One of my fondest memories of my study abroad days in Nagano is of the day I went out with my host dad to pick sansai, mountain vegetables. This term applies to a wide range of edible sprouts and buds that emerge at the end of winter. Finding them requires knowledge of local botany and a considerable amount of fortitude – we spent two hours climbing up a steep, freezing stream bed – but the results are a unique and healthy culinary experience. When we got home, my host mother boiled some buckwheat noodles and made our entire haul in to tempura. It was delicious.
If you don’t feel like risking the mountains or the potential for poisoning yourself, you can also buy sansai at the grocery store. I myself had been eying them for weeks, but I wasn’t sure how to prepare them. (Hot oil scares me, so tempura was out.) But today, figuring everything is good in miso soup, I took the plunge and bought some fukinotou (butterbur sprouts).
But you’ve never heard of this plant, you say? Petasites japonicus is a member of the daisy family, closely related to coltsfoot. This and related plants have long been used all over the world for treatment of inflammation, asthma, hay fever and migraines. Wikipedia warns, however, that the pyrrolizidine alkaloids contained in petasites can cause liver damage and tumors. Consume in moderation!
I found a recipe for fukinotou miso soup that seemed simple and unassuming. Slice the buds in half and boil them for a couple of minutes with a few grams of dried seaweed in dashi broth and mirin. Turn off the heat and add miso. Serve.
Okay, it wasn’t terrible. And an hour later, my stomach still feels okay. But this was, without a doubt, the most bitterest miso soup I have ever made. I have some left, so tomorrow I might try mixing an egg into it to balance out the bitterness. If you’re inclined to try this yourself, I suggest parboiling the buds in a separate pot first, then draining and rinsing them before adding them to the soup.
Feeling a little discouraged, and unsure of what to do with the remaining four buds, I queried the internet and came up with this recipe for fukinotou miso, a thick and fragrant paste that can be eaten on top of rice or in rice balls. This will be in my lunch tomorrow!
Fukinotou Miso Paste
- 4 fukinotou
- 1/3 cup miso
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
- 2 grams katsuo fish flakes (optional)
- Wash the fukinotou to remove any dirt. Remove the stems.
- Add to a boiling pot of water and boil for 1-2 minutes.
- Rinse boiled buds thoroughly in cold water to remove bitterness.
- Chop buds finely.
- Combine miso, mirin and honey in a small saucepan on medium low heat, stirring constantly.
- Once the mixture starts to thicken and bubble, remove from heat and add katsuo.
- Add the chopped fukinotou and stir to combine.
- Enjoy over rice, or inside of rice balls.