There are many small farmers like Ms. Toma who sell their plant products at Onna No Eki, and I really enjoy asking them things like, "What on earth IS this, and how do I eat it?"
That is exactly what I did with the red seed pods she is holding in her hand. They are called "hihachi", and she told me to throw them in some broth with meat and veggies. I asked her if I can eat them as-is or if I have to cut off the little stems, and she said no, but she did say, "They are a little spicy." I was very intrigued, and being a native of Louisiana, I am no stranger to spicy.
I also bought this. It is シビラン, also known as African Spinach, according to Google. It is also very fragrant.
The next step was to get 鶏ガラ (chicken bones) from the supermarket, make a broth, and then chill it overnight to remove the fat. I kept the heat low and ended up with a near-ideal clear chicken broth. No fogginess at all.
So I heated my broth and then added garlic, onions, and minced chicken that I found in the freezer. It was a nice broth, rich but subtle. I carefully added salt to get it just right and then cut my Malabar and African spinach and washed my Hihachi. I was ready.
In went the Hihachi, then the exotic greens. I didn't want to overcook the leaves, but I was distracted by by a strange smell coming from somewhere. It smelled like old incense and forgotten shame, like wood shavings in a poorly-written, under-researched short story. I assumed that my kids has spilled something, and then I realized it was my soup.
So here is the result - chicken and hihachi soup with African and Malabar spinach...
and it had a great deal of character, so much, in fact, that I had to throw it out.
I also had to run the kitchen exhaust fan all night. And apologize to the wife. And cook up some gyouza to make up for the lack of a main dish. Still, it was fun, and we had a great laugh.
The "little spicy" of which I was warned should have been more like, "These red seed pods are dried and ground for use as a substitute for pepper." Eating the actual hihachi is not recommended... at all. I ate one. That was enough.
Another problem was that I couldn't get the smell off my hands. They smelled like poorly-conceived fiction or expired wood polish. I think it was a combination of the fragrant greens and the hihachi, a failed experiment.
And yet, I will return to Onna No Eki and thank Ms. Toma for my adventure, and I will buy other things from her if I have the chance. I should have been more conservative and researched before jumping in the soup pot. The fault was all mine, but still, it was a very fun failure.
That being said, no more Hihachi. Never again.