Did you know not only the rhizome, but also wasabi stems and leaves are edible? I learnt it several years ago in an izakaya (a Japanese bar/pub) in Tokyo, where we discovered the existence of sensational stem pickles. I quickly realised they were a regional product because throughout years we’ve never managed to find them in any shop in Tokyo. I’ve abandoned the hope of bringing these pickles to Switzerland (unless I made a trip to a wasabi-growing region), so imagine my joy when a month ago I saw potted wasabi in my gardening shop! I knew I would never obtain rhizomes (their farming is particularly demanding, I think), but I bought it with pickling in mind.
Once back home, I repotted my wasabi into three containers (potted plants are usually horribly crowded and contain several plants or a plant that is too big, so I always divide them or put into a bigger container), placed them on my balcony and in one month all the three have doubled in size! Last weekend I searched for a recipe which would be as close as possible to what we eat every year in Tokyo, but finally I compiled several sources. I’m really happy with the results of this exciting experiment and certainly happy enough to share it with you! These easy pickles are crunchy, salty, slightly sour and most of all, they have a more delicate but definitely recognisable typical wasabi scent. The plants grow quickly, so I plan another pickling session for next weekend!
TIPS: If you go to Japan and ask for wasabi pickles, “wasabizuke” (わさび漬け) is the product everyone will think about. It is easily available (even in big department stores) and completely different from these pickles; even though made with stems, it contains also wasabi rhizome, sake lees and some other ingredients.
Since wasabi stems and leaves are rather special, make sure you use high quality ingredients, especially mirin and rice vinegar (both without additives). Soy sauce, mirin and vinegar can be bought in Japanese shops, on internet and also in other Asian shops (for example Korean).
It’s useful to have a special pickling jar (i.e. with a special weight usually looking like a thick small lid), but you can use a normal jar and weigh down the pickles for example with a small bowl/tiny jar filled with water.
GROWING WASABI: If you own only a balcony or patio as a growing space, wasabi plants can be grown there in containers as long as they are in a relatively shaded space if the temperatures aren’t too high in the summer (in such a case you should move the plants indoors during the day, at least this is what I plan to do when temperatures get close to 30°C). I’ve also read wasabi can be grown successfully indoors all year long; I’m very tempted to try it, but maybe next year…
I’ve placed my wasabi plants on a balcony which never gets full sun, but if you don’t have such a space, wasabi can be protected by bigger plants or anything that protects them from the sun. The soil should be light, well draining and you should never let it dry out completely because wasabi likes humidity (though if the soil is too soaked with water constantly the roots might rot in pots). I have been growing all my indoors plants and certain perennial balcony herbs in inorganic medium (it looks like small pebbles, see the photograph below), which requires a special container with a so called “self-watering” system. For now my wasabi plants – like all the other plants I have – thrive in this growing system! /I’ll update this information as soon as I’ve learnt more about growing wasabi on a balcony./
More and more gardening shops sell wasabi plants. Apart from Switzerland I know they can be bought in UK and Germany (at least online), so if you are tempted by this recipe, check if gardening shops (especially those online) sell this plant in your country too. You might be surprised as much as I was! (Not to mention the fact that there are wasabi farms in the USA and UK, so you can buy both rhizomes and stems there).
Here is the smallest of my three wasabi plants:
Preparation: about 25 minutes+ min. 24 hours
Ingredients (it’s a very small portion: it’ll probably fill only a 100-150 ml/max. 5 oz jar):
10 thick (min; 2mm thick) long wasabi stems with leaves (mine were 25 cm/about 10 inches long) or 25-30 very thin ones
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce or 2 tablespoons normal soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet cooking sake)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
Cut up the stems into 2-2.5 cm pieces (about 3/4-1 in) and tear the leaves roughly.
Put them into a small pan, sprinkle with salt and knead with your hands for about ten seconds.
If your stems are very thin (i.e. less than 2mm thick), cover with something heavy (and clean!) and put the kneaded pieces aside for about 30 minutes.
If your stems are thicker than 2mm (mine were), cover them with something heavy and leave for several hours (or more, until the stems soften a bit).
After this time rinse the wasabi pieces in cold water and put into a pickling jar (or a normal jar, see the TIPS above).
Cover with the mixture of soy sauce, mirin and rice vinegar.
Place something heavy on top of the pickles and cover the jar with a lid.
If it’s hot in your area, place the pickles immediately into the fridge (the warmest part) but if the temperature is low, you can leave them at room temperature for 24 hours (but make sure you cover the jar with a cloth so that flies or other insects don’t enter). After this time, transfer into the fridge. (They are ready to eat after the 24 hours, but I think they get better after one more day in the fridge).
These pickles will certainly keep for a week in the fridge (or maybe more, I’ll update this information as soon as I am able to keep my hands off them for longer). You can also freeze them in a small container.