Sansai Season

Japanese mountain vegetables

Japanese mountain vegetables

Why hello again!  Apologies for the silence ‘round here, but a combination of too much traveling, which in turn triggered a nasty flu, has left me without much time or energy to devote to blogging lately.  However, I thought I should at least post some photos of the wonderful spring produce available in Japan at this time of year.  What follows is a broad, though by no means exhaustive, selection of the sansai available around Matsumoto right now (for more on sansai, see this post from early March).

I apologize that I don’t have names of all these wonderful plants, so in some cases pictures will have to suffice. [Thanks to Akira Shirasawa at NPO Kyoiku Shien Kyokai Nagano, I now have the correct names for two of the sansai pictured below.  The previously “unknown” sansai is actually warabi, and the plant below is kogomi.  Both are varieties of ferns, hence my confusion.  Thanks, Akira!]

Kogomi (Matteuccia struthiopteris)


Koshiabura (Acanthopanax sciadophylloides)


Warabi, or bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum)


These will be familiar to many of you – they’re wild leeks, better known as ramps


Udo (Aralia cordata)


Fuki – the stalks of fukinoto

As for how these are usually prepared in Japan, tempura is a perennial favorite, although simmering in a dashi-based sauce (or in miso, as I did with the fukinoto back in March) is also quite common.  In my own kitchen I’ve experimented with the former cooking methods, but I’ve also been known to toss blanched sansai into a pan of garlic and olive oil for a simple but unusual take on pasta primavera.  The inherent bitterness in many of these plants makes them well-suited to quintessential Japanese sweet-salty flavor combinations, but I think they would also be quite nice in Western-style sautés and salads.

Mixed vegetable tempura

Mixed vegetable tempura (sweet potatoes, carrots, warabi, and onions)

Most of these vegetables are unavailable in the States, but it would be great to see this sort of variety available at farmer’s markets back home, in addition to the usual ramps and stinging nettles.  Which brings me to the question: what are the most unusual wild plants you’ve foraged, seen at the market, or eaten at home or in a restaurant?

I’ll be back soon with a rundown of food memories and photos from my recent three-day trip to Hong Kong.  In the meantime, please enjoy the photos!

One thought on “Sansai Season

  1. Pingback: Vietnamese Greens « Shichimi (7 Flavors)

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