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feels like a new year

Recipe: japanese spinach salad with sesame (horenso gomaae)

Happy New Year, everyone!

I was convinced that the new year would mean nothing and that nothing would change. I still think that’s true, but my mood is noticeably brighter and I think it has to do with the increase in daylight (even if it is only by a few minutes) and my resumption of daily exercise over the holidays. Or perhaps it is that clean slate feeling when you hang the new calendar on your office wall. I hope you were all able to get some rest the last few weeks. Most of December was a frenzy of deadlines, but once those were met we skied our brains out and holed up with the pups at our place in Crested Butte. We also cranked out our annual Year in Photos (such as it was) which you can find at:

heading into the brighter side of the winter solstice

Neva’s surgery to remove a tumor from her foot at the start of December went well. Our vet instructed us to keep her in a cone for two weeks while the wound healed. At first, Neva was paralyzed by this new attachment. Any time she brushed against something she cowered. But after 24 hours, she became used to the appendage and began crashing through doorways, dragging the cone along furniture and walls, and terrorizing Yuki. I think she secretly liked this not-so-secret weapon of hers! Eventually the stitches came out, she healed for another week, and then Neva got the green light to PLAY and RUN and BE A DOGGO AGAIN!

neva and the one cone to rule them all

christmas scooby snacks

And just in case you missed the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on the winter solstice, we had clear skies that evening and I snapped a photo from our deck in the middle of dinner prep. On the left is a 100% crop and on the right I’ve zoomed in a bit and labeled the gas giants and their moons. By my naked eye, it looked like one brilliant star. A little magnification can go a long way to revealing the amazingness of the world(s) around us!

jupiter-saturn conjunction

Colorado is cruising at 79% of the state’s normal snow pack right now. That combined with the pandemic means we’ve only ventured onto the ski resorts a handful of times so far this season, opting for more physically distant endeavors like skating the Nordic trails, backcountry ski touring (conservatively, as the avalanche danger dictates), and uphill skiing the resorts before the lifts start running. All summer and fall I dream of sliding on snow and when the season arrives, I start to panic that it’s going to be over in 6-7 months. But it goes both ways because yesterday I was waxing poetic to Jeremy about foraging summer alpine mushrooms.

feel the burn, earn your turns

grabbing some miles before the storm rolls in

new year’s morning uphill ski

Right! The reason I posted today was not so much to wish you all a happy new year (although that’s part of it), but to document a delightful new-to-me salad that I’ve been making at least once a week for the past couple of months. While we love vegetables and I am in a constant state of casually seeking new vegetable recipes, I decided a few months into the pandemic that I wanted to proactively move us in the direction of consuming less meat without resorting to mounds of pasta, potatoes, and cheese. Meat substitutions don’t interest me and tofu is a right and proper food unto itself. Despite having a decent repertoire of vegetable and vegetarian recipes, I honestly don’t think you can ever have enough. This Japanese spinach salad, with a handful of ingredients and simple preparation, has rekindled my love affair with the leafy green.

spinach, soy sauce, sesame seeds, sugar, salt, sake, mirin

What I’ve shot here is the original recipe for 8 ounces of raw spinach that serves 4 people. The recipe listed at the end of the post is a double batch because Jeremy and I easily polish off 8 ounces in one sitting. It keeps well enough in the refrigerator that we can enjoy the salad again the next day, so now I usually prepare a pound of spinach at a time. I buy those 1 pound cartons of organic baby spinach, but adult spinach leaves work great, too. For the sesame dressing, you can heat the toasted sesame seeds or not. I’ve made the recipe both ways and prefer the more pronounced sesame flavor when the seeds have been warmed.

heat the sesame seeds in a pan

grind them with a mortar and pestle

stir the sugar, soy sauce, mirin, and sake into the sesame seeds

It’s really hard to blanch a pound of baby spinach for 30-45 seconds in an 8-quart stock pot all at once. So I do this in two batches using the same water, allowing the water to come back to a full boil before blanching the second batch. But before you start blanching the greens, have your large bowl of ice water at the ready. Once you remove the spinach from the boiling water (with tongs or chopsticks or a spider strainer), immediately dunk it into the ice water to stop the cooking. When the spinach is cooled, start grabbing the spinach by the handful and squeeze the water out of it. Repeat this for the rest of the spinach.

adding spinach to the salted boiling water

pulling the leaves out after blanching

submerge the blanched spinach in ice water

Take the little wads of spinach you squoze out and cut them into 2-inch pieces. Place the cut spinach into a bowl, breaking the clumps apart with your fingers, and toss with the sesame dressing until the greens are well-mingled with the dressing.

