The vivid green asparagus, subtle yellow bamboo shoot and "urui" (young leaves of hosta), and white "udo" (spikenard) are pleasing to the eye.
Naoyuki Yanagihara pours some yellow-green miso flavored with "kinome" (young leaves of "sansho" or Japanese pepper) and creates a dish with a "sunny" feel.
The distinct texture of the bamboo shoot and udo, plus the savory miso tell your five senses that spring has arrived.
A technique of Japanese cuisine called "yosena" or "aoyose" is used in the miso flavored with young sansho leaves. Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, are ground in a mortar then heated with some water. The green substance that rises to the surface is gathered and used as natural coloring.
This technique appears in cookbooks from the Edo Period (1603-1867), when a variety of vegetables, such as "karashina" (leaf mustard) and "takana" leaves, were used.
If the miso was to be colored with just the young sansho leaves, a large amount would be required, and the flavor would turn out too strong. By using the leafy vegetables, you get a fine color and the right flavor.
Yanagihara was born to a family that hands down Kinsaryu, a school of "kaiseki ryori" (traditional multicourse Japanese dinner). He decided to enter the field when he was 24.
After graduating from college and working at a soy sauce manufacturer, he worked with the kitchen crew of a Dutch vessel and sailed around the seas of Europe.
A memorable event was a festival held at Kiel, a port city in northern Germany. For 10 days, parties that each drew more than 150 people were held, and he cooked from early morning until late at night.
Curiously enough, he did not mind the work, and when he was washing a platter at night on the final day, he "decided to choose cooking as his vocation." By living overseas, he says the thought of mastering Japanese cuisine grew stronger.
He went on to read documents from the Edo Period and served as an "inji," a person who prepares meals during the Shuni-e (also known as Omizutori) ceremony held at Todaiji temple in Nara.
Yanagihara also actively appears in cooking programs and puts efforts into educating children on food and nutrition. The 39-year-old cooking expert does so because, while learning from the past, he hopes to create and hand down Japanese cuisine that fits the times.
1 bamboo shoot (400 grams)
Ingredient A (100 cc dashi stock, 1 Tbsp light-colored soy sauce, 2 tsp each of sugar and sake)
80 grams spinach
1 tsp salt
Ingredient B (70 grams white-type miso, 1 tsp sugar, 2 Tbsp sake, 1 egg yolk)
Some soy sauce
6 cm udo
Cut the tip of boiled bamboo shoot and finely slice lengthwise. Dice the rest of the bamboo shoot. Boil in Ingredient A for about 6 minutes so the flavors seep in.
Finely chop spinach and grind in mortar. Add salt and 3 cups of water and mix well. Run through sieve. Move liquid to pot and bring to a boil. Skim off green substance that rises, cover in cotton cloth and cool in running water.
Place Ingredient B in small pot, mix over low heat until the mixture takes on a sheen, then cool. Grind kinome in mortar; add cooled miso mixture and small amount of green dye of spinach to adjust the color.
Boil asparagus to nice green, sprinkle bit of soy sauce. Run urui through hot water, cool on sieve. Peel udo, cut into the shape of thin two-pronged pine leaf. Place in water. Serve ingredients in bowl, pour miso mixture.
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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column