My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a hint of Japan

Summer vegetables, simply cooked

Here’s another recipe from my mother. She just told me the recipe, and the reminiscences, verbally, (she says the recipe is too simple to write down!); I’ve written it down in the first person, from her point of view.

When I was young and Makiko and her sister were small, Makiko’s father was sent to England by his company. After brief stays in London and Kent, we settled in Wokingham, a small town in Berkshire. (Nowadays I have heard it’s grown a lot bigger.) This was in the 1970s, when we had to go all the way to London to buy basic ingredients for Japanese cooking, like soy sauce. Making any kind of Japanese food was a struggle.

I grew some Japanese vegetables that I really missed, but had no chance of buying even in London at the time, in the garden of our rented house - things like shiso, mitsuba, shungiku, komatsuna, daikon and gobo (burdock). [See a dozen Japanese herbs and vegetables to grow - maki] I didn’t know anything about gardening, so when my gobo and daikon weren’t nice and straight, but were stubby ugly things with multiple roots, I wrote to my mother (international phone calls were so expensive then) in tears, asking her what to do. She wrote back so many times with detailed instructions - she was an avid gardener with a real green thumb. I still have those letters.

As I gradually adjusted to life away from Japan and my family, I became better at using local ingredients and adapting them to Japanese methods. This very simple summer braised vegetable dish is one recipe that I came up with during those years, that I still make every summer. It doesn’t even use dashi, which is standard in so many Japanese recipes. It uses vegetables that are available in Europe in early summer - new potatoes, green beans, peas, and carrots. The umami comes from the fresh young vegetables. Japanese cuisine is first and foremost about using seasonal ingredients, so to my mind, this is a very Japanese way of cooking.

Recipe: Simply Braised Spring Vegetables

This makes about 4 servings as part of a Japanese meal, to accompany rice, miso soup and one or two other dishes. You can also serve it alone or as a side dish to meat or fish.

To get the best flavor, it’s very important to use the freshest, preferably organic, vegetables you can find.

  • 10-12 small new potatoes
  • 2 small or 1 medium carrot
  • 1 small onion
  • About 1 cup of shelled green peas
  • A large handful of green beans
  • 1/2 Tbs. soy sauce (well she said ‘shu-shu’ (drizzle-drizzle), which I’m extrapolating to be about 1/2 tablespoon! - maki)
  • Salt (good sea salt is preferred)
  • Extra virgin olive oil, or other good flavorful oil (I use olive oil because you can get such wonderful olive oil here in the Provence, but you can also use sesame oil, walnut oil, and so on.)

Wash the new potatoes, and cut in half if they are big. Scrub and cut up the carrots into chunks. (Don’t peel the carrots - there’s a lot of flavor in the skin!) Dry both well in a kitchen towel.

Cut the onion in half, then slice against the grain (parallel to the root - as you would if you are cutting onion rings). Cutting against the grain ensures that the onions will cook faster.

Cut the tops and tails off the green beans, and cut in half. (If you have old fashioned green beans, take off the strings too.)

Heat up some oil in the bottom of the pan over medium-low heat. Put in the potatoes, and sauté while shaking occasionally until they are turning brown. Add the carrots about halfway through, and continue sautéing. This requires some patience, since it takes about 20 minutes or more.

Drain away any excess oil at this point. Add the sliced onions to the pan, and sauté some more until the onions are transparent and limp.

Add a small amount of water, just to about halfway up the potatoes. Add a tiny pinch of salt. Make an otoshibuta (drop lid) with a piece of aluminum foil, by crinkling it up so it fits on top of the vegetables in the pan, then poking a couple of holes in it with a chopstick. This otoshibuta ensures that the vegetables will cook evenly.

In the meantime, cook the green beans and peas in boiling salted water until crisp-tender. (Put the green beans in first, then add the peas for a couple of minutes.) Drain and set aside.

When the potatoes are tender (test by poking with a chopstick or fork) add the soy sauce, green beans and peas. Simmer for a few minutes longer while shaking the pan so that the flavors are evenly distributed. The water should be almost completely gone.

This is best served warm, but is also good at room temperature.

Optional: Add a little bit of sake or mirin near the end of the cooking process. This gives the vegetables a little added flavor and shine.

Tip: Sautéing vegetables in oil before stewing or braising

You will notice that this recipe calls for sautéeing the potatoes and onions in oil before braising. While most people know about sautéing onions and garlic to bring out the flavor, not many do this to other vegetables. Sautéing vegetables before cooking further brings out the flavor and sweetness in them. To prevent the final dish from becoming too oily, I always drain off any excess oil before proceeding further, as I did here.

