Blanched spinach dressed in a savory nutty sesame sauce, this Japanese Spinach Salad with Sesame Dressing (Gomaae) is a healthy veggie side dish that goes well with everything.
One of the mainstays of Japanese vegetable side dish is the “Goma-ae (胡麻和え)”. We would blanch all sorts of vegetables and dress them in a fresh-made sesame sauce. The most popular one is spinach gomaae, or what we call Horenso no Gomaae (ほうれん草の胡麻和え).
The technique preserves the nutrients and vibrant color of the greens while enriching it with an aromatic nutty flavor. Not only does the dish taste good, but it’s also a simple way to put vegetables on your plate!
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What is Gomaae?
Goma (胡麻) in Japanese means sesame seed and we call dishes dressed with sesame sauce goma-ae (胡麻和え). The word ae (pronounced as [ah EH]. 和え) comes from the verb aeru ([ah EH ru]. 和える) which is to dress (the food with sauce).
There are many kinds of gomaae using different vegetables. In addition to spinach, gomaae can also be made with green beans, broccoli, broccolini, chrysanthemum leaves, and more. It is a lively approach that elevates everyday vegetables into something truly tasty.
I absolutely enjoy gomaae as it takes minutes to make and complements well with any style of Japanese food. I think it’s fabulous with other Asian meals too. And if you find your bento lunch needing some colors and boost of nutrition, gomaae will make the perfect addition.
How to Make Japanese Spinach Salad
The Ingredients You’ll Need
- Spinach (or suggestions below)
- Toasted white sesame seeds – I recommend grinding your own sesame seeds even though Japanese grocery stores sell convenient ground sesame seeds in a package because the fragrance and flavors won’t be the same.
- For the dressing: Soy sauce and sugar
The Cooking Steps
- Make the sesame dressing: Add the sesame seeds in an ungreased frying pan. Heat the pan on medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, lift it up and shake it constantly over the flame. Toss and turn over the sesame seeds in the pan to evenly toast them until they are fragrant. Transfer the freshly toasted sesame seeds to the mortar. Grind the sesame seeds with the pestle. Leave some seeds whole for texture. Add the soy sauce and sugar to the sesame seeds and mix together. Set aside.
- Prepare the spinach: Add the salt to boiling water and plunge the spinach, stem ends first, and hold the spinach for 15-20 seconds. Then, push it down to submerge it and cook for 45 seconds. Once done, transfer the spinach to iced water. Squeeze water out and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces.
- Dress: Transfer the spinach to the sesame dressing and toss to combine. Serve it at room temperature or chilled.
Cooking Tips for Spinach Gomaae
- Toast sesame seeds even if they are already pre-toasted. This simple step brings out the toasty and nutty flavors of sesame seeds. Also, leave some seeds whole when you grind them. Whole sesame seeds add a nice, delicate crunch texture to the dressing.
- Salt the water. It’s important to add salt to the boiling water when you are cooking spinach or any green vegetables. It keeps the veggies in vibrant green color.
- Blanch from the stem ends. Spinach stems take longer to cook compared to the leafy part. So start by cooking the stems first. Do not overcook the vegetables!
- Plunge spinach in iced water to stop cooking. The remaining heat will continue to soften the spinach, so a quick iced water bath will stop it from overcooking.
- Remove the excess moisture from the vegetables so the sesame dressing won’t be diluted. Squeeze the water out as much as you can.
As I mentioned earlier, you can make this side dish with so many different vegetables of your choice! All you need to do is to cook the vegetables and coat them with the 2-ingredient sesame dressing.
Here are some of my suggestions:
- Leafy vegetables: Cabbage, broccoli, broccolini, bok choy, collards, Komatsuna, Brussels sprouts, kale, arugula, chard, collards, and chrysanthemum greens.
- Root vegetables: Carrots, lotus root, gobo (burdock root), potatoes, nagaimo (mountain yam).
- Legumes: Green beans and snap peas.
- Fruits: Tomatoes, okra, and bell peppers.
Helpful Tools to Make This Recipe
In Japanese households, we frequently make various types of gomaae so we usually own a Japanese ceramic mortar and wooden pestle to grind sesame seeds.
- Japanese ceramic mortar (Suribachi): It’s an earthenware bowl and the inside has a ridged pattern to facilitate grinding.
- Japanese wooden pestle (Surikogi): Typically made of wood so that it prevents wearing down the ridges in the mortar.
Where to Get Suribachi and Surikogi
I used a small suribachi bowl for many years since I was in college. After having a family, I switched over to a bigger suribachi bowl. The benefit of a large-size suribachi is that you can add the blanched vegetables directly to the bowl to mix with the ground sesame seeds. Then, you can use the bowl as a serving dish. How convenient is that!
If you always cook for 2 or more people, I recommend getting at least a medium-sized suribachi bowl. Here are my recommendations:
- A set of 5-inch suribachi and surikogi on Amazon.
- A set of 7-inch suribachi and surikogi on Amazon.
- 10-inch suribachi on MTC Kitchen (use JOC10 to get a 10% discount)
Japanese Spinach Salad with Sesame Dressing (Gomaae)
For the Spinach
- 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt (for blanching)
- 1 bunch spinach (8 oz, 227 g)
- Gather all the ingredients. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of cold water with a few ice cubes.
To Make the Sauce
- Even though your sesame seeds are pre-toasted, we will freshly toast them now to enhance their nutty aroma. Add 3 Tbsp toasted white sesame seeds to an ungreased frying pan and turn on the stove to medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, lift it up and shake it constantly over the flame. Toss and turn over the sesame seeds in the pan to evenly toast them. When they are fragrant, turn off the heat and move the pan off the stove.
- Transfer the toasted sesame seeds to a mortar (suribachi). Grind them with a pestle (surikogi). Leave some seeds whole for texture.
- To the ground sesame seeds, add 1 Tbsp soy sauce and 1 Tbsp sugar and mix it all together. Set aside.
To Cook the Spinach
- Once the water is boiling, add 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Add the stem ends of 1 bunch spinach first, since they take longer to cook, and hold for 15–20 seconds. Tip: Salt helps keep the spinach's green color brighter.
- Then, push the leaves down to submerge them in water. Blanch until the stems are no longer rigid, about 30–45 seconds. Tip: American spinach is very soft and we can eat it raw, unlike Japanese spinach.
- Remove the spinach from the pot and plunge it into the iced water to stop the cooking. Alternatively, drain and run the spinach under cold running water until cool.
- Once the spinach is cool enough to handle, collect the spinach and squeeze the water out. Tip: Do not leave the spinach in the water for too long or else it will lose nutrients.
- Cut the spinach into 1-inch (2.5 cm) lengths and put it in the mortar. If your mortar is small, transfer the sesame dressing and spinach to a bowl.
- Toss it all together. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
- You can keep the leftovers in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for 2–3 days or freezer for 2–4 weeks.
- 3 Tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
- 1½ Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp sake
- ½ tsp mirin
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on March 30, 2011. It was republished with a new video, new step-by-step and final images, and more content on September 12, 2023.