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Think of this basic nimono recipe as the Japanese version of a vegetable soup… where you take out and eat only the vegetables! Earthy and sweet, it’s also great for meats and firmer seafood like squid, prawns and octopus. And really, really, really, nimono is simply “boiled things”, so use your imagination and expand beyond the variations suggested here. This is your chance to let seasonal foods shine.

Lotus root, mountain potato, carrot and shiitake mushroom nimono

Ingredients: (Serves 4)

Broth:

  • 2 cups water
  • Scant 1 tsp. dashi powder*
  • 2 Tbsp. shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 2 Tbsp. mirin
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar

*amount varies by brand – check the label and follow directions

Vegetables:

  • 2 cups (total): renkon (lotus root), carrot, potato, shiitake mushrooms (fresh or dried)

Method:

  1. Prepare the vegetables. Peel the carrot, potato and renkon. Slice the lotus root into 4-5mm rounds and chop the potato and carrot into large, 2-bite-worthy chunks.
  2. Throw everything into the pot and bring it to a boil. Make sure there is enough stock to nearly cover the vegetables (it’s okay if some them peek out above the liquid). Cover and bring it all to a boil on medium heat.
  3. Simmer gently. Once boiling, immediately reduce the heat and simmer very gently for about 10 – 15 minutes, or until the firmest vegetables are cooked through.

Good to know

  • Nimono tastes best if you can adjust the broth to match your key ingredients. To avoid overpowering lighter fish and non-root vegetables (like snap peas, eggplant and cabbage) reduce shoyu, mirin,and sugar to 1 Tbsp. each. You can always add more of each to taste.
  • If using dried shiitake mushrooms, you’ll need to reconstitute them before they’re ready to cut. Simply place the dried mushrooms in a bowl, pour in enough boiling water to cover and leave for 20 minutes – several hours before you start the dish. You can reserve the liquid and use it to supplement the water in your broth for extra flavour.

Nimono Variations

 Nikujaga (Meat and Potato):

Funny that “meat and potatoes” is perhaps the quintessential Japanese home-cooking dish. It ranks consistently as one of the top 10 preferred dishes in Japan.

Use equal parts potatoes (peeled and cut into large pieces) and beef, sliced paper thin (buy sukiyaki or shabu shabu style beef). Follow the basic recipe, simmering for about 15 minutes or until potatoes are cooked through.

Takenoko (Bamboo shoot) and Chicken

Use equal parts takenoko and chicken thigh meat. Cut both into bite-sized pieces. The base of the takenoko is tougher and more fibrous than the very tender tip, so cut thinner slices (5-6mm) at the bottom, and gradually make pieces larger, until the tip piece, which can be 3 – 4 cm long. These are both light-flavoured foods, so simmer in a light broth – use only 1 Tbsp each of shoyu, mirin, and sugar to start, and adjust to taste.

Ebi (Prawns)

If you or your guests are squeamish about shrimp heads, then go ahead and peel and devein before cooking, but the real deal is cooked as is. Simply wash the prawns thoroughly, and pop them into the stock

Wash and cut the squid into bite-sized pieces (prawns can be cooked whole and in or out of their shell) before adding to stock ingredients and bringing to a boil. Simmer covered in a lightly flavoured stock until just cooked through (a few minutes is sufficient). This type of chewy seafood can be cooked a day ahead and kept stored in the stock in the fridge for maximum flavour. Serve chilled.

Kabocha Squash with Katsuobushi topping

The thick, green outer skin of kabocha squash can be eaten, so just give it a good wash before cutting it up into two to three-bite pieces. Follow the basic recipe and simmer until the squash is cooked through, but not yet mushy. Remove from the hot broth so that it doesn’t overcook, and spoon on a little broth just before serving. Top with katsuobushi flakes, and watch the heat of the squash make them wave goodbye before they disappear in your belly.

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Mark's Vegetable nimono - Robert Shaer (rob.shaer@gmail.com)


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