Ohitashi – a method of infusing lightly cooked vegetables with seasoned dashi – is one of the best-kept secrets of Japanese cuisine. Unlike Western techniques like roasting or sautéing, ohitashi gently draws out a vegetable’s inherent sweetness without sacrificing flavor or texture. Beautiful in presentation and subtle in flavor, it is perhaps the platonic ideal of a salad. Neither raw nor cooked, ohitashi inhabits a liminal space in the culinary spectrum. Both elemental and refined, it is a testament Japanese cuisine’s respect for vegetables and the land that grows them.

Fundamentally Japanese in its reliance on impeccably fresh ingredients, ohitashi uses a combination of dashi, shōyu, and mirin to permeate vegetables with notes of smoke, salt, and sweetness. (The “hitashi” in ohitashi derives from the verb hitasu (浸す), meaning “to dip” or “to soak,”, while the “o” is simply an honorific prefix.) Although the ingredients in ohitashi are generally cooked as lightly as possible, the technique is somewhat similar to nimono (煮物), in which ingredients are gently simmered with dashi and seasonings to amplify their sweetness, color, and texture.

Fiddlehead fern ohitashi (こごみのお浸し)

As Harris Salat has noted, delicate spring vegetables are particularly well suited to ohitashi, but any seasonal produce will benefit from this subtle treatment. Spinach (horensō) is the most commonly used vegetable for ohitashi, but other mild, green vegetables work equally well. Last spring, at Soba Alps in Matsumoto, I enjoyed a particularly memorable version made with kogomi, or fiddlehead ferns. The tightly coiled fern heads had been blanched just enough to remove some of their bitterness before being nested in a small pool of salty-sweet sauce. A pinch of feathery katsuobushi completed the dish, their slightly smoky aroma permeating each bite. As an added bonus, the pale pink katsuobushi provided a lovely color contrast to the deep green vegetables. Served in this manner, ohitashi recalls cherry blossoms falling from leafy sakura branches – spring’s crowning moment before the onset of the steamy Japanese summer.

Komatsuna no Ohitashi – 小松菜のお浸し

(Boiled mustard spinach in dashi)

Adapted from Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji

Tsuji’s original recipe calls for usukuchi shōyu, a type of soy sauce used for dishes where a lighter color and more delicate flavor are desired. I used an all-purpose shōyu here; although the color is somewhat darker, the flavor is not substantially different. Komatsuna (Brassica rapa var. perviridis), also known as mustard spinach, is a wonderfully crisp, juicy green with a mild mustardy flavor. Although spinach is the most common vegetable prepared as ohitashi, I prefer komatsuna‘s more substantial texture and taste. Feel free to use either here, or substitute any other mild, leafy green vegetable.

Serves 3-4

1 large bunch komatsuna (substitute spinach or other tender, leafy greens)

1 1/4 cups dashi

3 teaspoons Japanese soy sauce/shōyu

1 teaspoon mirin

Pinch sea salt

Thinly shaved bonito flakes (katsuo kezuribushi / かつお削り節), for garnish

Trim about 1 inch off the bottom of the komatsuna and wash well, being sure to loosen any grit or dirt near the bottom of the stems. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Blanch the komatsuna until the leaves and stems turn bright green, about 1 minute. Drain and plunge into the ice water bath. When cool, squeeze out as much water as possible. Gather the greens, arranging the stem ends together, and cut into 2-inch lengths.

In a small saucepan, bring the dashi just to a boil. Add the soy sauce, mirin, and salt and stir to dissolve. Simmer for a minute or so to burn off the alcohol in the mirin. Remove from heat and immediately pour into a bowl. Place this bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice water and stir until cool. (This step is in important, as it ensures that the dashi’s delicate flavor won’t degrade with the heat.)

Place the komatsuna in a tupperware container and pour over the cooled dashi mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 4 hours total. Place neat bundles of the dashi-infused greens in individual serving bowls, spoon some of the sauce over each, and garnish with a generous pinch of katsuobushi.

11 thoughts on “Ohitashi

  1. oh, I love this so much. I want to go out and try this recipe right now, but I hope I can find the komatsuna. The wild ferns looks good too – have you tried it with them?

  2. Hi Emi, I actually haven’t tried the recipe with ferns, but please let me know if you do. You’ll probably want to blanch them a bit longer before soaking, but not so much that they lose their appealing shape and texture — the best part, in my opinion!

  3. Emma! So I saw your blog I guess on Facebook and got hooked- beautiful photography, lovely writing, its great to see what you’ve been up to and that you’re making good use of it all! I’ve been obsessed with making Japanese food recently, as I live in the East Village and recently discovered the amazing Japanese grocers that are *everywhere in my neck of the woods. Anyway, I wanted to tell you that we made this last night, and it was gorgeous- subtle, smokey, but we used Nanohana since it looked like a sturdy enough green that would still retain some texture after blanching. I hope you’re well and enjoying your adventures!

  4. Hi Madie, Great to hear from you! Thank you so much for the kind words about the blog. Nanohana may actually be the perfect vegetable for ohitashi, but it can be difficult to find outside Japan. I didn’t realize Sunrise Mart carried it, so this is great news. Hope you’re well, and please do keep me updated on your future forays into Japanese cuisine. (Who knows, maybe we’ll see each other ’round town? After all, I now work in your neighborhood!)

  5. Hi Emma! I’m thrilled to discover your blog, because my knowledge of Japanese food was limited to sushi and sashimi, neither of which I’ve had yet, mainly due to the bank-breaking abilities of Japanese restaurants in my part of the world 😀 (and I suspect, most other parts too). I want to try out your recipes, though I need to figure out substitutions for some ingredients. Could you maybe do a post on commonly used ingredients in Japanese cooking, and their substitutions, if they are not too easily available?

  6. Hi Alcor – Thanks for your comment! I sometimes forget that ingredients readily available here in New York can be difficult to come by in other parts of the world. A post on common ingredients and substitutions is a great idea — the more people who can enjoy home-cooked Japanese food, the better!

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