Monday, March 15, 2010
It has been a while since we updated this blog. Now that Hiroko is just back from her trip to Japan, we'll be adding some more new posts soon. Meanwhile, we wanted to share our first taste of the joy of spring. In Japan, when people begin to see sansai (mountain vegetables) such as fuki-no-tou (butterbur sprout), bamboo shoots, fiddlehead ferns, and udo (mountain celery) in markets and/or vegetable shops, they know the spring is near. Sansai are foraged in wooded areas as the snow melts toward the end of winter.
When Hiroko was in Tokyo, she found fuki-no-tou at the vegetable stands. Unable to resist, she brought some home with her. The most familiar way to serve fuki-no-tou is as tempura. The farmer from whom she purchased it recommended this method as the best for serving but, he added that it could also be pan sauteed or blanched and then cooked in soy broth.
When the fuki-no-tou are removed from the package, their fresh, green, earthy aroma reminds one immediately of spring. Once opened, the debate ensued on how to cook them. After some initial reluctance about deep frying and a long discussion over several glasses of sake, we decided to prepare them two ways; Western i.e. sauteed in olive oil and garlic and of course, the "classic" tempura.
Version #1: After first heating the pan and sauteeing the garlic, the fuki-no-tou was added with sprinkle of salt. After just a few minutes, it was ready eat. This vegetable has a pleasantly bitter taste (bitter like broccoli rabe but not the same flavor). Although there is some similarity to each, it's flavor is not like celery, nor shiso, nor green pepper. It has its own distinctive sansai flavor. Since it was so delicious, for a moment, Hiroko thought the she didn't need to go the tempura route. But after some pleading from Rick,she did.
Version #2: Hiroko whipped up some tempura batter in no time, and after dipping the fuki-no-tou, lightly fried it in canola oil. The tempura version was absolutely delicious! The bitter taste of the fuki-no-tou cut the oil from the tempura batter, and it made for a very fresh and savory dish. A sprinkle of some "sakura salt" that we received from someone in Japan added just the right element to make for a perfect tempura. We really enjoyed the fuki-no-tou both ways.
It's a different, less familiar style of vegetable, but we found it to be a delicious taste of early spring. And, since we had the batter, we used it to enjoy a few of our local vegetables tempura-style, joyfully eating them with some fresh soba that Hiroko had also brought back from Yamagata-ken.