They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. The same goes for dieting – in order to reduce kiloujoules, you generally need to sacrifice on portion size, flavour or texture. But I’d like to let you in on a secret.
One of my favourite foods has close to zero calories, a fabulous texture and is super-filling. If there’s a better food for weight loss, I haven’t found it.
Konnyaku is a starch made from the konjac root, and is used widely throughout Asia. It takes many forms depending on region, but the type I like best is when it is formed into white knot-shaped noodles, known as ita-konnyaku or shirataki noodles.
These knot-shaped noodles have little flavour on their own, but act as a sponge – soaking up the flavour of whatever they are cooked in. They also have a completely unique texture – gelatin-like and rubbery with a stronger resistance to the bite than pasta. It’s quite like calamari actually. Some people find it distasteful, but I’ve loved them since the first time I tried them, and my family do too.
My favourite way to prepare konnyaku is in Oden. This is a Japanese hot-pot dish that was first served to me by my friend Yukari, and I also ate it a few times in Tokyo as a convenience food with my friend Yukako. Like many Japanese dishes there are wide regional variations, and the version I cooked tonight is more like a Southern-Japanese version, from where Yukari was born.
Japanese Oden Hotpot with Shirataki Noodles
- 4 Cups Instant Oden Soup Stock (or make from recipe below)
- 2 Chicken thigh fillets, trimmed of fat and cut into strips
- 1/4 of large Daikon radish (or 1/2 a small one)
- 2 Carrots
- 6 boiled eggs
- 2 Potatoes
- 2 packages of shirataki noodles (ita-konnyaku)
- 4-8 Fish cakes, fried tofu or a mixture
Oden Soup Stock (Can use instant instead)
- 4 Cups Dashi stock (made by soaking konbu and bonito flakes)
- 4-5 tbsp Soy sauce
- 2 tbsp of sake, Japanese rice wine
- 1 tsp Sugar
This recipe might not be much to look at, but it is exceedingly delicious and family-friendly. I think my 2 year old fuss-pot could eat his body-weight in the stuff (and attempted to tonight). We had to drag him away from the table while he was still begging for more. I genuinely think we would have eaten until he made himself sick.
Start by boiling the eggs. These need to be hard-boiled, then peeled and added to a large stock pot or pressure cooker.
Next peel the daikon radish and cut into large pieces (3-5cm). Boil in water for 20 minutes to remove initial bitterness, then add to the pot.
Drain and rinse the konnyaku. Boil in water for 5 minutes to remove unpleasant flavour from the water it is packaged in. Add to the pot.
Peel the carrots and potatoes, chopping into large pieces, similar to the daikon. Add to the pot.
Trim the chicken thigh of as much fat as you can, slice and add to the pot.
Prepare the Oden Stock. I used instant Oden soup mix, but if you don’t read Japanese or can’t find a specialist Japanese grocery, this might be difficult to buy. Instant dashi plus the ingredients above will do just as well. Pour into the pot.
I also added another teaspoon of sugar to the instant stock because I like it particularly sweet.
I was running out of time tonight, so I used my Mum’s pressure cooker that she loaned me for the first time (without instructions!) Not sure of its vintage, but seeing as it is burnt orange I suspect the 70’s. It worked like a charm! There is going to be a lot more pressure cooking happening around here, particularly going into winter!
I have varied the recipe above to use more konnyaku and less fried tofu / fish cakes than is traditional. This makes the dish more filling for the same number of calories/kilojoules.
Shirataki noodles sold in Australia now are mostly Chinese in origin. Many Japanese people therefore prefer to use blocks of konnyaku instead, and cut slashes in the sides of the pieces to allow better flavour penetration.
Oden tastes best if it is given a chance to cool, but it never lasts that long around here. The kids were tucking into it even while it was still scorching hot. Using the above recipe there is still plenty left over for lunch the next day (when it will taste fantastic)
This is a hot-pot style dish, so you can easily substitute ingredients, particularly the vegetables if you have something different available. Do try to find some daikon though, because it is exceptionally delicious in Oden. It wouldn’t be the same without it.