Konnyaku – the ultimate diet food

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

Serves 6

  • 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.

Open the fish cakes and tofu. If either are a fried variety (avoid if you are trying to lose weight), then rinse under hot water to remove excess oil. 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.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, covering the pot and and cook for 1-2 hours.  If you have a pressure cooker, this helps immeasurably. It will take only 15 minutes.

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!

Notes:

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.

11 Comments on “Konnyaku – the ultimate diet food

  1. I wish I could try those noodles to test whether we like that texture or not without buying a whole package of them. Don’t suppose this is something you can find at a restaurant?

    • I haven’t seen them much at japanese restaurants – this is more of a home-style dish. But the noodles cost about $1 a packet from the asian grocery, so that’s the cheapest way to go. The flavour won’t be an issue – if you don’t like them it would be because of the texture. So if you just rinse them then put them into any (preferably asian style) soup or casserole then that would answer your question.

  2. Oh yummmmmm! I can never find those ‘noodles’ anywhere. I love them too. I do have to get a pressure cooler. Keep meaning to.

    • I can’t believe that it’s taken me this long Mrs Bok! My friend Sarah has been trying to convince me for ages, but I didn’t want to spend the money on a steel one for my induction cooktop. Now that I’ve seen it in action I suspect that one will be heading my way sometime soon. My birthday is in July… hehe.

      I’ve never had any issues finding the noodles, but they are sometimes in a fairly unusual section of the asian grocery. Because they are packaged in water it is as if they don’t want to put them with the rest of the dried noodles, yet they don’t quite belong anywhere else. I just end up asking sometimes, then stocking up once I find them.

  3. I know nothing of Japanese food (other than I generally like it) so this was really exciting to read. Now I just need to find a grocer with the ingredients – I’ll take your post with me though otherwise I’m sure to get the wrong thing – I have 3 different types of black bean in my cupboard – none of them appropriate for making a particular dish a friend told me about – oh well eventually I’ll find something they’re good for.

    • ‘black beans’ are tricky, aren’t they! The mexican ones, the Chinese ones, the fermented Chinese ones, yet all so different… Have you tried the mexican ones (black turtle beans) in burritos? So much better than red kidney beans.

      Really don’t feel compelled to get the oden pre-mix. I bought it because it is easy and Yukari recommended it, but instant hon-dashi stock (you can get that almost anywhere) plus the other ingredients will do fine. If you’d prefer to be a purist, then dashi stock is really (as I outlined in the recipe) soaked konbu (type of seaweed) and bonito flakes.

      Make sure with the noodles that you definitely get the konnyaku ones. I hear that you can get a tofu-based shirataki noodle, but I’ve never seen it.

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