季節の移ろいを感じる栗甘露煮 Changing Seasons and Chestnuts

Last week, I wrote that I want to get my fill of fall ingredients while I still can, because once the fall is over, I will have to wait a whole year before I can eat them again. If I had to choose one fall ingredient that I would like to enjoy one last time, it would be chestnuts!

Unfortunately, fresh chestnuts have already disappeared from the stores! However, I was able to find these candied chestnuts, which are an important ingredient in a special New Year’s recipe called kuri kinton (mashed sweet potato mixed with candied chestnuts). 

Since we still have more than a month to go before New Year’s holidays, it’s a little too early to make kuri kinton, but when I found this interesting recipe in my first Japanese cookbook, I knew just what I would do with my candied chetnuts! 

This is a variation on nikujaga (meat simmered with potatoes), which uses taro root instead of potatoes, and adds candied chestnuts to sweeten the simmering liquid. The recipe also calls for fresh shiitake mushrooms, and since I didn’t have quite enough taro root, I threw in some carrots as well.

After peeling and parboiling the taro root to get rid of some of the sliminess, I cut one clove of garlic in half and fried it in 2 tablespoons of oil until fragrant, then added 250 grams of thin-sliced beef.

Once the meat was cooked through, I added the taro root, carrots and shiitake mushrooms, and continued frying for a bit before adding 500 milliliters of water. 

Once it came to a boil, I skimmed off the scum, and added 2 tablespoons of sake, put on a drop lid, and simmered it on medium low for 12 minutes. 

The I added 1 and a half tablespoons of both sugar and candied chestnut syrup, and continued simmering for another 2 minutes. Next I added 3 and a half tablespoons of soy sauce, and simmered until the liquid had reduced to about one quarter.  

Finally, I added the candied chestnuts, and continued simmering for another 4 minutes, spooning the simmering liquid over the meat and vegetables. 

After arranging the meat and vegetables in a bowl, I spooned over a little of the simmering liquid, and sprinkled on some thin-sliced green onions. (I love the Christmas colors!)

For a side dish, I still had some Chinese cabbage and yuzu left in the fridge, so I decided to make this simple dish of vegetables pickled in salt.

I only had about 400 grams of Chinese cabbage left, so I reduced all the ingredients by half. Besides Chinese cabbage and yuzu, all I needed was dried konbu seaweed and salt!

I cut up the Chinese cabbage, tossed it with half a tablespoon of salt, then added thin strips of konbu seaweed and thinly sliced yuzu on top. The recipe says to put a 1 kilogram weight on top to press the cabbage down, but since I don’t have a weight, I used a plate and a big bowl filled with water to weigh it down instead. 

In hindsight, I would have cut the Chinese cabbage into smaller pieces, and used a little more salt, but all in all, it was pretty good – light and crunchy with the fresh flavor of yuzu! 

For another side dish, I had some fresh (not dried) wakame seaweed in the fridge, so I chose this wakame stir fry recipe. 

I didn’t have enough wakame to make this dish exactly as the recipe is written, so I added some enoki mushrooms for volume. After thinly slicing a clove of garlic and 10 grams of ginger, I fried them in 1 tablespoon of sesame oil until fragrant. Then I added the wakame and enoki mushrooms and continued frying until the mushrooms became tender. Finally I added one tablespoon of seasoned soy sauce and a little salt for flavor, and tossed in 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds. 

Actually, I think it turned out even better with the enoki mushrooms added in!

Tasting the candied chestnuts in this dish made me reminisce about cooking with fresh chestnuts this fall, and at the same time, got me excited about eating kuri kinton for the New Year’s holidays. It was the perfect dish to bid farewell to the fall and welcome in the winter, and all the delicious seasonal foods that come with it!


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