Nira: The Underrated Japanese Vegetable That Boosts Your Stamina
Easy Recipes For A Quick Power boost
Simple cooking with Chinese chives to help you weather fatigue.
The vegetable nira (にら, 韮), or Chinese chives, is one with a bittersweet life — it is full of vitamins, is good for your health and helps you weather fatigue, especially on hot summer days, and yet, it never gets its well-deserved 15 minutes of fame. One of the main reasons behind this is that most of us think of it as nothing more nothing less than an ingredient — a part of something else; something more delicious. But that is not necessarily the case.
Probably best known as an ingredient of gyoza, despite its association with fast food, nira has been eaten in Japan since ancient times, originally for its medicinal properties. Also known as garlic chives, nira shares the same pungent smell as garlic, which originates from allicin – a compound contained in both. As well as stimulating the appetite, allicin assists the absorption of vitamin B1, which helps to overcome physical fatigue. It partners well with pork, which is rich in B vitamins. Allicin content is particularly high in the white, root end, so make sure to not throw that part away. The green tips of nira are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene. It is also high in vitamin C, folic acid and potassium, which helps moderate rises in blood pressure.
You get it by now — all of that makes nira the go-to vegetable during the humid Japanese appetite-reducing, stamina-sucking hot days. Although it is available in stores all year around, nira is at its best – softest and cheapest – during spring to early summer. Here are two easy nira recipes to cook when you need an extra power boost.
Recipe 1: Boiled nira in a sesame, soy sauce
This is an easy side dish for two that also works well as a topping for cold tofu or soft-cooked egg.
- Nira one bunch
- Soy sauce half a tablespoon
- Sesame oil half a tablespoon
1. Trim away the dried ends of the nira stems.
2. Cook in boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove from water, drain and – when cooled – squeeze out excess liquid. Cut into lengths of about two centimeters.
3. Blend the soy sauce and sesame oil. Add the nira to the sauce and stir to coat.
If you don’t have sesame oil you can use a different oil, but it will lack a bit of oomph. Vary the recipe by adding either whole or ground sesame seeds to the sauce.
Recipe 2: ‘Naked’ gyoza
Some people have gyoza-making parties and together happily fold the mixture into the dough skins, but if that sounds like too much work for the family dinner, try this no-fuss approach instead.
Ingredients for a 4-person meal:
- Nira 2 bunches
- Minced pork about 400 grams
- Garlic one clove
- Ginger one piece (about two centimeters long)
- Sake 4 tablespoons
- Sesame oil 2 tablespoons
- Soy sauce 4 teaspoons
- Pepper a little
- Ponzu shoyu sauce to taste
1. After trimming off the stems of the nira, chop it finely.
2. Finely chop the garlic and ginger, too.
3. Sprinkle some pepper on the minced meat then add the nira, garlic and ginger to it.
4. Add the sake, sesame oil and soy sauce to the meat mixture and stir to combine.
5. Heat the frying pan and add a thin coat of oil if needed. Spread the mixture over the pan and cook on high heat with the lid on for about 2 minutes. Flip the meat over and break up the clumps as you cook it for a further 3-4 minutes on high and evaporate the liquid in the pan.
6. Serve the mixture over rice and drizzle the vinaigrette-like ponzu sauce on top to taste. Enjoy!