is a very attractive addition to any dish. Depending on the duration of cooking renkon can either be crisp like a carrot or soft like a cooked potato.
Gobo (burdock root): And you thought the only use for burdock was to drive you insane as it refused to let go of your clothing. It turns out that the root of young burdock is a common ingredient in Japan, where it is used in soups.
Ninjin (carrot): Japanese carrots are a bit thicker than your average European or American carrot, but the taste is about the same, as are the uses. It is often seen shredded in fresh dishes or in curries or hot pots. Carrots are also popular as carved garnishes.
Tamanegi (onion): Another big crop in Japan is onions, which are used in hot pots, curries, and other dishes. They’re also commonly grilled along with meat.
Shoga (ginger): Originally an import from China, ginger is now considered a warming winter flavor. Aside from a flavor for cooking, it is also thinly sliced and pickled. You’ve probably had this with your sushi and are familiar with the sweet and tangy flavor.
Takenoko (bamboo shoot): Takenoko is the soft top of the young bamboo plant, which has to be harvested before it breaks from the soil and becomes hard. It can be grilled, steamed, added to soup, or made into tempura.
Negi (leek, green onion): With a similar flavor to green onions, though sweeter, negi is great pared with fried dishes or on top of donburi (rice bowl dishes).
Tomato: Though this is a pretty popular vegetable in Japan it is rarely cooked into Japanese style dishes. Rather it is used in western style food and eaten raw in salads. The cherry tomatoes are often found in bento boxes.
Kyuri (cucumber): Japanese cucumbers are smaller and thinner than western varieties. They are also a little less juicy, so if you cannot find them locally, English cucumbers are closer to the Japanese kind. They’re usually put into salads or instantly pickled in salt.
Nasu (eggplant, aubergine): Smaller and less bitter than wester varieties, nasu are used in a myriad of dishes. It is especially popular roasted with miso paste.
Piman (Green pepper): Another smaller and sweeter counterpart to the western peppers, piman are popular in tempura or in salads.
Shishito (Small Japanese green pepper): An even smaller variety of piman, these little green peppers are sweet and mild, though every so often you’ll come across a spicy one. Commonly found roasted or grill and topped with soy sauce and bonito.
Kabocha (pumpkin): Kabocha is actually a type of squash, but outside of Japan it is usually marked “Japanese pumpkin”. In the fall and winter kabocha is frequently eaten boiled and cooled. With the importation of Halloween in recent years, kabocha has become a popular flavor added to sweets. I myself make a delicious kabocha pie.
Tomorokoshi (corn): Corn is grown in Hokkaido, the northern most island, but the demand for the vegetable means that they now have to import large quantities. When in season it is often grilled and brushed with soy sauce. It is also featured in Hokkaido’s regional dish variants like ramen and miso soup.
Okura (okra): A somewhat slimy vegetable, also popular in the American south. In Japan it is often served raw in salad or fried in tempura.
Goya (bitter melon): True to its name, goya is well known for its bitterness. They are especially important to Okinawan cuisine."
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt and the illustrations which were done by yours-truly. I'm hoping to have the book finished by the end of next month, so keep an eye out.
Until next time, I hope you have plenty of vegetables in your life.