We Have Those Japanese Salads for You!
The ones you always say you want to make. But have you? Now you can.
IF YOU’VE BEEN A SUBSCRIBER SINCE the early days (thank you ❤️), you know how much I admire my friend Yukari Sakamoto—French Culinary Institute-trained chef, book author, sommelier, and the go-to market guide if you want an insider’s look at the food of Tokyo. (When Phil Rosenthal’s PBS show I’ll Have What Phil’s Having came to town, they naturally sought Yukari out.)
She’s also a deeply curious, inveterate explorer, which is obvious to anyone who keeps track of her on Instagram, like I do.
My dream is to get to Tokyo someday to visit Yukari and her family, but until then I just keep asking her for salads. The first time I did so, in this early newsletter, she sent the amazing Japanese potato salad, which is now one of my all-time favorites and, it turns out, hers too. “I can’t resist it if it’s on a menu; it’s usually found at izakaya drinking pubs,” she told me. She also sent me three delicious dressings, which I shared back then: Wafu, Pietro, and Yakiniku. Here they are for your convenience:
So it won’t surprise you to know that after I sent her a note recently inquiring about “that Japanese spinach salad” (as if there were just one), Yukari figured out exactly which one I was talking about and hit me with a simple, perfect recipe—along with a series of highly informative e-mails and a few more related recipes as a bonus.
She also filled me in on her latest passion: “BENTŌ!” she wrote. “My son starts junior high in April and he has the option for a school lunch or to bring a bentō—the portable lunch boxes. Each box should have five colors: red, yellow, green, black and white (eat the rainbow, guarantees a nutritional meal). Also, the items should be prepared five ways: raw, simmered, grilled, steamed, fried. So diners are getting a variety of textures. More on that here.”
In the period of time that it took Yukari to do all this, the only thing I got done was finally taking some wool pants to the dry cleaners and going to the pet store to play with a poodle I saw on the store’s website.
She’s inexhaustible. “I am busy with market tours,” she told me by e-mail. “I’m actually booked for the next three months. It’s crazy with the border finally open.
“We often talk about easy recipes [my clients] can make when they get back home,” she said, adding that they’re surprised by just how easy some of their favorite dishes are, including the creamy, memorably delicious, all-purpose sesame dressing (“in Japanese we say Almighty Dressing”).
We’ll have that one for you this weekend, in the paid issue. So keep an eye peeled for that.
Just like Yukari’s clients, I was blown away by the delicious simplicity of the recipes she sent. Plus, I enjoyed the process of blanching and steaming the vegetables and, as she promised, the glorious scent that filled my kitchen when I used my mortar and pestle to make the ground sesame dressing, whose slightly sweet flavor is like a delicate sesame brittle. (When you grind your sesame seeds, you can use a spice grinder or food processor, but remember you want a sandy texture—don’t over-process it into a paste.)
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I hardly had to do a thing to get these two delicious dishes on the table. It reminded me that some of the most beautiful, life-affirming things on this planet are easy to come by—the moon belongs to everyone, etc.
A personal note to add to Yukari’s recipes: When I blanched my spinach (one big bunch is enough for two people, but I can easily eat one whole bunch by myself), I kept the stems together like a bouquet of flowers so that when I gathered the cold-shocked leaves, firmly squeezed out the excess water, and cut the resulting spinach log into crosswise pieces they’d have the orderly presentation you see in Japanese restaurants when you order ohitashi. I love that texture, but you will probably want to toss the cut spinach with a bit more of the dressing after you present it at the table, to assure good coverage. When I made the soy sauce and sesame oil dressing, I shook it vigorously in a jar to combine, the way I do most of my dressings.
I didn’t stop at spinach, as you can see from the photo above. I had some baby bok choy, so I put it in a steamer basket over boiling water for about 5 minutes (until it was tender enough to easily pierce with a knife), chilled it overnight, and served it the next day with the soy and sesame dressing, zipped up with a bit of rice vinegar. It was life affirming. This would also be good served warm.
Two Simple Japanese Salads from Yukari Sakamoto, in Her Own Words
Growing up Minnesota I couldn’t understand why spinach got a bad rap. At our home we often had quickly blanched spinach that was squeezed, cut up, and seasoned with a nutty sesame oil and soy sauce. When I had dinner at a girlfriend’s house and was served boiled spinach with salt and pepper, maybe there was some butter? I got why people didn’t like spinach.
All of the dressings should be tasted before adding to vegetables and adjusted, as everyone’s soy sauce is different. Some are saltier than others.
*RECIPE: Yukari Sakamoto’s Sesame Oil and Soy Sauce Dressed Spinach
This simple sesame oil and soy sauce dressing can be used for any blanched leafy greens, like spinach or bok choy.
Toasted sesame seeds
Wash spinach thoroughly. Quickly blanch and then shock in cold water. Squeeze and cut up into bite-size pieces. Put into a bowl and top with 1 part sesame oil and 1 part soy sauce. If you would like, garnish with toasted sesame seeds. If you have it in the house, add some umami by topping with katsuobushi smoked bonito flakes. (I assume most people won’t have this in their home so you can leave this out.) (NOTE FROM EMILY: I was able to find katsuobushi at H Mart.)
*RECIPE: Yukari Sakamoto’s Ground Sesame Seed Dressed Spinach (or Other Blanched Vegetables)
Makes enough for 2 servings
If you have a mortar and pestle, grinding roasted sesame seeds for a dressing is fun. Grinding the sesame seeds fills the kitchen with toasty notes. This dressing can be used to dress leafy greens like spinach, green beans, and broccoli. This is enough for two small servings of vegetables.
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Grind the sesame seeds. Add sugar and soy sauce. Mix to combine. If the mixture is dry add a little bit of water.
Add blanched greens and toss until the greens are covered.
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Tokyo is a wonderful adventure! You should go!
Wow ... nice combination of easy and tasty ... thanks