I have been doing some research on Japanese herbs and came across Namayasai LLP who grow for chefs but also offer a veg box service from specific pick-up points, mainly in London.
So, during Chelsea week in May I ordered one of their veg boxes and my cousin and I tucked into the contents of the veg box daily. I used the leaves and daikon in mouth-tingling salads as well as in stir-fries throughout the week.
First up and new to me was wasabina, which is also described as wasabina mustard. It has a deeply cut, frilly leaf with a hot taste, a little like wasabi. It was delicious in salads and equally good in the stir-fries, but cooked was less fiery!
Mizuna is something I grow every year in my own garden, so I know how peppery it is, and also how useful fresh and cooked. I use it as a cut-and come-again salad and sow it regularly (although now there is a lot of self-sown mizuna coming up in various places).
I have grown Hourensou or Japanese spinach before, but not recently. From the veg box I used it raw in salads and cooked in stir-fries but plan to try it after a light boiling, marinated in sesame paste. It is usually cut with roots and base of the plant, which needs extra care washing any soil residues.
Negi or scallions (Welsh onion Allium fistulosum), which I have in abundance in garden, was next in the veg box. Again I used it raw in salads and cooked lightly in stir-fries. Some shoots had flowerheads, which were decorative and tasty in salads and would also look good added to soup.
Nira or garlic chives (Allium tuberosum). Again I have these a-plenty in the garden and they were useful in salads as well as stir-fried. Advice on the informative veg box contents list suggested freezing any that were over and using them straight from the freezer without defrosting.
Also in the veg box were two wonderfully gnarled small white daikon: they were small at this time of year as it is early in the season, but soon they will be supplying them at the length we have become familiar with in markets. The leaves are edible chopped finely, salted and then drained. With rice they made a delicious spicy dish. I didn’t try making a pesto with them but did add the roots to salads.
Warabi or bracken shoots were pre-prepped and packed in salt water. They are among the most popular foraged foods in Japan. The note accompanying them explained that they had been soaked in hot water with bicarbonate of soda, as this process reduces the bitterness and breaks down the carcinogens in the plant. They are then packed in salted water. Much has been written elsewhere about the wisdom or not of eating bracken shoots and I cannot add to this with any personal knowledge.
The home preparation advice was to rinse, chop and sauté them with butter or oil and season with soy sauce. The suggestion was that they were also good cooked in a creamy white sauce and served with pasta and quiche. I have to say I didn’t like the texture of the small piece I tasted. I think it is an acquired taste and perhaps in a future spring I will be more adventurous.
At Namayasai all the veg is grown without chemical inputs and except for the bracken shoots (which were foraged and prepared), all the leaves were freshly harvested that morning. Cost of one veg box was £13. The veg ‘box’ was actually a blue plastic carrier bag, with most of the veg wrapped in newspaper, some in small plastic bags, and the bracken in sealed plastic bags.
My designated pick-up point was the restaurant KoyaSoho in Frith Street. It was great to sweep past the queue for dinner to go towards the kitchen and emerge with my blue carrier bag full of fresh and tasty Japanese veg and herbs. Thank you for my first taster veg box… I will certainly hope to order them for another occasion when I am in London for a period of time.