The nights are drawing in, and since September my menus have been gradually changing to counteract the chillier weather. More and more, I’ve been turning to those knobbly, underground, secretive vegetables – the ones we always abandon around April and rediscover towards Christmas. This time around, I’m also unearthing the meanings behind homely Japanese dishes such as shigure-ni and takikomi-gohan. Also featured in this post is a sweet treat I brought back from Japan to share with you – but don’t worry, it still fits with the root vegetable theme!
- butaniku to yasai no shigure-ni / pork belly and root vegetable stew
- takikomi-gohan / variety rice
- miso soup with aubergines and chives – previously featured here
- radish misozuke – previously featured here
- kimpira parsnip / soy-simmered parsnip
- BONUS SHOW & TELL: murasaki-imo yōkan / sweet potato jelly
As always, read on for more details and cooking tips.
butaniku to yasai no shigure-ni
I gathered a while ago that -ni (煮), in recipes at least, fairly reliably translates as ‘simmered’. Sometimes it is helpfully attached to a word that tells you the type of flavouring used in the simmering liquid. For example, miso-ni (味噌煮) is simmered with added miso, and shōga-ni (生姜煮) with added ginger. So, what kind of fancy seasoning is shigure (時雨)? Look it up in a dictionary and you get ‘drizzle; shower in late autumn’. Puzzled? I was. Then I found out it’s also a poetic way of saying ‘soy sauce’!
Most recipes for this dish use a very liberal amount of soy sauce, offset with a goodly spiking of ginger. The finished dish can look very dark, and being very richly flavoured, it usually seems to be served in quite small quantities. As you can tell from the colour of my shigure-ni, I was more conservative with the seasoning! If you’re attempting this yourself, I would advise adding the soy sauce to the stock a little at a time, and stopping when you’re comfortable with the colour and strength. For more details on cooking Japanese-style simmered dishes, check out this old post of mine, which covers the basic principles!
This is a favourite at home, and it lends itself to endless variations. Takikomi-gohan, in case you’re wondering, means something like ‘rice cooked with a load of stuff’- and it’s quite fun to say! To make it, simply prepare a small selection of extra ingredients before cooking your rice: very finely julienned carrots, finely sliced green beans, mushrooms and the like. Mix these raw into the rice in your rice cooker. Then, in place of water, add cold dashi (or other light stock) with a few drops of mirin and soy sauce. Depending on your rice cooker, you may wish to use a tiny bit less liquid than usual. Too much soy and mirin may cause scorching, so err on the side of caution here. Set the rice cooker to cook on its usual setting. The result will be an interesting bowl of rice with lots of added colour, flavour, and nutrients. If you love Japanese white rice but feel guilty about eating plain white carbs all the time, this dish is a great compromise. The same method really suits Japanese brown rice, if you’re that way inclined…
This dish was a twofold victory for me. On one hand, I was able to shelve my longing for gobō, a hard-to-find Japanese vegetable; on the other hand, I managed to conquer my wariness of a common, and often disappointing, British one. As it happens, the fibrous texture of parsnip mimics that of gobō (a.k.a. greater burdock) pretty closely. So closely, in fact, that my wife thought this salty-sweet kimpira was virtually indistinguishable from classic kimpira gobō. High praise indeed. Just a quick steam followed by a brief simmer with sugar and soy sauce is enough to soften finely shredded parsnip and impart the punchy seasoning it needs.
BONUS SHOW & TELL: murasaki-imo yōkan
This traditional Japanese sweet, yōkan, is a firm, translucent jelly made from sugar and bean paste. In this case, it is flavoured with murasaki-imo, a variety of purple-hued sweet potato. As you can see, it comes in a compact block, which makes it very easily transportable and therefore a great souvenir. You can slice and share it once unpackaged, but I went for big greedy cubes. It’s excellent with green tea, which is traditionally how it’s enjoyed. Keep a look out for it!