One of the wonderful things about having your own garden, plot or allotment is that you can grow vegetables you love but which otherwise are hard to obtain.
One of my favourites is chrysanthemum greens or shungiku, as they’re called in Japanese.
Not only are they really pretty – they have a lovely cream and yellow flower – they also taste great.
They can be stir fried with other vegetables or blanched briefly in boiling water and then cold to make a Japanese salad or appetiser called goma-ae.
They are a key ingredient in sukiyaki or shabu shabu – a one pot stew that’s cooked at the table.
They are hardy and seem to grow for most of the year except the depths of winter when snow freezes everything in its path.
If you don’t have shungiku you can use spinach instead.
Don’t be tempted to use the leaves of conventional chrysanthemums!
Make sure the stems are edible – if they snap easily when picking and don’t need a knife or scissors to harvest then they will probably be OK and not too stringy.
Otherwise just pick off the minor branches or leaves and use them – discarding the more woody main stems.
I tend to use the tops and sides and leave the main body of the plant to regenerate yet more succulent leaves.
Once blanched in boiling water and refreshed in cold the leaves can be chopped and mixed with shoyu (soya sauce or tamari), sugar and roasted freshly ground sesame seeds to make goma-ae.
They retain their bright green colour and make a simple, tasty and nutritious side dish.
I served this with plain white rice and a silken tofu soup which is from the recipe book Every Grain Of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop.
Remember you can use spinach if you don’t have shungiku.
Most recipes for this have a ridiculous amount of sugar (1 Tablespoon) – so I have cut it back to a quarter of that and I think it still tastes sweet enough.
The sesame seeds are dry roasted – either in a pan in a hot oven or under a hot grill for five minutes- or in a dry frying pan.
You can use a conventional pestle and mortar or one like this which is ridged and specially designed for grinding seeds (should be available online from a specialist Japanese importer – they’re called suribachi in Japanese) or one of the plastic grinders as seen in the photo below.
- 300 g chrysanthemum greens or shungiku
- pinch of salt
- 3 tbsp lightly roasted or toasted white sesame seeds
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp shoyu or soya sauce
- 1 tsp mirin
Put the leaves in a large pan of salted boiling water, and bring back to boil and remove them or drain after 15 seconds.
Refresh in a colander with cold running water and then with your hands squeeze the excess moisture from leaves.
Lay stems together on a chopping board and slice with a sharp knife into 3 cm (1 inch) lengths.
If necessary do this in batches.
Squeeze again discarding any liquid and place in a medium to large bowl.
Grind the freshly roasted sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle until roughly ground - you don't want it to be too homogeneous and fine.
Add other ingredients and mix/massage it with the greens in the bowl - it's quite a dry dressing with not much liquid - don't be tempted to thin it down.
Place in smaller individual bowls and sprinkle with a few whole seeds.