All recipes are for 2 servings unless noted. Oil is canola oil and salt is kosher salt.

2015-03-07

Itokoni / root vegetables and azuki beans simmered in broth

While itokoni is not very different from my usual root vegetables miso soup, it does offer something new -- azuki beans. Itokoni made with root vegetables, konnyaku yam cake and usuage thin deep-fried tofu or atsuage deep-fried tofu is a regional dish from Ishikawa, Toyama and Niigata prefectures. My aunt who lives in Namerikawa in Toyama brought us a pot of itokoni one day in late fall, and that was when I first discovered the magic of azuki beans, which make an ordinary soup slightly starchy and subtly mellow. As a young child, I did not really like soy sauce- or miso-tinted brownish simmered dishes; they all looked so unappealing and almost discouraging to eat, but Auntie Namerikawa's itokoni really grabbed my heart, and I begged her to bring us itokoni again and again. The recipe below tastes just like her itokoni.





141 calories (1/2 of recipe); 7.7 g protein; 2.7 g fat; 21.6 g carbohydrate; 12.9 g net carbs; 238 mg sodium (with reduced-sodium miso; 300+ mg with regular miso); 0 mg cholesterol; 8.7 g fiber


<Ingredients>

Approx. 100 g yude azuki (boiled azuki beans; 85 g azuki and 15 g azuki cooking water in photo)
1 satoimo baby taro root (55 g in photo)
6-7 cm carrot (32 g in photo)
1-2 cm daikon radish (50 g in photo)
7-8 cm gobo burdock root (28 g in photo)
2 cm konnyaku yam cake (40 g in photo)
1 small or 1/2 large usuage thin deep-fried tofu (10 g in photo)

For broth
200 cc kobu dashi (water with 5-6 cm square kombu kelp)
1/2 tsp sakekasu sake lees
2 tsp miso


<Directions>
1.
Boil usuage to get rid of excess oil. Pat dry with paper towel.


2.

Cut ingredients into matching size.
Here, satoimo and carrot are cut into 7-8 mm thick rounds, daikon into 7-8 mm fan shape, gobo and konnyaku into 7-8 mm squares, and usuage into 2 cm squares.
Soak gobo until use (5 minutes max).



3.

In a pot, put kobu dashi, root vegetables (gobo, carrot, daikon, satoimo) and sakekasu, and bring to boil on medium low heat.

Place lid to prevent moisture from escaping (but do not completely close! Satoimo tends to create lots of bubbles when it starts to boil and makes broth overflow).



4.

Boil konnyaku for 1 minute, and drain.




5.

When dashi is nearly boiling, remove konbu.
Reduce heat and continue simmering ingredients for 5 minutes or so.




6.

Occasionally check pot, and skim foam as it appears.



7.

Add konnyaku and usuage, cover, and continue simmering until ingredients reach desired softness.




8.

In the meantime, take some broth from pot, and loosen miso.



9.

Add azuki (and azuki cooking water).
When broth boils again, add miso, and mix well.
If time allows, let it completely cool (highly recommended). 



<Notes>
  • If your boiled azuki is not completely soft, add it at an earlier stage.
  • 3 tbsp (approx. 45 g) dry azuki beans yields about 100 g yude azuki (boiled azuki). Boiling time varies by how old/fresh azuki beans are; 1 hour is usually enough. 
  • Sakekasu is added to cut back on miso while giving rich taste and aroma to the soup. If not available, plain yogurt works (add it with miso). Yogurt adds a minor amount of sodium.
  • This regional dish is flavored with either miso or soy sauce.
  • The proportion of goodies and broth varies by family or temple (this is a common temple dish, as described below). Some are much soupier and some are quite dry.
  • As with other simmered dishes, this takes on full flavor after it has cooled once. Without letting itokoni cool completely, it might taste a bit weak. If this happens, add a small amount of shoyukoji soy sauce rice malt or soy sauce.
  • This is also the dish served at the late-November Buddhist memorial service of Shinran, a 12th-13th century Japanese monk and founder of the Jodo Shinshu sect. He is said to have had strong ties to the three prefectures mentioned above, and because of the religious connection, this itokoni is cooked with kobu dashi or water -- no animal ingredients go into the dish.
  • Itokoni featuring azuki and kabocha pumpkin is probably more common in other prefectures.
  • Itokoni literally means "cousins simmering/simmered." I had long thought that "cousins" referred to similar ingredients such as the root vegetables that go into the dish. However, a widespread story is that it is a pun on the expression "oioi," which means doing something in sequence (adding ingredients starting with tougher ones), and "nephew, nephew." Two nephews together make cousins. (Realistically, there is no such set phrase "oi oi" or nephew nephew.) 


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