Monday, May 07, 2007
Eating My Way Thinner: Hijiki Nimono
It sucks trying to eat healthier.
Because suddenly, I don't want to snack on almonds or fruit. I want cookies and chips. I don't want to simple give my pan a small drizzling of olive oil. I want to brown my food in lots and lots of butter and then deglaze the hell out of it with lots and lots of wine. I don't want whole wheat bread. I want tortillas made with lard.
I struggled with many food ideas, looking at recipes from Cooking Light and other healthy eating sources. But the more of these types of recipes I thumbed through, the less appealing they all started to sound with their reduced fat mayo or skim milk substitutions. Not that that's all bad. It's just that sometimes, especially when you're willing to make a big change like this, you want the real deal.
Which is exactly why I went knocking on Japan's culinary door for diet inspiration. I've always admired that Japanese cuisine in its truest form can be so absolutely interesting in taste, texture and presentation without being drowned in huge portions or a ton of oil and fat. I figure that it's better to satisfy myself via sensory overload than by stuffing myself, right?
Unfortunately, this eating-more-Japanese-food-business would have to exclude some of my favorite deep fried Japanese goodies such as menchi katsu, kabocha korokke, chicken karaage and kaki furai. (I'll save those for an occasional weekend treat) But with the huge variety of other healthy foods available, I think I'll be OK.
I always look forward to getting little mounds of hijiki nimono, or simmered hijiki seaweed, either at Japanese restaurants or at the prepared foods section of Mitsuwa market, so I thought, "Why not make this myself?" With a little help from Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen (a really informative book with gorgeous photos, by the way) I was one step closer to a tasty meal and a healthier physique.
Unless you've tried it yourself, it's hard to get an accurate picture of how hijiki nimono actually tastes but I'll try my best. Texture-wise, the black strips of hijiki are not nearly as thin or slippery as wakame seaweed; I think that they almost have the texture of simmered or steamed carrots with a slightly different bite, which is quite interesting given that there are shredded carrots partying right alongside the hijiki in this dish. Taste-wise, it's a little bitter-sweet, and compliments the saltiness of the soy sauce and the sweetness of the sugar and mirin that it soaks up during the cooking process very nicely. All the ingredients used in this recipe can easily be found at any Japanese or Asian market.
(adapted from Kimiko Barber's The Japanese Kitchen)
1 oz. dry hijiki seaweed
1 sheet aburage (deep fried tofu)
1/2 cup shredded carrot
3/4 cup konbu dashi (vegetarian kelp broth-see recipe below) OR water if you're short on time
4 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. mirin
-Soak the hijiki in hot water for about half hour then drain.
-Put the aburage in a strainer & pour boiling water over it to remove the oil and cut into shreds.
-Put the reconsituted hijiki, tofu shreds & carrots in a pot. Add the konbu dashi or water, soy sauce, sugar and mirin.
-Cook on low heat until all the liquid is absorbed.
Konbu Dashi (Vegetarian Kelp Broth)
1 postcard sized piece of dried konbu (kelp)
4 cups water
-Make a few tears in the konbu and soak it in the water for a several hours. That's it.
I enjoyed this delicious hijiki nimono sprinkled with a pinch of toasted sesame seeds and a little steamed rice and edamame on the side. As opposed to many of my gluttonous meals, there was no bloating afterwards, making this particular meal that much better.
Note: The United Kingdom, Canada, Hong Kong and New Zealand have all issued warnings that traces of inorganic arsenic have been found in hijiki. I'm not sure what to make of this since anything with the word "arsenic" in it is due to sound kinda unappetizing, if ya know what I mean. But I figure that a little hijiki here and there won't hurt since this type of seaweed, until recently, has always been touted for its health benefits and since Japanese people, who by the way are known for their longevity, have had hijiki in their diets for years. As with any food, moderation and variety are key. If you're curious about this whole inorganic arsenic schtick though, you can read about it here, here, here, or here.