08 July, 2008

Beat the Heat with Japanese Greens

Japan has a wide array of wonderful green vegetables. They are tasty, healthy and usually cheap. They can add a lot to your diet in the way of vitamins and fibre and help protect you from getting more than your share of the colds and flus circulating there throughout the colder months. In summer, they are great to give your body the stamina it needs to help it cope with the prodigious heat and humidity that the whole central and southern part of Japan "enjoys".

Summer in Japan can be long. In Shikoku and the central portions of the country it lasts from May to October. During that time you are going to be wanting to be eating food that cools you off. Many of the greens available in every grocery store can be thrown into salads to perk them up and add nutrition. Any of the sprouts that you see in the small square clear plastic containers can be put in salads, sandwiches, or in soups. Some of them, like Daikon radish sprouts and cress are spicy but others, like mitsuba and mibuna are milder.

Spinach is great in salads; there are usually more than one kind in stores, and it's available all year. I like to mix up spinach with other green leaves, like Japanese celery, and shredded savoy cabbage, amaranth , sliced white stems of Bok Choy or torn lettuce to make the base for a quick salad. Add some chopped or sliced sweet peppers, sweet tomatoes, a few chunks of apple, slivers or shreds of carrot, a handful of raisins, some walnuts or peanuts, even some leftover cooked brown rice, and you have a salad that's healthy and easy.

Though the Shiso/Perilla non-oil dressing pictured above was one of my favourites, I rarely used other bottled dressings. I first learned how to make dressings when I was working as a cook in an Italian deli/restaurant/fresh pasta shop. Though I can still throw together a complicated dressing without a recipe, for every day I usually just make the very easy vinaigrette that is the standard of dressings. Even if you are wedded to your bottle of blue-cheese or ranch (though I can promise you that I never will be) you can break the processed dressing habit with an easy, fast dressing that you can vary with your mood and how much time you want to spend.

In the summer in Japan, that might be 2 minutes. You can do it in that time. Here's how:

Assemble all your salad greens and cut veggies and fruit, nuts, or what-you-like in a bowl. Shake on salt and pepper. Drizzle on some oil of choice. Often I choose extra virgin olive oil but any oil will work. Splash on some vinegar (about half as much as the amount of oil) or a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Add a sprinkle of your favourite dried or chopped herbs. Toss and eat.

That's the easiest way to dress a salad. If you want to spend an extra minute, then put your lemon juice and or vinegar (balsamic, cider or flavoured), oil, salt and pepper and a tsp of sugar, and herbs of choice (oregano and basil are good for an Italian flavour, fresh basil shredded is wonderful in season as are any fresh herbs like shiso), and any extra seasonings that you like (dijon mustard, garlic paste, smidge of cayenne pepper) into a cup. Give it a good whip with a fork or two chop sticks to start the emulsification. I t should look a little cloudy. Put it on those greens as quick as you can say" I yam what I yam" and eat. Grow Popeye muscles, or just get an iron boost.

For those of you who may be, like I was, a little unsure of what greens to eat and what they were, I found a link here at the Kitazawa seed company. This website is a wonderful resource for pictures of many vegetables available in Japan. There are photos of the actual vegetables. If you do a little exploring and click on the different varieties listed at the bottom of each category, you will be sure to come across some that look familiar. I found many that I had used or that I had seen in local stores. With suggestions for how the vegetables can be used, this site is more than a seed catalogue. Wish I had found it earlier when I was in Japan.

There are also a few books available in Japan that identify ingredients. One I own is: The Dictionary of Japanese Food. The link will take you to the Amazon website in Japan.

Eat your greens and keep cool!


Autumn Moon said...

I wish we could grow green in my area during the hot summer, but we just can't, they bolt immediately, if they even come up at all. Great post, by the way!

Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
Cheers as usual for some excellent info. Your site has certainly improved the eating habits and outlook of my little family. I have been finding some excellent bok choy, spinach, and cabbages at the local farmers market, and they have become staples in our weekly vege intake.
I have been battling the flu for a week or so, but not nearly as severe as I might have had in the past, and I have to attribute a lot of that to simply healthier eating and awareness.
I have another slow soup simmering in the crock pot as we speak, chock full of kumura, maori potato, parsnips, beans, and home made chicken stock.
Also will be working on a project for you this weekend. May take a bit as heading into the mountains for 6 days soon, but will be worth it. Kia ora VJ!

vegetablej said...

autumn moon:

Thanks so much!

Sorry it's too hot there for greens now, but you can certainly enjoy grilling a lot of those other fresh vegtables, including the gorgeous squash you are growing. The Japanese way is to slice them in thinnish slices with the skin on, after taking out the seeds, and then when they're done, dip them in a sauce made with soy sauce, vinegar and a few other things. I'll see if I can hunt you up a recipe.

I also like fresh vegetables and tofu grilled and topped with either a touch of sesame oil or a homemade basil oil. I'll put my recipe/picture in the side bar so you can take a look if you like.


vegetablej said...

Hiya Robb:

Glad to hear you have wholeheartedly jumped on the vegetable bandwagon. They are indeed the key to feeling healthier and avoiding a lot of the sickness and flus that come around. And when you do catch something,as you noticed, it is often milder or of shorter duration.

It's lovely to hear that you are cooking good things for your family every day and that you are taking the time and trouble to find good things at the markets. Besides saving a bit of money, always a cncern with a growing family, you are setting a fabulous example that will carry over to the time when your children have their own families. And you never know, grandpa might be treated to quite a few good meals some day.

Ohh, I'm excited about the "project" and looking forward to being surprised. :)

Also have a great trip into the mountains, safe and serene.