Kujo green onions grow lushly on a patch of land in a residential area in Kyoto's Ukyo Ward.
The field is owned by Genichi Nagasawa, 65, a farmer who produces Kyoyasai (heirloom vegetables of Kyoto) as well as daikon radish, turnips and other produce through organic farming.
"Even the smell of green onions is tasty, and the daikon has a special sweetness. Children who do not like vegetables eat Nagasawa-san’s produce. He is a master," said Koji Ueda, 71, the third-generation proprietor of Kanematsu, a long-standing greengrocer at Kyoto's Nishiki Market.
Ueda said there are expert producers for each of the myriad Kyoyasai. He cherishes the rapport with the farmers and tries to personally pick up the vegetables from them to convey the voices of the customers. He also lets the farmers decide on the purchase price.
"The farmers have a heavy responsibility," Nagasawa said.
It is a relationship based on mutual trust.
The words of his father, Kosaku, who used to say, "greengrocers are at the periphery of agriculture," form the basis of Ueda’s attitude. Kosaku conducted business with a mind-set to be there for the farmers and often says, "You shouldn’t forget about the producers."
It was his idea to let the farmers decide the price.
Many of the farmers with whom he has worked in this way have fields in the suburbs of Kyoto. Ueda believes the proximity is an important factor.
"People of Kyoto say, 'Eat what is available within three 'ri’ square’ (one ri is approximately 3.9 kilometers). I think Kyoyasai is a long-standing, successful example of 'local production for local consumption,’" he said.
This is also the reason that the variety of Kyoyasai came about, Ueda added. The Shogoin daikon radish, for example, becomes tender when simmered, yet does not easily break apart.
"Perhaps the voices of the consumers easily reached the producers, who, in turn, tried to make vegetables that were easier to eat over a long period of time," he said.
Ueda’s favorite among the Kyoyasai is the Kujo green onion.
"It has a crunchy texture, yet is tender and does not get stuck in the teeth."
Kujo green onions cooked in a fried tofu pouch is easy to prepare and goes well with rice and sake. A bite of the smoky, slightly burnt-smelling fried tofu goes exquisitely well with sweet miso sauce and the green onion's sharp taste.
2 Kujo green onions (50 grams each)
2 thin deep-fried tofu (abura-age)
Miso sauce (40 grams red miso [akamiso], 2 Tbsp sake, 1 Tbsp sweet mirin sake, 1 Tbsp sugar)
METHOD Cut fried tofu in half. Lay on cutting board, place chopstick, apply pressure and roll over fried tofu. Open to make a pouch without tearing.
Chop Kujo green onions into 8-mm-thick pieces. Mix miso sauce, add green onions and mix.
Fill fried tofu with equal amount of green onion mixture. Close opening with toothpick to prevent spilling.
Heat frying pan without oil, lay green onion pouch and cook over high heat. When both sides have turned golden and become slightly burnt, remove toothpick and serve on plate.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column