The hubby and I had very different childhoods but for some reason we have very similar tastes in food and my comfort food has become his comfort food. While it’s true that I do make ~80% of the food that he eats making him essentially a captive audience, there are other dishes we eat that never go from good to fulfilling a craving like this one can. I suspect part of it is because of the clear yet simple flavors coupled with the hearty homeyness of food that’s been simmered in umami-filled broth. There’s just something about stewed food that makes you feel like all is right in the world, a world full of tender starchy potatoes and sweet carrots that have soaked up the cooking broth, imbuing them with amazing flavor that is. Stewed dishes or 煮物 nimono are very popular in Japan to the extent that they’ve got the methods and even vegetable preparations down to an art, maximizing flavor while minimizing cooking time. Traditionally this dish is made with meat and called 肉じゃが nikujaga (“meat and potato” stew) but I often prefer it without meat and substitute 稲荷揚げ inariage and 枝豆 edamame for the protein component. Even though they’re both made with soy beans, inariage provides a sweetly savory taste from the soy sauce, mirin, and dashi stock it’s seasoned with while the edamame beans give you more of a nutty flavor with some welcome texture since everything else is so tender from being simmered in the broth. Besides the delicious savory taste from the briny dashi stock, darkly salty soy sauce, and sweet smooth mirin, one of the great perks of nimono is that they’re very low fat and low calorie. Based on my estimates, 1 serving contains approximately 434 calories (if served with 1 c steamed rice, you won’t need much rice since you already have the starch from those broth-infused potatoes), 8.5 g protein 6.2 g fiber, 2.6 g fat, 105% of the RDA for vitamin A, 45% vitamin C, and 17% iron. (As you may have noticed, I haven’t been including the nutritional information for my recipes lately cuz I’m still not happy with my nutritional calculator but also cuz it’s no small amount effort for me to hand calculate and since no one has mentioned whether they use this information ….)
Different cuts for different cooks:
1) 面取り mentori is basically beveling any sharp edges on vegetables that you’ll be boiling or simmering. Why lose bits of those yummy veggies and take the extra time to bevel? Once again you’re minimally increasing the surface area but more importantly, your creating an edge that won’t crumble off as those lovely potatoes bump against everything while they’re simmering turning your clear broth into a murky one. This is mainly an aesthetic cut but it also allows you to have truly tender potatoes without them crumbling and turning to mush on you or turning your crystal clear broth cloudy and gritty 😕
2) 乱切り rankiri or rangiri (chaos or disorderly cut) is a method of cutting irregularly shaped vegetables like carrots or burdock root into triangular wedges that have the same volume thereby allowing them to cook at the same rate and is mainly used for boiling or simmering. You’ll also hear this referred to as “cutting in rotation” cuz by rotating your cut at 70-90 degree angles (personal preference as to the actual angle) you create a wedge cut. I usually half the fat part of the carrot lengthwise before making wedge cuts but the thinner pointy end can be wedged in its entirety giving you cuts that look different but have the same volume, ensuring that they take the same cooking time. This shape also increases the surface area so your veggies will cook faster as well as absorb more of that scrumptious broth. w00t.
3) If you do a lot of simmering or braising in liquid, an 落とし蓋 otoshibuta (drop-lid) will seem like it’s been invented just for you. Traditionally these are wood and you can still buy wooden ones at your local Japanese market. I prefer the lighter perforated metal or plastic ones that perform the same function, lightly pressing down on your food so that it stays submerged in the liquid thus cooking faster.
succumbed to adorable temptation added a silicone pig one with steam venting nostrils (besides the extra weight and price–wood ones are twice the price of metal or plastic, another reason why I don’t like the wood ones is that they have to be soaked before use otherwise that thirsty wood will suck up your savory broth which means they can warp over time from the soaking and drying, as well as when steam builds up it will rock). [eep!] You can also jerry-rig your own otoshibuta by drilling some holes into a round tupperware lid and stringing a loop with butcher’s twine through two holes in the center to make it easier to lift off simmering liquid.
4) So why a pig nostrilled lid? In addition to a love for all things 可愛い kawaii (cute), the Japanese language has many homophones, words that sound the same but have different spellings and meanings. An example in English would be “sight” (vision), “site” (a location), and “cite” (to reference something). 落とし蓋 otoshibuta literally means “drop lid” but the “buta” part can also mean another word, “pig.” Needless to say, a lot of Japanese humor and jokes are based on wordplay or comedic skits where one person is talking about building a bridge 橋 hashi but the second person is wondering why the first person is struggling to make their own chopsticks 箸 also pronounced hashi 😀
2 c 昆布出し kombudashi stock
2 tbsp light soy sauce (I like Yamasa)
2 tbsp 本みりん mirin
3-4 large shiitake mushrooms, stemmed with a shallow X cut across the cap allowing the yummy broth to soak into it
1 small sweet onion, cut in half lengthwise
3 large carrots, peeled and in 1-inch lengths
3-4 waxy boiling potatoes (I used red potatoes), peeled and in 1 1/2-inch cubes
8 pieces 稲荷揚げ inariage, julienned
1/2 c 枝豆 edamame, shelled
1/2 c frozen green peas
In a large donabe or 4 quart pot with the lid off bring dashi stock, soy sauce, mirin, shiitake, and onion to boil. Add carrots and briskly simmer till softened but still firm ~10 minutes. Cover with 落とし蓋 otoshibuta if using. Discard onion and add potatoes then briskly simmer till the potatoes are easily pierced with a fork or chopstick ~15 minutes. The liquid should be reduced by 1/2 at this point. Add inariage and edamame and simmer for another 2 minutes. Stir in frozen peas and simmer for 1 minute then turn off heat. Using a slotted spoon, spoon veggies and inariage over rice and top with 2-3 tbsp of broth. I like to use only 2/3-1 c of rice since there are already potatoes in the stew. Makes 6-8 servings.