January is a good time to turn to simple food as we seek balance after December's excesses. One of my favorite cookbooks to consult right now is Good Food from a Japanese Temple. And one of my favorite recipes from that book is Horenso no Neno Goma-Ae or Spinach Crowns with Sesame Dressing.
Good Food from a Japanese Temple was written in 1982 by Soei Yoneda, Abbess of the Japanese Zen Sanko-in Temple and is a beautiful source for Japanese vegetarian food arranged according to the seasons. Unfortunately, it is out of print but it can often be found secondhand, in bookstores and online. Be sure to also look for it by its reprint title Zen Vegetarian Cooking.
Spinach crowns (also know as spinach feet!) are the stem clusters at the bottom of the spinach plant. They are often cut off as most recipes call for spinach leaves only, but temple life has strong ethics around avoiding waste, so this recipe was developed. It is considered simple, everyday food and would be eaten as a side dish.
I include this dish as part of light dinner, serving it with steamed white rice and maybe some marinated tofu or a small roasted chicken breast. This is one of those recipes where simple ingredients combine to create a dish whose taste and satisfaction go far beyond it's basic components. Each of the flavors here -- the green, vegetal spinach with the salty soy, zippy vinegar and rich tahini -- compliment and enhance each other with out overcrowding the palate. Highly recommended!
Spinach Crowns with Sesame Dressing Adapted from Good Food from a Japanese Temple
serves two as a side dish
8 large or 16 small spinach crowns from whole, bunched spinach (use leaves for another recipe) 4 tablespoons tahini 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 2 tablespoons sake (optional)
Be sure to rinse the spinach crowns well, as they tend to harbor gritty sand. Bring a medium-sized pot of salted water to a simmer and add crowns. Have a strainer and a bowl of ice water handy. Blanch the crowns for a minute or two. They should be bright green and cooked, but still crisp. Remove them from the heat, strain, and immediately plunge into the ice water to stop the cooking. Drain very well again.
Combine the tahini, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and optional sake in a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Place spinach crowns in a bowl and drizzle with the sauce (there may be some leftover.) Serve at room temperature.