Spinach Ohitashi

Japanese Blanched Spinach with a Soy-Dashi Sauce
Ohitashi with sesame seeds, bonito flakes & soy-dashi sauce.

Ohitashi refers to any boiled green vegetable served as a cold appetizer or as a salad substitute. The most common, and my favorite, is made from spinach. Refreshing, light, and satisfying, it tastes….clean. As you eat it, it feels natural, healthy, and purifying. After last night’s monster burger all I could think about today was eating veggies. Clean veggies. And spinach ohitashi fits the bill nicely.

It’s incredibly easy to make.

You’ll need:

1 bunch organic spinach (not the baby spinach, but spinach with stems)
salted water for blanching
a sushi-rolling mat for squeezing
4 tablespoons dashi stock, recipe follows
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon mirin
pinch of granulated sugar
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
bonito flakes
a very few slivers of green onion

Do this:

First, clean your spinach very well by rinsing and soaking repeatedly in cool water. Make sure no grit remains between the leaves. Trim any roots so you just have leaves and thin stems.

Boil salted water (about 1/4 cup salt to 8 cups water) and set up an ice bath to cool the spinach. When the water boils drop in the spinach and cook exactly one minute. Remove spinach and cool it quickly in the ice bath. Remove the spinach and drain it in a colander.

Now, lay your sushi mat flat and arrange the spinach in a log-shaped bundle in the middle of the mat. Try to align the stems parallel to the bamboo slats of the sushi mat.

Arrange blanched spinach on your sushi mat.

Gather up the sushi mat and roll gently around the spinach bundle. Squeeze as much excess water out of the spinach as you can without crushing it to death. Remove the log-shaped spinach from the mat and place carefully on a plate. Chill uncovered, for an hour or more. If it’s going to be more than an hour before you plan to serve it, cover it with plastic wrap after letting it air out for that one hour.

Squeeze those greens!

Spinach log! Let cool for one hour.

While the spinach cools, make the sauce by combining dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar. You can also mix the two kinds of sesame seeds and place in a small bowl.

When you’re ready to serve, with a very sharp knife cut the spinach log into one-inch rounds, like little tree stumps. Dip one end of each piece into the sesame seeds and set upright on a plate. Drizzle with soy all around the little stumps. Garnish with green onion slivers and bonito flakes. Eat!

I hope you make this for yourself. It nicely rounds out any simple Asian meal, as an accompaniment for a sushi meal or as a side dish with hot noodles. Give it a try!

Ichiban Dashi:

Dashi is the “mother” sauce base of Japanese cuisine. It’s in all kinds of sauces and broths. Naturally there are many variations on basic dashi, but essentially we’re talking about a very quick infusion of kelp and dried fish. The kelp is called kombu and comes dried in sheets about five inches wide. The dried fish used is called katsuobushi, or bonito flakes. The bonito is a fish related to tuna. It’s pressed and dried into blocks. The fish blocks are then shaved to create this lacy, slightly smoky, slightly fishy papery stuff that is used as a flavoring agent and as a garnish.

Making dashi is very simple, but follow the instructions rigorously as timing is very important for achieving a balanced end-product. We’re making ichiban, or “first-press” dashi, which is the simplest dashi and tastes the purest. Niban dashi, made from subsequent infusions of the already heated bonito flakes, are used in soup bases and the like, but not for the more delicate sauces like the one we’re making here.

Okay, enough background. Make the dashi.

You’ll need:
6 cups of cold, filtered water
1 7-inch piece of kombu
6 cups of bonito flake, loosely packed

Do this:
In a large pot pour the water. With a damp towel wipe kombu of any white residue that may be collected on the surface. Place kombu in water and turn heat to medium-low. Bring to a simmer, maybe about ten minutes. When the water is steaming and just on the verge of boiling, turn heat off, remove kombu and discard. Add bonito flakes to water and allow to steep for five minutes.

Line a strainer with several layers of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Gently pour dashi through the strainer. Discard cheesecloth and wet bonito flakes. Your dashi is now finished!

It should be golden in color with perhaps a hint of the palest green. It should be mild but fresh, tasting mostly of the sea.

For most of you the hardest thing about this recipe is sourcing the ingredients. If you live in metro LA, try stores like Marukai, Nijiya, or Mitsuwa. Look ’em up online.

If you live outside of LA, any Japanese or Korean market will have everything you need. Or try online Asian grocers. There are several. 

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