We spoke with Ayako Yajima about how to choose and eat asparagus, which is delicious in the current season. Yajima runs a fruit and vegetable shop called Suika that sells a full range of seasonal vegetables from around Japan in Kagurazaka Tokyo, as well as offering information on food that makes people healthy.
Seasonal Vegetables Considered in Terms of the Twenty-Four Divisions of the Solar Year
The solar year calendar, which divides the year into 24 time periods in accordance with the movements of the sun over the year, expresses the change of seasons in Japan well. Yajima believes that the seasonality of vegetables, which are plants, also changes with the 24 divisions of the solar year.
Seasonality refers to the season when open field vegetables are at their most delicious. The seasonality in a single field changes with two-week cycles together with the 24 divisions of the solar year.
This means that in Japan, which extends far to the North and South, the seasonality of vegetables gradually moves up like a relay from the Southern areas to the Northern areas.
Spring in the solar year calendar starts from around February 4 with risshun, and extends to late May, transitioning through the periods of usui, keichitsu, shunbun, seimei and kokuu. What kinds of vegetables are considered seasonal during this period?
Yajima explained, “Spring is a season in which the plants that survived the winter and plants grown from seeds begin to sprout. When the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, asparagus and bamboo shoots, which are called sprouting vegetables, appear first. Of the buds that sprout in early spring, legumes grow the fastest while being bathed in sunlight. Snow peas, snap garden peas, green peas and beans grow in that order. As the body tries its best to eliminate the waste products that built up over the depths of winter, the stimulation of bitter wild vegetables, sour vegetables and leafy vegetables such as cabbage taste particularly delicious.”
The Art of Choosing Asparagus! How to Select Delicious Asparagus
Asparagus is most delicious when it has just started sprouting.. Its period of seasonality starts at the earliest from late February in Kyushu, before moving northward. In May, asparagus from Hokkaido is exquisite. Yajima explained that the period of seasonality for asparagus starts from Kyushu and moves northward, and that asparagus from Hokkaido is delicious in May.
・The cut end of the stalk is a perfect circle
・The tip is soft and tightly shut
・The scales on the sides are equilateral triangles and are evenly arranged
Although some spears of asparagus are thin and others are thicker, thickness does not greatly affect deliciousness, and it comes down to a matter of personal taste. However, thicker spears of asparagus might feel softer.
Yajima said, “Asparagus is more delicious the fresher it is so it is best to eat it on the day that you buy it. When storing it in the refrigerator, you should stand it up in a plastic bag with a little water at the bottom.”
Preparing Fresh Young Asparagus
Yajima introduced a recommended means of preparing asparagus, which is now in season.
She said, “As the body craves sourness in spring, I recommend eating asparagus with a dressing of citrus fruit and white wine vinegar that offers a full sour taste. The fragrance is also refreshing and you can enjoy a taste that seeps into your body.”
Yajima said that if one wants to truly enjoy the taste of asparagus, it is important to thoroughly boil it. She explained that as the taste of the seasonal vegetable itself is delicious, it is best to prepare dishes with simple ingredients so as to enjoy the true taste.
Seasonality is the Deliciousness that the Body Craves
Suika, the fruit and vegetable shop run by Yajima, is filled with seasonal vegetables that she has carefully selected from throughout Japan.
Yajima said that seasonal vegetables not only have a deep flavor and high nutritional value, eating them can help the body to regain its natural rhythm.
She continued, “The attraction of seasonality is the fact that these items contain what the body craves at that time. The sensation of deliciousness does not just stop at superficial taste. These vegetables taste even more delicious because they contain what the body needs at that time. Because both our bodies and vegetables change with the seasons, we can regulate our body and increase our health by eating vegetables that are grown in each season.”