It may not sound like it, but to us, this dish is essentially “Japanese creamed spinach”. Just lighter, and probably healthier. What you get is sweet, earthy spinach with rich umami flavors and a creamy texture. This was not what we expected when we made the recipe, but we will take it. This dish is a very pleasant surprise. As Carolyn said “I could eat this every day”.
And I am certainly happy about that, since the recipe came from Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s excellent cookbook “Japanese Farm Food“. The cookbook was a Mother’s Day present for Carolyn and she chose the recipe. It is always good when the first recipe you try is a winner (particularly if the cookbook is a gift). And we can’t wait to try more of the recipes, a bunch of them look amazing.
The story behind the cookbook is also very cool. Nancy Singleton Hachisu is an American expat (from Norcal) living in northern Japan with her Japanese husband and children. They run an English language school and grow, cook and preserve their own food. Her cooking is pure, clean, simple and beautiful. This is what she serves her family. Good enough for us.
This recipe is also a good example of the keys to Japanese home cooking (at least, in our opinion, we do not claim to be experts). A few well-chosen ingredients matched with proper technique give you a dish that is way more than the sum of its parts. In this case you need to quickly blanch, chill and then completely drain the spinach. Squeeze out the moisture more than once. The other trick is to take your time making the dressing and then tossing/folding it into the spinach. But the attention to detail is worth it, this dish is a treat.
(Adapted from Nancy Singleton Hachisu)
Notes Before You Start:
- How you cool your spinach may depend on your kitchen layout. Just be sure to cool it quickly and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.
- Using a mortar is the more traditional approach and is easier to control (but also takes more work). If using a food processor, chop in quick pulses.
What You Get: Flavorful, yet surprisingly light spinach. Think “Japanese creamed spinach”.
What You Need: A mortar or food processor. No other special equipment required.
How Long? About 30 minutes. This dish is easy, but cooking, chilling and squeezing the moisture from the spinach takes some time. Your efforts will be rewarded.
- 3 small or 2 medium bunches of spinach, about 1 1/2 pounds, washed
- 5 heaping tablespoons walnuts (whole or chopped)
- 2 tablespoons miso paste
- 1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice and water. Have a large strainer / colander ready.
- Working in batches, cook a few handfuls of spinach in the boiling water for 1 minute then remove from the water and plunge into the ice water bath. Move the spinach to the strainer and run under cold tap water until fully cooled. Then squeeze out as much water as you can and place the spinach on a large plate or baking sheet. Repeat with all the spinach. Then squeeze the spinach again until it’s as dry as you can get it.
- Using a food processor or mortar, grind 2 tablespoons of the walnuts until finely chopped. Set aside. Then take the 3 remaining tablespoons of walnuts and process/grind until you get a rough paste. Then add the miso and vinegar and mix until you have a thick dressing.
- Squeeze any extra moisture from the spinach (one more time). Shred the spinach into a salad bowl then fold in the dressing. Mix well until the spinach is evenly coated. Garnish with the finely chopped walnuts. Serve.
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