In Japanese this dish is called hourensou no goma-ae or spinach with sesame seeds. It’s an extremely simple dish consisting of just that: spinach and sesame seeds with a few other Japanese flavors thrown in for good measure and umami flavor explosion. I used to eat this dish all the time as a kid at a beloved Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles called Mishima.
There’s an excellent recipe for gomae here on Mark Matsumoto’s lovely blog called “No Recipes” which I highly recommend you visit. I often make an ad-hoc version of gomae with just crushed sesame seeds and a pinch of powdered dashi. My method is as simple and lazy as boiling spinach, draining it and tossing it in tupperware with sesame seeds I’ve mashed with my mojito muddler. Or, you can pick up delicious pre-made gomae mix from your Japanese market and make this dish from start to finish in about 5 minutes. The key is to quickly blanch the spinach for two minutes and then retain the color and flavor by plunging it into ice water. It’s also important to squeeze out all the access water before mixing. A large 6 oz. bag of spinach will shrink once cooked into a tiny serving of about a cup.
I usually use baby spinach or whole spinach still attached to the stem…that is until I found a very special spinach.
Until last week I had never encountered red spinach but leave it to the evil geniuses at Trader Joe’s to source and mass produce this pretty heirloom vegetable. I’m not a horticulturist so don’t believe me when I say that I think red spinach is simply farmers messing around with color and spinach genomes. Red “heirloom” spinach tastes EXACTLY like regular green spinach. There’s another plant called amaranth or “red spinach” but I’m pretty sure that’s different. To recap, you can absolutely use regular baby spinach for this recipe, the way it was intended.
Japanese Gomae with Red Spinach
Serves 2 as an appetizer (approximately 1 cup cooked)
1 6 oz bag red spinach (or plain green spinach)
2 tablespoon ground sesame seeds
1 pinch of sugar
1 pinch of salt
1. Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a medium-sized pot. Add the spinach and cook for exactly two minutes. Immediately drain and rinse in cold water and transfer to a bowl of ice water (about 3 cups water and 5 ice cubes). Soak for a few minutes, then use your hands to squeeze out the water from the spinach one handful at a time.
2. In a small bowl mix the hon dashi, ground sesame seeds, sugar and salt together and 1 teaspoon warn water. Add the spinach and mix with your hands. Serve immediately or chill in the fridge for up to 24 hours.