West Eats East
Unknown Japanese Veggies & Herbs
More vegetables are appearing at our tables lately and some of them originated from Japan. Green onions, Napa-cabbage, daikon radish and eggplants skinny are among the common being sold even locally. Garden shops sell young cucumber or eggplant plants in pots that are specified “Japanese.” There are other unknown Japanese vegetables and herbs promising for healthy, balanced diets as well as eye-catching presentations. Visit J-food stores like Nijiya, Marukai, Mitsuwa, or Seiwa in LA and SD areas, where you would see a variety of these kinds and also something new. “Shiso,” green or red Perilla, you see when your sushi or sashimi is served. The latest addition is “Shishito,” an elongated, conical shaped green pepper, not hot, which is often seen on recent TV culinary shows. Besides, you may have fun growing them at a small patch or planter and using daily, which is often publicized as trendy. Here let’s group them into three groups: sea veggies, hill veggies and exotic J-herbs.
Sea veggies: Anything edible has been used by people near beaches including plants from the sea, on shore rocks or beached by rough waves. It appears people only in sub-tropical to cold climate zones have consumed marine and fresh water plants. People in tropical regions like the Pacific islanders seem not to have a custom to eat sea plants from coral seas. In Asia, Koreans or Japanese do so with some Chinese in the southern regions, while, in Europe, nobody around the Mediterranean Sea or the northern Atlantic does. Only Irish utilize them as compost for poor, infertile soil after de-salted. People in Europe have never thought about eating plants from the sea, which may be the reason why the plants from the sea, even edible, were named seaweed or simply kelp. Sea-veggies, I prefer instead, for promoting more in our eating. “Wakame,” “Kombu” and “Nori” are among sea-veggies for probable use here. They are good sources of iodine and other minerals, which many Japanese believe are good for maintaining black hair and for smooth excrement. “Wakame,” green in color, the dried ones re-hydrated by soaking in water, is excellent in seafood salad, in soup or vegetable stir-fry. “Kombu” can be used as excellent soup stock after soaking in water for a certain time of the vegetable origin in soup, seafood or vegetable dishes in the place of chicken soup stock. By the way, “Kombu,” or kelp, is a tall marine plant of undersea forest on the northern west and east coasts. “Nori,” you know as a wrapping material of sushi. These sea-veggies are my high recommendation for the new veggies.
Hill veggies: This must be a completely new territory in the western culinary arena. Good for cooking and presentation to draw attention or appetite from customers who seek exotic, seasonal, or healthy veggies, hill veggies my naming in translation are the general term for edible sprouts or tender portions from shrub trees, ferns and small perennial plants coming out in spring. Among them, “Udo” is my pick for use in salad. “Udo,” white without exposure to sunlight or green if under the sun, has characteristic greenish flavor and crunchy texture to awake your customers’ curiosity and appreciation. “Myoga,” available in summer-early autumn, sold in J-stores and very expensive $15 or so per three pieces of 2-3 inches bud, has different characters in flavor and texture, and is excellent for salad once sliced. Since I grow “Myoga” in my garden, I would be rich if harvesting a lot.
Exotic herbs: “Sansho” is named for a mountain pepper in translation and its leaves are superb for fish-seafood dishes for adding pleasant, pungent aroma and also suppressing fishy odor, often used with broiled, teriyaki-flavored sea eel. It is also a good garnishment in presentation. You may grow this shrub tree in a pot in your backyard or on the roof, and harvest leaves as needed. Sansho seeds can be used like black pepper grains by milling. “Wasabi” is nothing new, you may insist, but the “Wasabi” you are using is a powder of many things including horseradish, which you add water to make a wet lump. A “Wasabi” plant is what I am talking about here. It is a real wasabi plant that grows in clean, cold, flowing water. It is a small, short, cylinder-shape root. It is enjoyably appealing and hot-spicy to make you cry with tears. If a real wasabi is served, it must be a true sushi restaurant with a good price. “Mitsuba” is different in aroma but similar to cilantro in appearance. Literally translated into three leaves, “Mitsuba” can be added to salad or soup and boiled like spinach. Its brilliant green leaves show a natural, healthy, “green” image when garnished on a plate. It is easy to grow in a planter as far as watering appropriately. The “Unknown” will be “known” to you but still “unknown” to others if you try ahead.