No.160 (3/26/10)

Sansai: The Edible Mountain Vegetables

Keiko H.Johnson
Staff Writer

The scent of the well hydrated fresh soil, which arises when the sun heats the ground and lifts its scent into the air. It is the scent I notice every year as the spring begins to fill the fields with sprouting new plant life. Winter is finally fading in Misawa.

One of the major events of spring season is the blooming Cherry blossom in Japan; yet almost as important are the first shoots of mountain vegetables peeking out of the ground. Mountain vegetables, or Sansai, are edible wild vegetables, which grow naturally in the woods and swamp areas. In Japan, their harvest season begins in April and ends in May. Since there are dozens of varieties of Sansai, I cannot note them all in this section; however, as its harvest season is getting closer and sansai will be out in full force at the market in the next few weeks, I am introducing the most popular types found in the Tohoku area. I am also introducing the most popular cooking method of Sansai later in the recipe section.

Flower Bud
Fuki no to: Butter sprout This cluster of light green bud is a flower of Fuki plant. It has slightly bitter taste, high in fiber, potassium, and calcium.

Kogomi: It is often called as Ostrich Fern.
Zenmai: Osmond, Cinnamon Royal Fern These 10 to 20 clusters of fiddleheads often emerge in the wetland like riverbanks. They should be pre treated before cooking. (Put them in a plastic bag with a dash of baking soda and rub them by hand until the fleece coating detaches. This process also helps to soften the tough texture of rough fiber.)
Warabi: This is another kind of Fern plants, which thrives on the hillside of dry land. Warabi is usually preserved in the jar with water before selling.

Negamaritake: this type of wild bamboo shoots are thin and has soft texture compared to regular bamboo shoots, yet, they are similar in taste. It needs to be cooked in the boiling water before use.

Leafy Vegetables
Gyoujya Ninniku: Leafy mountain vegetable taste like garlic when they are cooked. This can be tossed in the salad and eaten fresh. Its garlicky taste derives a great harmony when it is cooked with meat. Some Gyojya Ninniku is cultivated these days.
Fuki: This is the leaf of Fuki No To. It has a slightly bitter taste. Skin and cut the stalk into 2 inch length. Soak them in vinegar overnight before cooking. (This process helps to remove some of bitterness in the vegetable.) The stalk contains juice that is not suitable for deep-frying. Boil and garnish them with soy sauce and bonito flakes to consume.
Ha wasabi: Leaves and flowers of wasabi plant are edible at early spring, when they are still young. Soak in the water and leave it in the refrigerator over night before boiling them. This vegetable can also be enjoyed with just the soy sauce.
Mizu: This is very popular mountain vegetable from Tohoku area. Its juicy and refreshing texture is the key factor for this vegetable to become popular during the season. Cook them in the boiling water with a dash of salt, garnish with a bit of soy sauce and adequate amount of bonito flakes is the most popular way to enjoy the taste of this vegetable.

Udo: According to the American Heritage of English dictionary fourth edition 2000, Udo refers to a perennial Japanese plant (Aralias cordata) having bipinnately compound leaves and young shoots that are cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
Tara no me: Tara plant grows tall at the beginning of spring. The edible green bud growing at the end of the branch has disparate fresh green color to that of its lifeless color of the tree itself. This plant grows in the loamy area with plenty of sunlight.

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