Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Simmered Veggies and Chikuwa Bento Box

The chilly weather has brought on cravings for warm and comfortable home cooking. One of my most vivid kitchen memories of my mom is cooking nishime. Having the responsibility of turning the konnyaku slices into cute little twists was a thrilling sense of accomplishment for me.
There are many nishime recipes online from which you can choose. I don't have a recommendation except try to avoid using too much sugar in the broth. You can opt for a more traditonal stew using Japanese taro and gobo or go with basic root vegetables like carrots and potatoes. It's home cooking so choose your favorites. My nishime, like my mother's, is a little different each time, with various combinations of root vegetables and onions. Sometimes to my disappointment, there's a substitution by using shirataki noodles instead of twisted konnyaku slices. I believe the core of the dish is the broth. The usual dashi, soy sauce and mirin combination is fool proof for bringing out the best flavors of this dish. Again, I usually skip the sugar and rely on carrots to sweeten the dish. My favorite ingredient is the konbu, which by tradition is tied in a tight little knot before placed in the pot. Simply delicious. For a bento box lunch, I recommend packing only the solid pieces unless you use a thermos type box with leak proof seal.

The nishime in this bento box is chikuwa (broiled fish tube) stuffed with carrot, konnyaku twists, turnips, gobo (burdock), potato and mushrooms. I was out of konbu strips for knotting, so I added chopped wakame. It wasn't quite the same but still tasty.