I never cease to be amazed that when I have a need, a response – more than likely – walks in the door! Since December I have been dealing with a lung condition. First, I had a deep dry cough that seemed to go on forever. The Chinese herbs I obtained from Evergreen Health and Herbs in Irvine helped a lot, but symptoms lingered. Then, long story long, here comes the walk in the door.
Recently as I was strolling through the produce section of Mitsuwa my local Japanese market in Costa Mesa, I noticed a veggie I did not recognize: nagaimo. Similar in shape to taro, but with light skin it resembled a daikon with a beard.
Piqued, I googled nagaimo on my smart phone.
That moment marked the beginning of my love affair with this most amazing yam. After the read I seized a few packages knowing that I would begin to work with nagaimo that very night.
Later, in my kitchen I gingerly pulled a piece of nagaimo out of the package. By then I had done more research and had read the warnings on how it can irritate the skin. To avoid, soaking it in vinegar for a few minutes was one possibility, but I was too hungry to wait that long. I immersed my hand into a plastic, supermarket vegetable bag, picked up the yam and began to peel away.
An easy job, the skin comes off much more readily than with most yams. Likely due to the moist, slime-like coating that underlies the skin, the skinned yam turned slippery.
After slicing I put the thin pieces in an non-stick skillet and sautéed at low to medium heat in sesame oil. I assumed they would be like potatoes done under the same conditions and indicate they were finished when soft and easy to prick with a fork. It took 20-30 minutes to get to that state.
Later, I found out they can be sautéed for a few minutes and eaten crunchy as well. My next experiment will be to carmelize some onions and garlic, then add the slices.
As I would go on to discover, nagaimo with its chameleon-like character can be used to create a variety of recipes. For a start, unlike most yams, it can be eaten raw or cooked. Diced, stripped, sliced, julienned or chunked as is appropriate, it can be used in salads, stews, and soups.
After my first attempt at sautéeing, my second was to mix cubed pieces in a salad with tatsoi. I would warn that if you choose to use it in salads, it does add a rather slimy feel to the entire salad. Think cooked okra mixed with natto, and you get the idea. I add this because some people have a negative response to slime.
When grated, nagaimo turns mucilaginous. That hard, carrot shaped veggie becomes a blob of gooey sop.
Strangely, it reminded me of a heavily textured yogurt. It doesn’t spread through the mouth and down the throat like my favorite goat or sheep yogurt, nor is it as creamy. It crawls its way down more or less in one long continuous thread. I like nagaimo in its gooey state and have taken to having a bit with fruit in the morning or before retiring in the evening when it reminds me of mother’s milk!
Several decades back, Tsajara, the Zen Mountain Center in the Carmel Valley put out a bread cookbook that revolutionized my breadbaking. In the same book, I was introduced to okonomiyaki a wonderful western, pancake-like version of the Japanese original.
In my research I discovered that in Japan, grated nagaimo, is an essential ingredient for okonomiyaki. While the Tsajara pancake is a wonderful version, with grated nagaimo the pancake part becomes more French crepe-like in texture.
In Japan two styles prevail: one from Hiroshima, the other Osaka. Fortunately, I found a video on You Tube of a Japanese chef demonstrating a recipe from each location. As the Osakan recipe is simpler I experimented with that first. It, too, is similar to making a pancake with veggies, but the magic lies in the addition of nagaimo.
With the Hiroshima style, the batter, a quarter cup makes a nice size, is spread in the center of the skillet. A generous amount of shredded cabbage is layered followed with bean sprouts. The rest of the ingredients can vary, I used cubed sweet potatoes because I had some leftovers, but bonita flakes are another essential (omit for vegetarian). The cake is cooked slowly until browned, then before turning more batter is poured over the veggies. While the pancake cooks, a mound of pre-cooked noodles, I used ramen, are pressed into a round shape in the skillet, and fried until crisp. When ready the pancake is placed over the noodles. For this, two square spatulas work well. Finally, an egg is broken the yolk broken and smoothed out and fried. When done the entire pancake and noodles are placed on top of the egg. All of the steps can be accommodated in the same skillet if large.
Finally, with either style the pancake is topped with okonomiyaki sauce and or kewpie mayonnaise (can be found in a Japanese or Asian markets). Brown sauce can substitute. I also subbed the kewpie with lemonized mayonnaise.
Okonomomiyaki is a little like making vegetable soup in that many ingredients can be used. Mine was vegetarian, but shrimp, chicken or pork are common. I may use whatever is on hand, but in every recipe I have come across cabbage is essential and bean sprouts are usually included. It has the possibility I use tacos for this as well, to be the weekly clean out the refrigerator dish.
Following my week of experimenting, learning the in’s and out’s of this wonderful Japanese street food, I began to play with a bit of fusion. I topped my most recent okonomiyaki with a Oaxacan salsa I bought at the Atwater Village Farmer’s Market in LA. It was a match made in heaven even if not “authentic”.
So, to conclude long story long mentioned in the opening, and here is the part that amazes me, in Asia nagaimo also known as “mountain medicine” has been used for hundreds of years, for bronchial conditions. As my first week of eating nagaimo progressed, I noticed that my lingering condition cleared up. Bring on nagaimo!
The fact that it is beneficial for digestion and weight loss is not bad either. This week I will experiment with a recipe for nagaimo, low in calorie, French fries!
Recipes to get started.