Several weeks ago, I was listening to The Splendid Table on NPR. She was interviewing Harris Salat, who launched The Japanese Food Report. He was talking about how to make Ohitashi. It sounded like wonderfully light and refreshing way to serve vegetables. I made it for Father’s Day with miso glazed salmon and crispy fried tofu.
Ohitashi is a method of steeping vegetables in a delicate dashi, which infuses ingredients with umami and lovely flavor but retains the food’s natural taste and sensibility. The trick is to first blanch and shock the vegetables (quickly boiling in water, “blanching,” then halting the cooking by plunging in ice-water, a.k.a. “shocking”). By partially cooking this way, you transform ingredients from the raw state, but still retain their integrity, and allow them to absorb the dashi. Ohitashi is very versatile, and you can prepare it with green beans, spinach, shishito peppers, broccoli, snap peas, sugar peas, cherry tomatoes, and all kinds of mushrooms. I used asparagus, sugar snap peas, shiitake mushrooms and green onions.
Spring Vegetables Steeped in Dashi (Ohitashi)
3 large spears asparagus (about 2.5 oz)
1 large shiitake mushroom (about 2.5 oz)
8 snap peas (about 1.25 oz), ends trimmed
4 cipollini onions (about 2 oz), skins removed
8 fiddlehead ferns (about 1.5 oz), cleaned
1 cup dashi
1½ Tbs usukuchi soy sauce
¼ tsp salt
Use a peeler to remove skin from the bottom half of each asparagus spear, and cut into bite-size pieces.
Rinse the shiitake, remove stem, and cut notches at the base where the stem was, so it cooks uniformly. Lightly sprinkle salt on the shiitake’s cap, wrap in foil and place on a wire grid or skillet over medium-low heat. Cook until the mushroom is soft and you see liquid bubbling out of the foil, about 10 minutes. Cut the mushroom into eights and set aside.
Combine the dashi, soy sauce, salt and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the liquid boils, turn off the heat. Transfer to a mixing bowl and cool in an ice bath, or place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, or until cool.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and blanch and shock the vegetables in batches: about 30 seconds for the peas and asparagus, about 5 minutes for the ferns and onions.
Add the vegetables and mushroom pieces to the dashi and steep for at least 30 minutes to 1 hour in the refrigerator.
Serve the vegetables cold, with about 1 tablespoon of the dashi.