Meatless Nikujaga & Green Beans with Miso Beef Sauce
The truth is, making a post on my blog requires some organization skills on my part. Each vegetable variety that we grow in our garden has its prime period, and arranging the timing to harvest, cook, photograph and write all about the abundance isn’t that easy! So once a particular kind of vegetable(s) needs to be harvested, I have to pick it and go all the way to the end of the journey to finally create a post about it. However, quite often, I have found myself starting to gather the luscious food, down on my knees in the dirt, and get struck by an idea to write about; after a series of trials, errors and minor adjustments (both in cooking and photographing), my recipe/ post is finally complete. Sometimes, I don’t have the same vegetables left to do the second or third trial, so I just have to wait till the next season for the recipe!
Luckily, this dish has been in my repertoire for a long time. So there was no fuss adjusting the recipe, but I did have to finally write about it on paper, (it was previously embedded in my brain without a written recipe). Nikujaga literally means “meat potatoes,” and in Japanese cuisine it is often accompanied with a good bottle of sake, beer or wine as a starter. I bet if you ask 10 Japanese people to cook Nikujaga, you will get 10 different versions with 10 different flavours and finished textures. My recipe goes all the way back to when I was 20 years old, and is based on a recipe that I learned from my superior, Ms. Tsukazaki, who was an exceptional cook.
This recipe is excellent without meat, but you can add sliced beef, pork or, in a pinch, ground beef as you wish. The catch is to source the freshest potatoes and carrots that just came out of the field. Although Nikujaga is cooked all year round with stored vegetables, it’s a joy to taste the freshest produce. I remember my grandma was making it when the summer’s hot heat withdrew and the late evening light was shining on her in the kitchen. The good thing is it is super easy and all you need are good ingredients and a braiser!
Also written here is a “go to” recipe for when I have too many freshly picked beans in a short time. If you are interested in easy Japanese home cooking, it may be a good time for you to get a bottle of Japanese soy sauce, mirin and a tub of miso once and for all! These dishes are some of the simplest options for your next Japanese-themed dinner party!
I like using small potatoes, as they keep their shapes after being braised for a long time.
3 heaping cups starchy potatoes (or Yukon Gold), cut into 1 inch cubes if big
2 cups carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
A few young green beans, cut into 1 inch lengths
2 large onions, cut into 8 wedges
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup sake or dry white wine
1 cup water or dashi stock (it will be tasty even without dashi stock)
1 tablespoon soba sauce (store bought or homemade, or none if you don’t have any)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
Wash the potatoes well. You can peel the potatoes, but it´s not necessary. Do the same for the carrots. Pat the vegetables dry using a tea towel, etc., and remove the moisture completely.
Place the oil in a large braiser over high heat. When the oil is smoking hot, fry the potatoes until they become golden, making sure all the sides are nicely coloured, for about 10 to 12 minutes. This will help the potatoes keep their shapes during and after braising, rather than having them break into pieces.
Pour over the sake or wine, still on high heat, and let the alcohol dissipate for a few minutes; let the potatoes soak up the liquid.
Add carrots and onions, and sauté until onions become transparent and carrots are completely coated with oil. If you are adding meat, follow the carrots and onions, and just sauté until the meat turns its colour.
Add water and bring to a boil; in the meantime, skim the scum as necessary. Turn the heat down to medium low, then add the soba sauce and sugar, and cook for a few minutes covered. Lastly, add the soy sauce and braise it covered, until the potatoes are tender. If you run out of the liquid before the potatoes become tender, add a little bit of water at a time. This is the reason why I adore my braiser, whose lid recycles all the goodness back to the vegetables so it never runs out of the juice!
Add the green beans and continue to cook, covered, until the beans are tender, for a few minutes.
To finish, add the mirin and braise for a few more minutes, covered. If you use sweet wine, the finished dish tends to be on a bit on the sweeter side. So this is the time to adjust with a little bit more soy, if you wish. If you do, braise for a couple more minutes.
Now you might have thick starchy sauce, not clear liquid, and this is what you want to have. Serve hot.
Green Beans with Miso Beef Sauce
A big bunch of green beans, ends removed (I used Fortex, the French pole beans)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small knob ginger, finely chopped
2 chili peppers, such as Thai Dragon, seeds removed and finely sliced in rounds
½ onion, finely chopped
1 lb ground beef
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons miso, preferably aka (red) miso or hatcho miso
3 tablespoons sake or dry white wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
Combine the sugar, soy, miso and sake in a small mixing bowl, and mix well. Set aside.
Boil water in a large pot that can accommodate the beans. In the meantime, heat a large frying pan over medium high heat and warm both oils.
Stir-fry the garlic, ginger and peppers in the pan until it gives off a pleasing aroma, and the garlic becomes slightly golden. Then, add the onion and continue to sauté until the onion is transparent. Add the beef and sauté, and when the beef’s colour has turned, add the miso mixture and continue to sauté to let the beef soak up the sauce, for about 5 to 7 minutes.
In the meantime, add some salt to the boiling water and cook the beans until tender. Drain well and set aside.
Combine the cornstarch and water in a small mixing bowl, and stir until emulsified. Add to the sizzling hot beef mixture. If you find your beef mixture is on the drier side, add the cornstarch mixture a tablespoon at a time and see if you need more to meet the saucy consistency.
Serve the beans on a large platter and pour over the beef sauce. Serve warm.