While the winter season often sees farmers putting away their tools and heading inside to start planning for the new year, in Japan, especially south of the Tohoku Region, it is when some of the tastiest items arrive. Daikon, kabu, komatsuna, Chinese cabbage and spinach are a few of the more popular winter vegetables to be had, but farmers also roll out a bevy of others that are just as tasty, but perhaps less well known such as karashina and wasabina.
While some, like daikon, can be found year-round, winter is when they really shine. Each possesses a particular hardiness in this season of cold, frosty nights, bright sunny days and long stints without rain. Cold temperatures cause these plants to produce more sugar in an effort to protect themselves from freezing. Water gets shunted to their roots resulting in a greater concentration of sugars in the leaves. The result is not just vivid colors but quite literally, a sweet addition to the winter menu.
Named after Komatsugawa on Tokyo’s far west side, this veggie gained fame when served to Tokigawa Yoshimune—the eighth shogun—for lunch in 1719. It has since become a year-round staple of the Japanese table. Winter, though, finds it at its best in salads or added at the very end to any soup for a splash of emerald green.
Another spicy leaf, wasabina takes its name from the famed root, wasabi. An ovalish green leaf with a serrated edge, wasabina packs a gentle punch that lifts any winter soup or salad out of the doldrums. Try it blanched for a zingy ohitashi side dish, too.
This lesser-known leafy vegetable can be found in vivid green and deep burgundy. Its fronds are feathery or serrated with a nutty and slightly spicy taste. Perfect in hot or cold salads, traditional varieties are thicker lobed like kale and in a pinch work as a decent substitute in soups or stirfrys.
The long torpedo-shaped white radish oft found in supermarkets is but one of a multitude of daikon available. Red, purple and green varieties can be found this time of year along with a black-skinned variety that is as visually stunning as it is delicious. Serve pickled, raw, or in homemade oden for some colorful and tasty fare.
Where to Find Them
• Bugrass Farmers for greens, assorted daikon, plus a variety of other seasonal delights.
• MomoG Farm for those amazing black radish and delightful greens as well as popcorn.
• Natural Farm TOM for seasonal root vegetables and an assortment of greens.
• Ome Farm for kale, karashina, arugula, and an assortment of root crops including beets.