cut the spinach

add the dressing

toss to coat the spinach

And that’s it! Such a simple recipe and so deliciously satisfying. It’s green, crunchy, fresh, nutty, salty, sweet. It doesn’t leave that gritty film on your teeth the way some spinach preparations do. Make it ahead and refrigerate for a day. Leftovers keep fine for up to 3 or 4 days if they last that long. This dish works as a side vegetable, appetizer, SNACK (yes, I’ve gone there). The most time-consuming part for me is grinding the sesame seeds in my tiny mortar, but I also get all of my frustrations out while I listen to the news.

a pretty shade of green goodness

this spinach recipe is in heavy rotation at our house

Japanese Spinach Salad with Sesame (Horenso Gomaae)
[print recipe]
from Just One Cookbook

1 lb. spinach, rinsed and picked over
1/4 tsp sea salt or kosher salt

sesame dressing
6 tbsps toasted white sesame seeds
3 tbsps soy sauce
2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp sake
1 tsp mirin

Fill an 8-quart stock pot with 4-5 quarts of water. Add the salt and set over high heat. Meanwhile, make the dressing. Toast the sesame seeds in a small pan over low heat. When the first seeds begin to pop, remove from heat and grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle. For more texture in the dressing, leave some seeds whole. Stir in the soy sauce, sugar, sake, and mirin. Set aside.

Fill a large bowl 2/3 full with ice water. When the pot of water reaches a rolling boil, blanch the spinach (I did this in 2 batches) for 30-45 seconds. Remove the spinach from the boiling water and immediately plunge into the ice water bath (this halts the cooking). Squeeze the water out of the spinach by the handful, making sure the remove any ice. Chop the spinach wads into 2-inch pieces and break them up into a bowl. Toss the spinach with the dressing. Serves 6-8.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

japanese cucumber salad japanese potato salad japanese ginger dressing spanakopita (greek spinach pie)

12 nibbles at “feels like a new year”

  1. Scott Wallis says:

    I wonder if I might have trouble finding mirim in southern Delaware. Could there be a similar substitute?

  2. Kristin says:

    Happy New Year! Especially after the news from last night and the news that we will hopefully get today! So glad Neva dealt well with her cone for the most part. I also have mirin problems. I have looked at the liquor section of the grocery store and at my favorite local Asian market. I guess I should try there again, and get up enough guts to ask one of the always bustling employees for help. Ooh, and maybe try an actual liquor store. The recipe looks like something I would definitely enjoy!

  3. Marissa Drake says:

    Oh how I have missed your brightness. Lovely salad, I have been a little addicted to Chinese Spinach as of late and baby bok choi So excited to dress it up with this dressing.- May this new year bring so much more hope and joy.

  4. Jill Hyde says:

    Definitely in my queue! Looks delicious. I love the word squoze! I’m so glad Neva has healed and is over that surgical event! Here’s to better news, or maybe a life again where politics isn’t right in our face EVERY day! Bye Don! xo and happy new year to you. Jill and tom

  5. denise says:

    Happy New Year Jen!!! Colorado is looking good as are the both of you – happy to see this. Definitely have to make this salad as we are trying to eat less meat as well. This reminds me of a seaweed salad, and would be perfect for those at home lunches during the week.

  6. Pey-Lih says:

    Happy New Year’s Jen! My husband likes your picture of Jupiter and Saturn with the moons. He’s an astronomy nerd and has a great appreciation for your photo. Thanks for the recipe to make sesame spinach.

  7. jenyu says:

    Scott – You should be able to find mirin in any Asian grocery store – certainly in Delaware! :)

    Kristin – You know, it may help to take a screen shot of mirin off the web and show it to someone at the local Asian market. It tends to be stocked in the Japanese section. Good luck!

    Marissa – Thank you! xo

    Jill – xo

    denise – Oh, I love seaweed salads! This has a nuttier dressing than typical seaweed salad, but they’re all good in my book :)

    Pey-Lih – Ha ha, thanks! But you definitely don’t have to be an astro nerd to love that stuff :)

  8. schlachtplatte says:

    This was delicious! I made some more dressing and found out it keeps well in the fridge! Thanks for another great recipe!

  9. jenyu says:

    schlachtplatte – Lovely! I’ll keep that in mind for a make-ahead tip :)

  10. Kristin says:

    Great idea! Screen shot taken. Would you believe we JUST realized a year or so ago that our Asian market was organized by country? Sigh. White people problems.

  11. Sallie says:

    Have you tried tahini instead of crushing your own sesame seeds? Todays project…….😁

  12. jenyu says:

    Sallie – yes, I have! It works just fine, but crushing your own sesame seeds has more pronounced flavor and texture than tahini. However, in a crunch, the tahini is perfectly delicious :)

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