The technique of rolling or enclosing one food in another is a favorite of the Japanese. Here Chinese cabbage and spinach are formed into a stunning two-toned pattern of concentric circles. Pieces sliced from the roll are later dressed with the sesame vinaigrette and garnished with whole seeds. Although this recipe requires advance preparation of both the vegetable roll and the dressing, it’s neither difficult nor time consuming. The cabbage and spinach rolls can also be used, undressed, in casseroles or stews such as the seafood one.
Wash the spinach in lots of cold water to remove all traces of dirt. Gather the stems together and tie the spinach into two bundles with kitchen twine. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil, then turn off the heat. Hold the spinach by the stems with either fingers or tongs and dip the bundles into the hot water until just barely wilted. Remove them immediately to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Remove the spinach from the cold water, squeeze out all liquid, and set aside on paper toweling.
Bring the pot of hot water back to a boil and quickly blanch the cabbage leaves until barely wilted. I put the leaves, one at a time, into the pot with long cooking chopsticks, hold them under the hot water for a count of 10, and fish them out right away. Plunge the wilted cabbage leaves in the bowl of cold water to cool them, then gently pat dry.
It’s easiest to assemble the vegetable rolls on a slated bamboo mat called a sudaré, but you could manage with just a clean kitchen towel. Each roll will use three leaves of cabbage and one bundle of spinach. Lay the cabbage leaves across your mat or towel to create a rectangular area approximately 8 by 5 inches. The stem portions should point alternately right and left, and the leafy portions should be spread to cover the area.
Trim and discard the tied stems from the two spinach bundles, then divide each into two bunches. The spinach should be laid horizontally across the cabbage at the edge closest to you, with the stem ends of one bunch flush to the right, the other bunch flush to the left. Lift the cabbage with the help of the mat or cloth and flip it over the spinach. Continue to roll snugly until all the cabbage has encircled the spinach.
Repeat this procedure with the remaining three cabbage leaves and two bunches of spinach to make a second roll.
Using string or rubber bands to hold the cloth or sudaré mat in place, tie the ends of each roll and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or, covered, up to 1 day. Some liquid may drip from the tightly wound roll, so it’s best to place it on paper toweling on a plate.
In a small bowl, mix the dressing ingredients. Chill the dressing, if you like. It can be stored in the refrigerator for several weeks.
In a clean, dry skillet, toast the sesame seeds over medium-high heat for 30–40 seconds until they begin to color slightly or a few pop. Shake the pan to keep the seeds in motion.
When ready to serve the salad, remove the rolls from their mats or cloths and, with a sharp knife, slice each into eight pieces. A single serving could be two or three pieces. Stand them on flanged plates or in shallow bowls so that the concentric pattern is clearly visible. Spoon some of the dressing over each piece and garnish with the whole toasted sesame seeds.
© 1985 Elizabeth Andoh. All rights reserved.