In Japanese cuisine, there is a cooking technique of simmering vegetables, seafood, tofu, and meats (together or separately) in a stock flavoured with soy sauce, sake, and some sweetening, that is referred to as nimono. The types of nimono dishes are quite varied, and include dishes such as oden, nabemono (Japanese hotpot dishes), and nikujaga (sweet and salty beef and potato stew).
Today, we’ll be looking at vegetable nimono, which is a simple way to prepare a mixed vegetable side dish that is served at room temperature, or slightly warmed. It involves simmering the vegetables in seasoned liquid until they are soft and cooked through, resulting in lightly flavoured vegetables that are moist and succulent. This dish makes for a nice addition to any Japanese or Asian meal, and goes great in a bento.
In anime, vegetable nimono is a common dish seen in a variety of series, including Red Data Girl, Kannagi, and Usagi Drop. Found on dinner tables and in bento boxes, this dish gives a great pop of colour and texture to any food scene, with bright orange carrot, yellow bamboo shoots, and green snow peas accenting the more neutral coloured lotus root, taro, shiitake mushroom, and burdock root.
About the recipe:
1. Rolling wedges is a cutting technique used for hard root vegetables (such as carrots or burdock root) in which an angled cut is made every quarter turn. This results in uniformly cut vegetables with irregular cuts. The resultant multi-facetted vegetables give more surface area for any sauces or flavours to permeate.
2. A drop lid (known as otoshi buta in Japanese) is a lid that sits directly on top of the foods simmering in a pot. It’s function is to distribute heat evenly around the pot, and to help to stop the items from moving around too much while cooking, thus keeping fragile foods intact.
If you don’t have a drop lid (usually made of wood), you can make one out of tinfoil, a small pot lid, a piece of parchment paper, or even a steaming basket. Just poke a few holes in the paper, or arrange the foil along the edges of the pot so that there is an uncovered space in the middle, so as to allow any steam to escape.
3. Removing the scum that naturally forms in the initial cooking phase helps to create a cleaner taste for your nimono dish. Remove these impurities by using a spoon or a small, flat strainer. Rinse your utensil in a bowl of water to dislodge and wash away the scum you pick up.
About the ingredients:
Burdock root is a very long, slender, and nutritious root vegetable that is high in many vitamins. The outside is brownish, while the inside is off white. It’s available in many grocery stores, such as Whole Foods and your local Asian grocery store. Burdock root will oxidize quickly if its peeled interior is exposed to air, so keep your burdock root submerged in water while and after you peel it.
Lotus root is a yellow root vegetable with a white interior containing several holes that run the length of the root. It can be found fresh or peeled and packaged in many Asian grocery stores. To use, peel the yellow skin away (if fresh) and slice up.
Taro root is a small root vegetable that has a brown, and slightly furry exterior (I say furry, but it’s really just fine roots!) and a white interior. They are similar to potatoes, and produce a white, sticky substance when you cut into them. I’ve seen taro sold at grocery stores such as Whole Foods, so it is quite possible to find them outside of Asian stores…. Taro is generally soaked in water and/or rubbed with salt before being used. Substitute with potato.
Bamboo shoots can be found canned, dried, or fresh. They are commonly used in many Asian cuisines, from soups and curries, to stir fried and noodle dishes. In this recipe, use either canned or fresh bamboo shoots. Canned bamboo can be found in many Western and Asian grocery stores, depending on your location, and fresh bamboo can be found mostly in Asian stores.
Konnyaku is a hard, jelly-like product made from devil’s tongue yam (also called konjac yam or elephant yam). It comes in the shape of a dark, rectangular block. Konnyaku doesn’t taste like much on its own, but will take on the flavour of whatever sauce it is placed into. It also has an interesting texture. To use, cut into pieces and boil for a few minutes to get rid of its smell. Konnyaku can be bought in most Asian stores.
Makes 4-6 servings
- 2 thick carrots
- 12 inches of burdock root
- 4 – 6 shiitake mushrooms
- 1 lotus root
- 2 – 3 taro roots
- 1/2 a bamboo shoot (about 1 cup when chopped)
- 1/2 block of black konnyaku
- 8 – 10 snow peas
- 2 cups dashi stock
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp sake
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp mirin
1. Prepare the vegetables according to the following instructions:
Carrots: Peel, wash, and cut into bite size pieces using rolling wedges.
Burdock root: Peel, wash, and cut into bite size pieces using rolling wedges. Place cut burdock root into cold water with a drop of vinegar to prevent the root from discolouring.
Shiitake mushrooms: Wipe clean, and remove any hard stems. Cut in half with an angled cut.
Lotus root: Peel, wash, and cut in half length wise, and then into thin slices, about 1/4 inch (or slightly less) thick.
Taro root: Peel and cut into bite size pieces. Sprinkle with salt and rub taro between the palms of your hands until a white, gooey liquid is produced and sticks to your hands. Rinse in cold water and drain.
Bamboo shoots: Drain from water (if using canned), and cut into bite size pieces using rolling wedges.
Black konnyaku: Using a spoon, tear konnyaku into bite size pieces. Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. Add konnyaku and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from water and set aside.
Snow peas: remove the tough strings along the seams of the peas. Wash in cold water. Fill a small pot with salted water, bring to a boil, and add snow peas. Boil until cooked through but still slightly crunchy, about 30 – 60 seconds. Remove from water and place into an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Drain, cut in half crosswise at an angle, and set aside.
2. Place burdock root, shiitake mushrooms, lotus root,taro root, bamboo shoots, and konnyaku in a large pot. Add dashi stock and bring to a simmer. Skim off any fat or scum that accumulates on the surface.
3. Add sugar, and sake. Cover with a drop lid, and cook on medium-low heat for a few minutes. Add carrots and soy sauce, and stir gently to incorporate. Replace the drop lid and continue cooking until the vegetables are cooked through, about 45 minutes. Continue to skim off any fat or scum that accumulates.
4. When the liquid has almost evaporated, add mirin and snow peas, and gently toss to combine. Cover and let cool. As the dish cools, it will continue to absorb the remaining liquid.
Serve cold or slightly warmed as a side dish in a bento or with a Japanese meal.