This Japanese Sauce Will Reignite Your Love of Vegetables

February 23, 2017

When you’re in a committed, long-term relationship, it’s natural for things to grow old. There'll be aspects you tire of, pet peeves you can’t kick.

I’m talking about me and broccoli rabe, but you likely deal with a similar situation (kale, perhaps?). I buy rabe every week for its mineral undertones and bitter brace, but also because it lasts a while in the fridge. I can then spend many days thinking about how I want to eat it this week so that it’s not like how I ate it last week (blanched then sautéed with olive oil, chile, and garlic). I’m not sick of broccoli rabe—I’m sick of the one way I like to cook it.

Our love was recently rekindled, though, one night at a chic, candlelit, secret Brooklyn bar called Karasu. They served broccoli rabe goma-ae. My beloved was hardly recognizable: Cold, in an acid-sweet soy dressing, a nutty coating of cracked sesame seeds, and with a river of another, creamier miso dressing over top. And while spinach goma-ae, which means "dressed in sesame sauce," is fairly common in Japanese restaurants and home kitchens, Yael Peet, one of the chefs at Karasu, said they hadn't seen rabe goma-ae until their own.

“Goma-ae is usually made with toasted sesame seeds that are ground in a suribachi (a Japanese mortar that has grooves) until the seeds begin to release their oils but aren't quite paste,” Miyoko Schinner, a prolific vegan chef and author who also runs an artisan vegan cheese company, told me. “It's then combined with soy sauce, sugar, mirin or sake, maybe some dashi.”

When coated in the concentrated dressing, a blanched, hum-drum vegetable like spinach (or broccoli rabe) takes on a pungent, addictive sheath. That it’s eaten cold or at room temperature and gets better with time means it’s asking to be your to-go lunch or part of your make-ahead dinner.

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Top Comment:
“Left out the sugar as the kale is pretty sweet. I just steamed it rather than bringing a whole pot of water to a boil. Simple and really makes the kale taste great!! ”
— Kaylee

Where else could you put this sesame stuff? Any blanched greens are fair game—spinach and komatsuna are most typical, but turnip greens, kale, green beans? Sure! Miyoko also suggests it drizzled on fried or grilled eggplant or tofu. Roasted carrots or squash or broiled cabbage would also be great.

In Practical Japanese Cooking by Shizuo Tsuji and Koichiro Hata (the original, 1986 edition of which has an endorsement from MFK Fisher—"Tsuji and Hata have given us best of the old and the new”!), the authors suggest putting the sauce on broccoli, corn, or endive—and using cashews or macadamia nuts in place of sesame seeds. Some recipes floating around call for tahini in place of sesame seeds, but don’t do that please—you’ll lose the crackly-crispy seed coating and the lightness of the dressing.

So the next time you gaze upon your most adored vegetable and say, what am I gonna do with you?, look to the special sauce.

Tell us: What vegetable to you grab every time you're at the market?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kaylee
  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
  • HalfPint
  • Samantha Weiss Hills
    Samantha Weiss Hills
  • Damizelle
Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


Kaylee April 5, 2017
Yum, made this tonight with overwintered baby kale. Left out the sugar as the kale is pretty sweet. I just steamed it rather than bringing a whole pot of water to a boil. Simple and really makes the kale taste great!!
Alexandra S. February 23, 2017
Very excited about this! It will come in so handy with all of those CSA greens. And how nice that it's so simple?!
HalfPint February 23, 2017
The local poke shop makes a gomae shrimp that is sooooo good. I may need to make my own with this gomae recipe.
Samantha W. February 23, 2017
Ali! This is so delightful. Can't wait to make this.
Damizelle February 23, 2017
What about that other creamier miso dressing that complemented the goma-ae? How is that one made?
Ali S. February 23, 2017
Hi there! It was similar to this one: