I try to keep my daughter’s lunches colorful – and I rummage through the refrigerator trying to find the right combination of vegetables to ensure her bento box has balance and variety.
I found by making nimono, or simmered dishes during the week, I can meet my self-imposed “color” requirement.
Growing up, the smell of simmering dashi, soy sauce and vegetables was very comforting. Over the years, I’ve done variations on various vegetables, meats and fish. This time, I made a dish with the following:
- Bamboo Shoot
- Organic Carrots
- Shiitake Mushroom
- Thinly sliced ginger
- Dashi – made with shiitake, soy sauce, mirin
The bamboo shoot I purchased from the Japanese store came vacuum packed, and in water. It was already boiled and processed. It was conical in shape – about four inches from the top to the bottom. The widest part of the bamboo shoot is about the same size as a 28 ozs can of crushed tomatoes.
I took the shoot, rinsed it off well in cool water, and cut it in half, lengthwise. I set one half aside to use for another dish. I then proceeded to cut the bamboo shoot further into eighths. I then cut across these pieces across their grain, resulting in fan-shaped pieces, each about 1/4 inch thick.
I rinsed and peeled the carrots, and cut them diagonally, into 1/4 inch thick pieces, but about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long.
The Konnyaku comes in a vacuum packed, water filled package, a little larger than a 4 x 6 inch index card. I cut the package open, drained the water, and rinsed the Konnyaku block under running cold water. Konnyaku is something I would be hesitant to try on a first encounter. It is grayish in color with small black bits (almost like sediment) throughout the block, and has the consistency of something we would find in a Children’s exploration museum under the heading “Texture.” Thankfully, I grew up eating this, and besides the comfort factor, it’s extremely healthy – no fat, low-calorie, and high in fiber. My parents always swore by its characteristic as the “sweeper of the intestine,” as we picked through a huge pot of Oden on a cold, winter night for our favorite oden parts. I always asked for braised daikon, konnyaku and a boiled egg – the daikon meltingly soft and the egg colored a beautiful tea color – all items tasting deliciously of the dashi soup they’ve been bathing in for hours.
I cut the Konnyaku in half, and save for another dish. I take the other half, and tear it into bite size pieces. Again, my mother always said, tearing the pieces provided more surface for the konnyaku to come into contact with the simmering stock, and would be more flavorful.
I added two handfuls of pre-cut shiitake into a medium-sized sauce pan, and fill with about 4 cups of filtered water. If you only have whole shiitake, use about three to four medium-sized ones. I love the flavor of shiitake, so I tend to use more shiitake if available.
I heat the water with shiitake to almost a boil, and then lower the heat. I put the lid on the water, and set aside for 10 – 15 minutes to reconstitute the mushrooms, as well as coax out as much flavor into the broth.
Once the mushrooms are rehydrated, I squeeze out every bit of liquid, and if whole, cut them into pieces about 1/4 inch thick, and set aside.
I then add the following:
1/4 cup soy sauce – I use Kikkoman Organic Soy sauce
1 tbs mirin (or more if needed)
2 tbs katsuobushi, or shaved bonito
I take a small piece of ginger, about 3/4 inches long, peel, and cut into very thin slices
Pinch of salt
I then add all the ingredients into the pot, add the lid, and set to simmer on low – medium heat for about 30 – 45 minutes. I keep the temperature at a simmer, but hot enough to cook the carrots. I set the timer for every 10 minutes, and check often, ensuring all the items are covered in the liquid. I also adjust the seasoning – since the liquid cooks down, I will add water or other seasoning to ensure it does not become too salty or strong.
I know the dish is done when the carrots are tender (but not falling apart), and the other items are infused with the savory, and complex taste of the dashi.
I usually serve this as a side dish to a meal with steamed rice, miso soup, and possibly grilled fish. Sanma with grated daikon and soy sauce during the fall season please!