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Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

This is JUST what I am looking for!

Thanks for Sharing =)

Diana Tan | 26 June, 2009 - 15:39

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

This is great! I live in Ireland so these vegetables are very readily available - we always have peas and carrots in the fridge!

anon. | 27 June, 2009 - 11:05

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

Maki, I'm having fun seeing the recipes from your mom.

Kalyn | 27 June, 2009 - 21:19

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

Thanks Kalyn! :) I'm having so much fun posting them!

maki | 28 June, 2009 - 06:39

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

Hi Maki,

Can I simply add renkon to this recipe to make braised renkon? Do we need to saute the renkon too?

Suzanne | 29 June, 2009 - 05:51

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

Renkon needs a bit of special treatment to prevent it from going rather brown and bad-tempered looking - see how to cook renkon.

maki | 29 June, 2009 - 14:54

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

i made this yesterday with fresh vegetables from the farmer's market. it was delicious, thanks!

エリカ | 29 June, 2009 - 08:01

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

Gave this a shot, just starting out cooking and things just didn't mesh. Burnt the hell out of the onions and other veggies ;( Guess the steps just weren't clear enough for me

anon. | 30 June, 2009 - 02:53

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

You probably had the heat up too high. Maybe the part where it says "Heat up some oil in the bottom of the pan over medium-low heat" was overlooked? If you are using gas, that means a pretty low flame. Always watch your pan and adjust the heat down if things are burning! (also take the pan off the heat entirely if things are getting out of hand, then adjust the heat and put it back on and see how it goes)

maki | 30 June, 2009 - 08:35

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

Great easy recipe!

Tried this yesterday with fresh flat beans, new potatoes and onions. Before the water was all gone, I took some in a cup in which I added a teaspoon of black (hacho) miso, stirred until the miso was well melted into the water, then sprayed it on the veggies - nice fat-free sauce ! (at least for those who like strong miso flavour)


Ax | 30 June, 2009 - 14:40

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

I totally agree. I believe that Japanese cookery is, like you say, deeply rooted in seasonality and expressing the fresh, natural flavours of vegetables through sympathetic cooking and seasoning. I envy you for having lived in Kent; a lot is said about how it is the 'garden of England' and the South in general is so rich in fresh produce. It's harder now I'm living in the North, but there are still good local products to enjoy, if you take the time to look. I will definitely be trying this dish at the weekend.

pii_bii | 1 July, 2009 - 19:04

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

I've made this twice now, and it is fabulous. I'm enjoying making the most of the new potatoes while in season.

Due to a lack of peas in the house I used quick-blanched sugar snap peas instead, and the crunch was lovely. I also added a little white wine for a wee bit of luxury last time I made it. :)

I can't believe how good the veggies taste just for sauteeing them at the beginning. Brilliant!

pii_bii | 14 July, 2009 - 11:02

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

I just cooked these to go along with stuffed chicken breasts, and my boyfriend pronounced it the best dinner I've ever made.

Thank your mother for the recipe for me! I'll definitely be coming back here for more :)

Katy | 15 July, 2009 - 21:41

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

Katy, my mother says thank you for the nice comments! :)

maki | 16 July, 2009 - 10:39

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

This recipe is delicious! im glad that the ingredients are easy to find! However, i would like to see an onishime recipe soon! its my favorite

anon. | 20 March, 2010 - 02:16

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

I concur that this is a dish that's sooo much more than the sum of its parts. Thank you, thank you for posting it, and thank your mum for taking pity on those of us without her background and kitchen smarts.

Tonight I made this yet again, with the addition of yellow beets (added at the same time as the carrots), and it was a winner. Maki-san, you rock!

FatLady | 24 March, 2010 - 03:08

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

I've been reading this site from the Justbento site... reading through recipes at the moment, I thought I'd comment on this one as I live in Wokingham!

It's still rather rubbish, but the main supermarkets at least do sushi ingredients now, and quite a bit of things.

Djonma | 25 May, 2010 - 21:53

Re: My Mother's Simply Braised Spring Vegetables with a ...

Thank you so much for your wonderful sites!! I love Just Bento and Just Hungry. I made this tonight for dinner and everyone like it! It was absolutely delicious. The only problem was that I couldn't get the vegetables to cook evenly. Some potatoes and carrots were soft, and some were hard. One potato half was inedibly hard. x[ But it's okay, the rest was yummmy. :] I've made other recipes from your sites too, like the tuna tofu miso mini burgers, the root vegetable nimono with miso, and the tuna soboro, and I look forward to making many more! :D Next for me is shrimp tofu mini burgers!

Kei | 27 May, 2010 - 05:11

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