Some news: we’re moving back to Hawaii this week. I lived there from 2001 to 2008, and met my wife Janey there in 2002. Even though it’s been over 11 years since we left, and I spent my first 20 years in Washington state, I still consider Hawaii home. I wrote a little about what this state means to me a few years ago, in my Hawaii Oxtail Soup recipe. Janey is especially excited to get back to her hometown, and to spend time with friends and relatives we’ve only seen a precious few times during our years away. The boys will be going to the same schools their mother attended as a child, and they’re pretty stoked, too.
So to celebrate this return to home, I’m sharing my mother-in-law’s Nishime (vegetable stew) recipe. To be honest, when we lived there, my wife and I weren’t huge fans of this dish — its earthy and subdued flavors are a far cry from the savory, sweet, and crunchy delights you can find out in town. But since moving away we’ve come to appreciate the comforting warmth that Nishime can impart.
Note that this recipe is difficult to make without access to a local Japanese grocery store. For example, nishime kombu is a softer version of the more popular dashi kombu seaweed you can find in most asian markets, but is not sold online. Similarly, fresh burdock root (gobo) can only be found in person. And finally, you’ll want to find a block of konnyaku (the same material used to make shirataki noodles), which is not easy to find online either. All this is not meant to dissuade you from trying this recipe — far from it — but to let you know that this is a hard recipe to replicate if you don’t have access to a Japanese grocer. And because of its simple seasoning (just a bit of dashi, tamari, and honey), each of the ingredients are pretty important to get that signature nishime flavor (although there is a bit of wiggle room here — losing an ingredient or two won’t break the dish).
I’ll be taking the next two weeks off from posting while we move everything from Virginia to Hawaii. Hope you have a happy holidays and see you after the New Year.
Nishime - Japanese Vegetable Stew (Gluten-free)
2oz kombu (nishime kombu preferred)
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 ½ lbs pork belly or boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1” pieces
1 ½ cups dashi stock (see note below) or chicken stock
6oz konnyaku, cut into 1” pieces (see note below)
¼ cup tamari or light soy sauce
¼ cup honey
1 cup prepared bamboo shoots, cut into 1” pieces
2 carrots (about ¼ lb), peeled and cut into 1” pieces
4oz inari or aburaage (fried tofu), cut into 1″ pieces
1 stalk gobo (burdock root), peeled and sliced on a bias into ¼” thick slices (about 1 cup sliced, soak in water once sliced)
1 lb araimo (Japanese taro), taro, or white sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
1. In a large mixing bowl, add the kombu and mushrooms; cover with cool water and soak until softened, about 2 hours, retaining ½ cup of the water you soaked them in. Slice the mushrooms into ½” slices, then set aside. Tear the kombu into strips if larger than 3” wide, then tie into knots every 2” along each strip. Cut between the knots and set aside.
2. Warm a stockpot over medium heat. Add the pork belly and brown until the pork is golden brown and has rendered about 2 tbsp fat, about 8 minutes, turning the pork every 2 minutes (if using chicken, add 1 tbsp of lard or avocado oil to the pot before adding the chicken).
3. Add the dashi, kombu, mushroom, konnyaku, and the kombu and mushroom water. Bring to a simmer, cover, and reduce heat to medium-low; simmer for 15 minutes. Gently stir in the tamari, honey, bamboo, carrots, inari, and burdock; simmer for another 15 minutes. Add the araimo and simmer until everything is tender, about 15 more minutes. Season with salt to taste, then serve.
*** Simple dashi recipe: Combine 4 cups of water and 2 pieces of kombu seaweed to a stockpot and soak for 30 minutes. Bring the water to boil over high heat, then add two handfuls of bonito flakes and remove from heat. Let steep for 10 minutes, then strain the solids out. If you don’t have time to make your own dashi stock, look for a dashi powder that is free of MSG and additives.
*** It’s hard to find konnyaku online — you can get it through Japanese grocers online, but that’s about it. If you live near a Japanese market, they may have it in stock (or be willing to special order some for you). Because it has a long shelf life (about a year), you can also buy it in bulk to reduce the pain of tracking it down.