Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What Is It And How Do I Cook It: Nabana

Food can be one of the most challenging aspects of foreign country living.  For regular expats, they have to drink from the fire hose of "sink or swim."  Can't figure out how to cook with what you find at your corner grocery store?  Happy starving!  For military spouses, there exists the opposite problem.  With access to our own private, American grocery store, we don't need to ever buy locally or figure out how to cook national foods.  Entering a new environment where we don't know the rules can be scary and overwhelming, whether it's a grocery store or the local DMV.  So most of us just don't.  We continue to shop at the commissary and buy lettuce that will be dead the next day, onions that are squishy in the middle, eggs that are supposedly "good for three months," and apples that have been in deep coolers for over a year.  Half the time, the organic milk we want to give our kids isn't even in stock.  On the flip side, there's the problem of not knowing what the heck half the stuff in the local grocery store is.  Kanji-English dictionaries to translate labels are slow and tedious, or no help at all. Google is impossible when I can't even put an English name to an item- "Dear Google, how do I cook that Japanese green with the small, yellow flowers?"  First hit: Finegardening.com.  *sigh*

After a year and a half, I had finally had it.  There was no way the Japanese, with their national Food Freshness Obsession, would put up with the poor quality food that we commissary shoppers put up with...there are more Michelin-starred restaurants in Tokyo than in the entire country of France!  I decided to try and figure this out.  First, I started out with locally shopping for items to make my familiar, Western dishes.  With the occasional substitution, most were do-able.  Then I took my first cooking class.  A group of American ladies from base meet with a group of Japanese ladies once a month.  One month we cook Western food together (this week we will cook Italian) and the next month we cook something Japanese.  Now, not only do I know what things are, but I have recipes to go with them!  Yatta!

This is nabana.  Also, known as rapeseed. Also, known as canola oil (in its most familiar, American form).  Often seen blooming bright yellow alongside fences and train tracks, it can be harvested before blooming and prepared as a vegetable.  It can be purchased at most grocery stores and local produce stands right now.  With a light, mild taste, this definitely deserves a place in your Japanese cooking repertoire!

I don't know how long the season for nabana lasts.  Take advantage while you can.

This is the recipe from the Japanese ladies in Cooking Class.
Ingredients:  Nabana (200g)
Bonito/Dashi Stock (2 TB)
Soy Sauce (2 TB)
Sake or Dry White Wine (1TB)
Prepared Mustard (2/3 tsp) {I used a mixture of dijon mustard and wasabi}

Bring two 2-3 cups of water, containing 1/4 tsp salt,  to a boil.  

Bonito/dashi stock and wasabi paste. The stock can be easily found, usually taking up half of a grocery store aisle.  The wasabi paste can be found in the sushi section.

Make dressing:  Mix soy sauce, stock, sake, and prepared mustard thoroughly until mustard is dissolved.

My sake was purchased at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.  It probably is much too nice to use in cooking, but my palate is woefully under-educated when it comes to sake.  To be honest, I bought it for the cute bottle. 

It's a cherry blossom bottle.  Told you it was cute!

Take your Nabana and boil for about 2 minutes.

Drain and rinse under running water. Squeeze out excess water firmly but lightly.  Cut into 1 inch pieces.

Don't over-boil!  The trick is to achieve soft, but firm Nabana.

Yummy dressing.  Add some more wasabi for a little extra kick.

Mix Nabana with dressing just before serving.  Oishii!  Delicious!


-The Tofu Fox


  1. My blog is jealous of your blog!! :) 1. I didn't know that's what that is. 2. I didn't know you could eat it. 3. Cherry blossom sake! So cute!

  2. I'm not moving to Japan anytime soon, but I'm loving your blog from a cultural perspective! Keep writing - it is all so fascinating!


  3. Something Mari didn't know about!? SUCCESS!!!! =) Jenni, so glad you are enjoying it, too!

  4. So fun to read Mary and I love that cute little cherry blossom bottle!