Goma Ae (ごま和え)
Traditional Japanese meals usually consist of rice and soup, along with a protein, but these are almost always accompanied by a few kobachi (小鉢) or small bowls, which are filled with side dishes. Goma Ae is one of the most common side dishes that can appear on the table for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The combination of earthy sesame seeds and umami-rich soy sauce can turn almost any vegetable into a mouthwatering side. The veggies bring the vitamins, while the sesame seeds offer loads of protein, fiber, and minerals.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Boiling the spinach root-on makes it easier to chop the spinach into even lengths.
- Like any dish with only a few ingredients, it’s important to use the highest quality ones you can find, particularly the sesame.
- The key is to add a ton of freshly ground sesame seeds. This not only increases the nutritional value it also adds a marvelous creamy, nutty flavor.
Ingredients for Goma Ae
- Spinach – I’ve used spinach for this, but Goma Ae can be made with a large variety of vegetables, including Swiss chard, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and even carrots.
- Sesame Seeds – As the name of the dish suggests, this is the most important ingredient. As such, it’s worth taking the time to find high-quality toasted sesame seeds. There are two types of sesame seeds sold in stores: hulled and unhulled. Most of the ones I’ve seen in Western and Middle-Eastern grocery stores are hulled, meaning the outer layer or seed coat has been removed. They are easily identifiable because they are relatively flat and translucent in appearance. In Japanese cuisine, sesame seeds are used with the seed coat intact, which gives them more flavor and a poppy texture. They tend to be larger, plumper, and opaque and come in different colors such as white, black, and gold. I’ve used golden sesame seeds this time as I think they have a nuttier flavor than the white ones, but any color will work. Like spices, sesame seeds lose their fragrance over time, and the oils can go rancid, so I always buy them in small bags and use them as quickly as possible. A pack of sesame seeds should be very nutty and fragrant when you open it. If they don’t smell like much of anything, you may be able to revive them by toasting them in a dry pan over medium heat until they start to crackle. You’ll need to keep them swirling around the pan constantly to keep them from burning. Keep in mind this won’t fix sesame seeds that have gone rancid, which should be discarded.
- Soy Sauce – The soy sauce is here to season the dish as well as to provide umami. I went a little light on the seasoning for this so it can be enjoyed without anything else, but if you plan to pack it into a bento box lunch or want to have this over rice, you may want to add an extra 1/2 teaspoon.
- Sugar – The sugar balances out the salt while mellowing out the bitterness from the spinach and sesame seeds. I used evaporated cane juice for this, but any type of sugar will work.
How to Make Goma Ae
Wash the spinach. Spinach is grown in sandy soil, which tends to get trapped where the leaves come together at the roots, so it’s important to wash thoroughly between the leaves. I like to wash it in a large bowl of water because the sand is heavy and will settle to the bottom. This allows you to pull the spinach out of the water without having the sand you just washed out settle on the leaves again.
Boil the spinach in a large pot of water by submerging the stems and roots first and then pressing the leaves in as the stems wilt. This ensures it cooks evenly. When the water comes back to a rolling boil, the spinach should be done. Drain it and chill with cold water. If you’ve left the roots on, you should be able to use them to lift the spinach out of the water, with the leaves all going in the same direction. Squeeze excess water out of the spinach and then cut the spinach into 2-inch lengths. You can discard the roots if you want, but I like using them as a garnish as they have a nice color and tend to be sweet.
To make the sesame dressing, you’ll need to grind the toasted sesame seeds. I usually use a stone mortar and pestle, but a traditional ribbed Japanese one, a clean coffee grinder, food processor, or blender will all work. If you use a machine, be careful not to overdo it, or you’ll end up with tahini. The ground sesame seeds should look like damp sand.
Then you want to mix the ground sesame seeds with the soy sauce and sugar until it forms a crumbly paste.
Now you just need to mix the spinach and sesame sauce to complete your Goma Ae. Once the components are mixed together, I usually like to let it rest for at least fifteen minutes. This gives the flavors a chance to mingle, and the moisture from the spinach hydrates the sesame, giving it a creamy taste.
Other Japanese Vegetable Recipes
Goma Ae (ごま和え or 胡麻和え) literally means “mixed with sesame seeds”. It is part of a class of Japanese side dishes called aemono(和え物) or “mixed thing,” which usually involves two components mixed together. In this case, one component is a sesame sauce, while the other component is typically a vegetable. Spinach (ほうれん草 – hourensou) is the most common vegetable used for making this dish, but it is prepared with other vegetables as well.
Yes, Goma Ae can be made with almost any vegetable. Spinach is the most common, but other vegetables used in Japan include green beans (隠元 – ingen), komatsuna (小松菜), and broccoli (ブロコリ).
This dish will work with any unhulled toasted sesame seed (white, black, or gold). I don’t recommend using hulled sesame seeds as these only include the seed’s oily endosperm, which lacks the flavor and texture of the whole seed. As for pre-ground sesame, I usually avoid it for the same reasons I don’t buy pre-ground black pepper. The flavors and aromas disappear pretty quickly once ground, so it’s best to grind the sesame seeds yourself as you use them. You can read more about the type of sesame seeds to use in the Ingredients section above.
Goma Ae is for syllables and is pronounced as follows:
go like ghost
ma like mall
a like all
e like enter
This Goma Ae recipe is plant-based, provided you use vegan-friendly sugar. That’s not the case for all versions of this dish, as some include dashi or katsuobushi.
toasted sesame seeds
Set a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to a boil.
Wash the spinach thoroughly in a large bowl of water. Pay particular attention to where the stems meet the roots as these crevices tend to trap a lot of grit.
Grind the sesame seeds using a mortar and pestle, clean coffee grinder, or food processor. It should resemble damp sand.
Add the sugar and soy sauce to the ground sesame seeds and stir to combine.
Add the spinach to the boiling water with the roots and stems going in first. Once you have the spinach fully submerged, Bring the water back to a rolling boil.
When the water is boiling, drain the spinach and rinse with several changes of cold water to cool the spinach down rapidly.
Pick the spinach out of the water with the root ends so the leaves all lineup. Fold the spinach in half once and squeeze any excess water out. You don’t want the spinach to be soggy, but it should not be completely dry.
Spread the squeezed spinach out on a cutting board and cut it into 1 1/2-inch lengths.
Toss the spinach together with the sesame seeds until they’re evenly distributed. Sprinkle with additional sesame seeds and serve.