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!