Negi Spring Onions, Nira, Tamanegi And Eggplants

THE VEGGIE KITCHEN

Negi spring onion or Welsh onion is very widely used, primarily as a nabemono or soup ingredient, or as sarashinegi an addition to tsuyu dipping sauces for noodles. In Kanto only the white part of the the shironegi or naganegi is used.

Negi from Tokyo’s Nerima ward has a long history as one of the Edo Yasai, Tokyo traditional vegetables. In Kansai only the green section of the softer variety aonegi is used for sarashinegi. Kyoto’s Kujo-negi is their onion of choice.

Shimonita negi is large ippon negi, that is to say, a 'single' rather than 'bunch'. They take their name from the area of Western Gunma Prefecture where they originated and are still produced. Other varieties include wakegi, akanegi red negi, and the marvelous, tiny menegi. The latter are fabulous chopped over miso soup. They are so small and fine that you can easily cut them with scissors.

Somewhat similar to negi, nira Garlic chives or Chinese chives are quite pungent, garlicky, and are added mainly to ohitashi or used in itamemono stir fries. They also make an excellent dressing. Nira are generally perceived to be ingredients in Korean cuisine, and indeed some Korean food stores here sell them as fiery Korean-style buchu kimchee pickles.

Nira are mentioned in numerous ancient Japanese documents, including the Manyoshu 'Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves' written some time around 759 AD, where they are variously called kamira, kukumira and mira. It was only under the Insei 'cloistered rule' administration of the Heian Period (794 to 1185 AD) that they finally settled on 'nira'. Lord knows what they would have thought about them being called Welsh onions.

rakkyo onions

Tamanegi onions don’t feature too large in Japanese cuisine. Vegetables that were considered strongly yang in nature (see garlic) – that is, male and powerful – were discouraged in Buddhist temples. One notable exception is in rakkyo, Japan's answer to the pickled onion. It's actually a scallion, pickled in either flavored vinegar, with akashiso, or a mix of shoyu and mirin.

Nasu Eggplant Tsukemono Nishiki negiNasu eggplants

Japan boasts a huge variety of nasu eggplants. The Kyoyasai (Kyoto specialty vegetable) Kamo nasu is roundish, with firm flesh, great cooked as dengaku, that is to say,topped with miso paste. They are still cultivated today, as they have been for centuries, in the Kamigamo area in the North of Kyoto City. The kuro-nasu is egg-shaped, and West Japan and Tohoku claim naga-nasu an elongated variety. Bei-nasu the 'American eggplant' is an imported strain, the 'Black Beauty'. Japanese eggplants do not need to be salted prior to cooking. You can tell an eggplant is fresh by the lush purple colour of its skin. They are available all year round, but summer and the autumn harvested eggplants are considered best. 

John F. Ashburne

John F. Ashburne

Editor-in-Chief Foodies Go Local