As my adventures at Japanese cooking school continue, it is becoming apparent that I am not coming through on the second half of the bargain: actually making what I learn for the Young Man.
However, short of ideas for a veggie accompaniment to a non-Japanese meal, I remembered the recipe for veggies with 2 sesame dressings from a couple of months back. Horenso no goma-ae (spinach in sesame dressing) is an old favourite, and very easy to make. It is meant to be eaten cold or at room temperature and keeps well in the fridge, so feel free to make it in advance.
This is a "white" version is made with sesame paste, which visitors to this site with a Middle Eastern bent will likely have in the form of tahini, tahina or tahin, amongst its many regional names. It is slightly different in taste from Japanese sesame paste, but will do very well just the same. I use it myself.
The recipe also calls for lightly ground sesame seeds, which in Japan you can buy in packets ready-ground or in a special grinder. If you don have access to these, a quick blitz in a mini food processor will do it or, if you want a more "authentic" feel, grind them yourself in a suribachi (which looks like a ceramic bowl with a washboard inside). You don't want to grind them too fine, though. It won't matter if some seeds stay whole.
The spinach is blanched quickly in boiling water and then gently squeezed as dry as possible before cutting into lengths. Do yourself a favour and don't cut the roots off the spinach bunches until after you blanch them, as this will make it easier to keep the bunches together for wringing (you'll probably be surprised at the amount of liquid that comes out, but do squeeze it all out or you'll end up with a watery mess). Of course, if spinach is only available as loose leaves where you live, you'll just have to make do, I'm afraid. I think you'll find this earthy but fresh side is worth the trouble anyway.
Oh, and you can use the dressing on the half the weight of Japanese mushrooms (maitake or shiitake would be good) or boiled green beans cut on the diagonal.
Japanese spinach with sesame dressing
400 g spinach, roots attached
2 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted and lightly ground
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp sesame paste or tahini
2 tsp Japanese soy sauce
1 Wash spinach very well and drain. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch spinach until it wilts. Remove and drain until cool.
2 To make the dressing, mix together the remaining ingredients.
3 Gather up bunches of spinach and squeeze as much water out as possible. Think squeezing out long hair after washing. Remove the roots and cut into 4 cm lengths.
4 Add the spinach to the dressing and mix gently but thoroughly.