Spinach ohitashi is a simple dish made with blanched spinach soaked in a soy and dashi based sauce. It's tasty and makes a great side dish for any Japanese meal!
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What is ohitashi?
Ohitashi (お浸し) is a simple side dish made with blanched vegetables that have been soaked in a dashi based sauce. Because of the short cooking time, the vegetables maintain their natural colour and texture whilst the sauce lightly flavours them and adds subtle umami.
While many Japanese people (including myself until recently!) believe ohitashi is simply the name of the dish, it's actually the name of the type of preparation/cooking method!
The name derived from the process of soaking food in dashi, but this process is often omitted these days. Simply boiling the vegetables and pouring soy sauce over them can also be called ohitashi.
History of ohitashi
Funnily enough, in ancient times, ohitashi was known as "hitashimono" or "soaked things".
Documents from the Nara period (710-794) suggest that this method of preparation existed then, but the phrase "hitashimono" appears in a record from 1517.
In the Edo period (1603-1868), there were also dishes using marine products such as abalone, sea cucumbers, and jellyfish as ingredients, but after the Meiji period (1868-1912), ohitashi made simply with vegetables and soy sauce became the mainstream.
Because of this, ohitashi can be translated to mean "soy flavoured boiled greens".
How to eat ohitashi
Ohitashi is usually served cold and sprinkled with katsuobushi (bonito flakes).
You can make a vegan version by using a kombu and shiitake dashi (I have my own homemade vegan dashi recipe here), then sprinkling it with sesame seeds instead of katsuobushi.
I recommend serving ohitashi as part of a Japanese style set meal. Rice, miso soup, pickles and a main dish served with ohitashi on the side. It makes a perfectly balanced meal!
Other vegetables that you can use for ohitashi
Spinach is the most popular choice of vegetables for ohitashi without a doubt, but there are other vegetables you can use too.
According to Goo Ranking (2015), the top 10 vegetables for ohitashi are below:
- Spinach: 842 votes
- Canola flower: 148 votes
- Eggplant: 140 votes
- Japanese mustard spinach: 118 votes
- Okra: 105 votes
- Crown daisy: 61 votes
- Beansprouts: 58 votes
- Jew's mallow: 58 votes
- Nappa cabbage: 57 votes
- Asparagus: 44 votes
So if you're not a fan of spinach, perhaps you can try making ohitashi with another vegetable! My personal favourites are canola flower and eggplant.
One great thing about the spinach version though, it how quick it is to make!
Tips and tricks to make an amazing spinach ohitashi at home
Here are a few simple tips and tricks that you can easily use to make perfect spinach ohitashi at home!
Soak the spinach in cold water first
While you're bringing your pot of water to boil, it's good to soak the spinach leaves in cold water. This helps maintain the texture of spinach.
When blanching the spinach, hold the spinach at the top of the leaves and then place the stems in the boiling water first. We do this because the stem is thicker and needs a little longer to cook.
If you boil the whole plant at once, you will overcook the leaves and the taste and texture will deteriorate. I recommend 30 seconds just the stems and then the rest for an additional 20-30 seconds.
To prevent burning yourself, use tongs to hold the bunch of spinach in the boiling water stems-first.
After blanching the spinach, immediately transfer them to ice water. This quick cooling method is to prevent them losing colour, taste and texture.
Once it's cooled down, squeeze the water out as much as possible to prevent spinach from being too wet and watering down the sauce.
Make happo dashi
In happo dashi, the ratio of dashi to soy sauce to mirin is 10:1:1 , so even though the ingredients are the same as mentsuyu, (a type of concentrated noodle dipping sauce) happo dashi is a lot lighter in taste (less salty) as it contains more dashi.
Marinate in the sauce for at least 30 minutes
The flavour of ohitashi is determined by marinating it in the happo dashi sauce.
We need to marinate for at least 30 minutes, but if you have the time, a few hours is even better. It can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days but the flavour might get stronger over time.
Soaking is the most important step in making ohitashi and shouldn't be rushed.Print