Ohitashi

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.

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A Japanese Feast in Brooklyn

Sesame seeds in suribachi

I was recently back home in Brooklyn for several weeks, mainly to take care of some important tasks to prepare for my new job here, like getting a Japanese work visa.  In my free time, I found myself craving Japanese home cooking – foods like simply prepared vegetables flavored with dashi or miso, grilled fishes and meats, and homemade onigiri (rice balls).  In Japan, it’s easy to obtain these dishes from takeout shops that advertise “auntie’s” or “mama’s” cooking.  In New York, such a shop would be overpriced, not to mention difficult to find in the first place.  Besides, if you have the right ingredients, it’s easier and much more fun to cook these dishes at home.

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