Tonight I tried a variation on the Japanese dish niku-jaga. Niku-jaga means “meat and potatoes.” It is made by simmering thinly sliced beef with potatoes, onions, and carrots in a sweet, soy sauce-based broth. The resulting stew is often served with rice. Although it is delicious, the combination of potatoes and rice doesn’t provide a lot of nutrition, so I thought I would add kabocha. With its potato-like texture and sweet flavor, it fit right in. The green skin of the kabocha also adds a hint of color to the dish. I also add shirataki, noodles made from konyaku. Gunma prefecture is known for its fine konyaku, which adds an interesting texture and becomes nicely flavored with the sauce. Konyaku is also know as a good diet food because it can fill you up, but provides only about 5 calories per 100 grams. Although many people dislike the block-shaped konyaku, you might find that the noodles are more enjoyable for your palate. If you can’t find konyaku or you just don’t like it, feel free to leave it out.
1 large potato, peeled and sliced in half lengthwise, then sliced in 1/2 inch half-moons
1 medium carrot (or half of a giant Japanese carrot), sliced into 1/4 inch rounds or half-moons
1 yellow onion, 1/4 inch slices (I slice these radially, that is, from the stem to root end instead of crosswise)
1/4 kabocha cut into chunks, about 3/4 inches in each direction
100 to 200 grams thinly sliced beef (or pork)
1 package (200 grams) shirataki (konyaku noodles)
1 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons sake
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Drain the liquid from the shirataki noodles and rinse thoroughly. Although the liquid has a strong smell, it goes away when the noodles are cooked. Blanch the noodles briefly with boiling water. This step is called “aku-nuki” and it helps to remove the stink from the liquid in the package. Using a pair of scissors, cut the noodles into approximately 6 inch lengths. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Add about 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil, then brown the meat. Remove the meat and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the remaining vegetable oil and the onions. Cook the onions until they have softened a bit and are lightly browned. Add the carrot, potato, kabocha, and shirataki noodles and return the meat to the pan. Add the water, soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Stir everything together. The vegetables should be nearly covered with the liquid (it is ok if some of them are sticking out, just stir them around occasionally to make sure everything gets a turn in the sauce). If the liquid does not come nearly to the same height as the vegetables, you can add more water, soy sauce, sake, and sugar in the same proportions. Simmer everything together for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Be careful not to overcook or boil too vigorously, or the vegetables may fall apart.