One of the first signs of spring in Japan is the rape blossom, which is similar to the wild mustard. In Japanese it is called the nanohana (certainly a more beautiful name). Although the blossom comes into flower in April, the greens are often harvested in late February and March to ensure sweetness and tenderness. Nanohana can be found almost anywhere on the archipelago, and is often associated with the first promise of spring, when its bright—almost fluorescent—yellow flowers burst into a hazy bloom. There is an old saying in Japan: “Eat bitter wild plants and vegetables in the springtime.” The natural bitterness found within the plants is believed to help discharge the waste matter that the body stored in the winter. Come March, nanohana makes its appearance in full force in the culinary scene. The recipe below is a feast for the body and eyes. (Serves 3-4)
½ teaspoon salt
1 bunch fresh mustard greens (if none are available, substitute any dark leafy green)
2 cups uncooked short-grain white rice
½ teaspoon dashi granules
1 tablespoon sake
2 cups water
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons white sugar
1 teaspoon sake
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon mirin
Black or white pepper (optional)
Small pot, rice-cooking vessel, frying pan, bowl
1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, and add salt. While the water is reaching a boil, cut and discard the tough ends from the mustard greens.
2. Once the water is at a rolling boil, quickly blanch the greens for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove and promptly run under cold water. Once the greens have cooled, squeeze out as much moisture as possible before cutting them into bite-size pieces.
3. Combine rice, dashi, sake, mustard greens, and 2 cups water in a rice-cooking vessel, and cover.
4. If cooking on the stovetop, bring the rice mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. It should take roughly 30 minutes for the rice to cook. Once the bubbles have subsided and the surface of the rice forms a matte finish, do a quick taste test to see if the rice and greens are cooked.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the egg topping: Whisk together eggs, sugar, sake, salt and mirin.6. Heat a frying pan with a small amount of vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, add the egg mixture. Let the eggs quickly set, then whisk to produce pea-size bits of egg. Once cooked, set aside in a bowl to avoid overcooking.
7. Remove rice from vessel, and quickly fluff. Transfer the rice a bowl, and top with cooked eggs and pepper (if desired). The dish is designed to resemble the leaves and flowers of the nanohana plant.