knits by sachi

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Konnyaku noodles?

Mum used to wear a head scarf like this when I was very young. I had completely forgotten about such a thing, but recently, the image just popped up in my head.

How funny, these distant memories are coming back to me.

My son is back from Uni for the summer holidays. It is so nice to have him around again. I have been cooking Japanese food every day, including his favorite ‘Niku jaga’ dish.

I learned Japanese home cooking mostly from recipe books, however, Niku jaga is one of few I learned from Mum. I still cook her way. The recipe is here.

She hardly ever used measuring spoons or cups and always went ‘about this much’ as she showed me the cooking method. She added less seasoning than you think you would need and adjust the taste at the end. That works the best.

To make Niku jaga, you can get all ingredients from local supermarket except one, Konnyaku.

Konnyaku is a mysterious food. it is made from the pounded roots of a yam-like plant called konjac. It is jelly-like and has almost no calories, no sugar, and no fat. It contains 90 per cent water. And much of the remaining 10 per cent is made up of glucomannan – a soluble fibre. We consider it a healthy food. The Japanese call it broom of the stomach because it does a great job of cleaning out your small intestines.

In recent years in western countries, it started to gain popularity as a diet aid. There are two different types of konnyaku; block or noodles. The one we see in the UK is marketed as low-calorie noodles.

I have seen it at health food shops and supermarkets but never occurred to me to use it for my Japanese cooking.I always bought konnyaku from a Chinese supermarket. I recently watched a diet special featuring these noodles and suddenly, the idea just came to me.

And it worked! The texture is similar enough and I could use this diet noodles for my cooking. My boys couldn’t tell much difference from our usual stuff. I am very pleased because we love konnyaku.

Such a easy cooking!

When you using konnyaku or kojac based ingredients, it is better to rinse it with hot water before cooking. Konnyaku has a distinct smell which isn’t too attractive, but rinsing it certainly helps and once it is been cooked, you will not smell anything at all.

I am not too sure how everyone else eats these noodles. Eat like pasta with sauce? But we know our favorite way and that is all that matters.

Last time when we visited Japan, my dad cooked ‘sukiyaki’ for us. Sukiyaki is another way to enjoy konnyaku noodles. Dad doesn’t usually cook and we had to call mum in a hospital several times, but boys said that was the best meal we had during the visit. Now she is gone and we need to manage on our own next time. I am sure we will be just fine.

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Japanese cooking made very easy.

My little knitted chef.
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I cook Japanese everyday, well, almost every day. I do prepare Western style meals as pasta, pizza or our country’s favorite, baked potatoes, but most days, I cook Japanese.

When I tell that to my Briton friends, they seem to be very impressed. Maybe they are imagining sushi and tempura or these dainty dish with exotic ingredients you see on Master chef as Japanese cookery. But in fact, we have a variety of dish you can easily cook at home. Japanese food can be made easy and inexpensive.

All you need is the basic seasoning.

In Japanese cooking there are 5 basic seasonings ingredients which are essential in most Japanese cooking. They are: SATO (砂糖) Sugar, SHIO (塩) Salt, SU (酢) Vinegar, SEUYU (醤油) Soy Sauce, MISO (味噌) Miso. It is called Sa(さ) Shi(し) Su(す) Se(せ) So(そ) of seasoning, which is the “s” row of the phonetic alphabets (hiragana and katakana) in Japanese.

So, basically, if you season your food with some of these seasonings, you get Japanese food no matter what ingredients you use to cook. Simple.

I show you one of the easy and very well loved dish called Niku-jaga (meat and potato).

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It is a dish of meat, potatoes and onion stewed in sweetened soy sauce. Generally, potatoes make up the bulk of the dish, with meat mostly serving as a source of flavor.
Thinly sliced beef is the most common meat used, although minced/ground beef is also popular. Pork is often used instead of beef in eastern Japan.

It seems each family has their own version of Niku-jaga recipe. I use the stir-fry meat since you cannot get thinly sliced meat at supermarket in UK. If you are a vegetarian, you can omit the meat all together.
It is a very relaxed home cooking dish which doesn’t require accurate measuring or weighing, but here is the guidance. You can control the seasonings as you like.

3 medium sized potatoes, about 350 g cut into chunks
1 medium onion, thickly sliced
1/2 carrot cut into chunks
a few mangetout or green beans (optional)
150g meat
2 tbsp soy sauce
1tbsp rice wine if you have
2 tsp sugar
2tsp vegetable oil
a pinch or two salt to taste

Heat a pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the oil, and fry onions until translucent. Add the meat and stir-fry until cooked through. Add the potatoes, carrots and continue stir-frying for about 3 minutes.
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Add sugar, soy sauce, rice wine and 2 tbsp of water and simmer, partially covered for 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender and the carrots and potatoes are cooked.
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This is a simple, one-pot-dish. I know some people cook with a lot of liquid, adding about 2/3 cup of water, but I grew up with this recipe and comfortable with this method. I like it less watery and prefer to steam ingredients rather than boil them. Add more water if you think you need to cook through the ingredients.
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Add the green beans and cook uncovered until they are cooked through.

I like adding a bit of ginger to it. I also add soft boiled egg at the end.

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We serve it with steamed rice. This dish is nice hot or cold.
When I am lucky to have a bit of left over the next day, I bake it in the oven or mash it all up and make it into croquettes.

See, it is so easy.

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