5 Seasonal Vegetables to Buy in Japan This Spring
Enjoy Spring’s Finest For A Fresh And Seasonal Supper
Tired of snow drifts and winter chills? Look no further than your local grocery store for vegetables with the brightest and freshest flavors harkening to the arrival of spring in Japan! Read on for our five picks for the best veggies of the season.
1. Japanese butterbur
When I first heard of fuki (Japanese butterbur) in a Japanese children’s song, I had never heard of it before—let alone eaten it! But, to pass on this native vegetable in spring would be to miss a traditional star of Japanese spring cuisine! Cultivated in Japan since the Heian period, many modern-day varieties in the store are from Aichi prefecture. But, indigenous wild fuki also still grows in the mountains throughout the country.
As for how to prepare it, before enhancing its flavor with sauces or frying, you need to remove some of its bitterness. This can be done either by boiling the long stalks for 3-5 minutes, depending on their size, or by rolling them in salt on a cutting board. Both of these methods work to take off the skin. After this is done, fuki can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days. Enjoy them as part of a springy tempura platter or as aemono (side sauced vegetable or protein), commonly dressed with miso, sesame oil or togarashi.
2. Bamboo shoots
Perhaps you have seen pickled or canned bamboo shoots at the grocery stores in your home country, but spring in Japan delivers the freshest and most delicious takenoko. As per the name, meaning “bamboo’s children”, these shoots are the beginnings of future bamboo and pop out of the ground during the spring as cone-shaped bulbs with overlapping fibrous layers. They are typically harvested during the months of April and May when the shoots are about a foot or 30 centimeters in length and are widely available at supermarkets across the country.
Raw takenoko has a bitter taste, so they require some preparation. The first step involves peeling off the thickest outer layers of the shoot, then slicing off the tips and making a vertical incision from the top. Next is akunuki, where they are boiled for about 90 minutes in an alkaline solution that is made by adding nuka (rice bran) to the boiling water. Once cooled, the shoots are peeled layer by layer, sliced and are finally ready to use in your cooking. Throw the prepared shoots into miso soup, grill them, or simply make takenoko gohan (bamboo shoot rice) to enjoy their crisp texture and refreshing taste.
3. Snap peas
You may be familiar with eating frozen green peas, but freshly harvested snap endou (snap peas) will delight your senses with their juiciness and sweet taste. There are several varieties of peas available in Japan, but the main difference is that some pea types have edible pods and others don’t. Snap endou are the former and it has been said that eating podded peas provides greater health benefits because they possess additional macronutrients compared to just eating peas by themselves.
Snap endou are easy to prepare for cooking. Simply cut the end of the pod that has a slightly hooked shape and peel back the string of the pod until reaching the stem, then break the stem and continue pulling the string until you reach your starting point. You can then boil the snap endou for a few minutes, and depending on your preferences, you can boil it longer for a sweeter taste or shorter for a crunchier bite. These are often served as aemono or in stir-fries to preserve their crisp texture and fresh flavor.
4. Rapeseed flowers
Nanohana (rapeseed flowers) are small, but vivid yellow flowers that brighten the fields across Japan, often heralding the beginning of spring. Rapeseed, like canola, is most commonly used to produce cooking oils, but the flowers are also edible and are beloved by many Japanese for their uniquely bitter flavor and fragrance. You can find nanohana sold at supermarkets in packaged bundles, but don’t be surprised if their bright yellow flowers are not visible. Nanohana are best consumed before they actually flower, so they are usually sold as green buds with minor stems.
Before cooking nanohana, you should allow them to rest in a bowl of water to revive the blooms for about 15-20 minutes. Afterward, you should quickly blanch them in boiling water, for about 30 seconds to one minute to stop the stems from getting slimy. Immediately cool them in an ice bath to preserve their green color. Finally, enjoy their distinctive taste by simply drizzling them with olive oil and a pinch of salt.
5. Broad beans
Japan is awash with delicious legumes, from soy to azuki (red bean), so it is unsurprising that one of the most popular vegetables of the spring season is none other than a bean. A particularly popular one is soramame (broad beans), meaning “sky bean” because their pods have the tendency to grow to point towards the sky. The prime months for these beans are short, roughly between April and May, when they are primarily harvested from Kagoshima, Chiba and Ibaraki prefectures. When purchasing soramame, it’s best to buy them with their pods intact to preserve their freshness. Look for pods that still have “fluff” on the skin and are also deep green and fat for the most succulent beans.
A common method to prepare soramame involves shelling the beans from their pods and boiling them in salted water. These beans are also popularly served fried and spiced with chilies for an appetizer or as a delightful accompaniment to a round of drinks.
Whether you are looking to save a few yen at the grocery store, try some traditional Japanese flavors, or eat more locally and seasonally, the five veggies above will be your new springtime nakama (friends).