Spring in Japan is rich with slightly bitter greens, citrus fruit and silvery-skinned seafood. As the snow melts in the mountains, young vegetables gently nudge the dirt as they sprout up, reaching for the warmth of the sun. In particular, seek out the sansai, mountain vegetables, which are lovely when fried as tempura. These include fuki (butterbur), taranome (angelica tree buds) and udo (mountain asparagus). Fava beans, soramame, are simply boiled and are an elegant version of the summer edamame. Citrus are notable this time of year, including varieties of oranges including amanatsu, natsu mikan, and dekopon. Also look for kiwi and strawberries. Here’s a list of seasonal ingredients to look for at the supermarket or when dining out.
あさり Asari – Japanese littleneck clams. Excellent for pasta vongole.
はまぐり Hamaguri – Oriental clams. Steam in sake and serve with sake.
ほたるいか Hotaru ika – firefly squid. Sold boiled and with a pack of sumiso, a tart vinegar miso dipping sauce.
鰹 Katsuo – bonito or skipjack tuna. This time of year it is light in fat and has a clean taste.
甲烏賊 Koika – cuttlefish. Rich texture and good for stir-fries.
めばる Mebaru – rockfish. Delicate white meat that shines when simmered and served whole.
ミル貝 Mirugai – geoduck. Rich texture shellfish that can be served raw or cooked.
にしん Nishin – herring. Meaty fish that is easy to grill or simmer in a ginger soy sauce.
鰆 Sawara – Spanish mackerel. The kanji name is a combination of fish and spring. Often served fried, grilled or simmered in a teriyaki-style sauce.
細魚 Sayori – half-beak. The lower lip of the fish extends out like a needle. Delicate white fish that is lovely as sashimi.
しらす Shirasu – baby sardines. This time of year shirasu can be eaten raw with some soy and freshly grated ginger. The boiled version is often served over a bowl of rice.
白魚 Shirauo – ice fish. Delicate small fish that is often battered and deep-fried.
太刀魚 Tachiuo – cutlassfish. This long silvery-skinned fish has a gentle flavor and is easy to grill. We love it as sashimi with toasted sesame oil and sea salt.
鯛 Tai – sea bream. The king of the ocean, this fish can be served in any fashion. Creamy flavor and a soft texture, the name of the fish is an alliteration of omedetai and is often served at celebratory occasions.
ふき Fuki – butterbur. Lovely as tempura or in a miso dip for crudité.
ごぼう Gobo – burdock root. Available year-round but this time of year the fibers are delicate.
かぶ Kabu – turnip. Lovely pickled or simmered. At home try adding it to a vegetable soup.
きくらげ Kikurage – wood-ear mushrooms. Available year-round but this time of year fresh kikurage come to the market. A unique texture for stir-fries and soups.
長芋 Nagaimo (yamaimo) – mountain potato. Grated and served over rice with a splash of soy sauce. We love frying it up in a small amount of oil like mochi, wrapped in nori and dipped in soy sauce.
菜の花 Nanohana – rape blossoms. Often served as aemono, boiled and then dressed in a sesame dressing.
茄子 Nasu – eggplant
にら Nira – garlic chives. Stir-fried with liver for reba-nira, a popular dish at Chinese restaurants.
山椒 Sanshou – prickly ash berries. The green berries that can make your tongue tingle are usually dried. Fresh sanshou can be preserved in soy sauce or washed, dried and frozen for use throughout the year.
さやえんどう Saya endou – snow peas
そら豆 Soramame – fava beans. Simply boiled or grilled, this is an elegant cocktail snack.
筍 Takenoko – bamboo shoots
たらの芽 Taranome – angelica buds. The buds of the angelica tree, this sansai is often served as tempura.
うど Udo – spikenard (Aralia cordata). Sometimes called mountain asparagus, this white long vegetable can be made into julienned and stir-fried kinpira, tempura, or blanched and served with a sumiso (vinegared miso).
ぜんまい Zenmai – Asian royal fern. Often simmered with fried tofu and vegetables in a dashi and soy broth.