Sweet and Savory Sukiyaki with Tofu and Vegetables

Sweet & Savory Sukiyaki with Tofu & Vegetables
Sukiyaki, with its sweet, savory and richly beefy broth despite the tiny amount of beef in it, turns a wide range of vegetables and tofu products into delicious Japanese comfort food. DASH diet followers need to watch for the sugar (just don’t drink the broth!), but otherwise it’s an easy DASH diet dinner item.

Sukiyaki is one of the better known Japanese dishes. Yet, despite its name recognition, sukiyaki doesn’t seem to be a regular on US Japanese restaurant menus these days. Which is kind of a shame, because it’s really tasty, easy and versatile. This sweet and savory sukiyaki with tofu and vegetables makes a tasty Japanese comfort dinner on cold, drizzly winter night.

Sukiyaki in its original form is a hot pot dish. You gather around a simmering shallow cast iron pot on the table, where thinly sliced beef, onions, mushrooms, tofu and other goodies are cooked right there. It’s a fun party dish when you have a group or just for the family. In Japanese homes, sukiyaki is sometimes made in the kitchen and brought out in individual bowls to the table, just like other non-hot pot foods, which is what I’m doing here.

The “soup” base is pretty simple, just a mix of soy sauce, sugar and mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine, which can be substituted with sugar). The beef can be, and often is, made the star of the show, but sukiyaki can also be made with just a couple of ounces of beef and a ton of vegetables. To make sure that a rich, beefy essence permeates all the other ingredients, use a cut of beef with a good layer of fat, or nice marbling throughout. I think mine was a brisket.

Other possible items you can use: Various mushrooms (shiitake, maitake, beech/shimeji, enoki, king trumpet, etc.), leeks, shirataki, napa cabbage, komatsuna, chrysanthemum leavescarrots, turnips and even potatoes. Sukiyaki can also be made with pork or chicken. If going vegetarian, I’d use kombu (kelp) to boost the umami in the broth and maybe swap the broiled tofu with a fried tofu to give it a bit more of a bite.

One yellow flag in this sukiyaki dish for DASH diet followers is that it can fill up your daily sugar intake limit . The trick is to not drink the broth. Without the broth, the amount of sugar absorbed in the tofu, vegetables and beef is probably half of what’s used, which makes it a much more reasonable 1/4 serving or so of sugar.

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Sweet and Savory Sukiyaki with Tofu and Vegetables
DASH diet considerations: This sukiyaki tofu and vegetables leverages the typical Asian approach of using meat as seasoning to cut down on the DASH diet servings of meat. The bulk of the protein comes from the tofu, rather than the beef. The dish can be loaded up with a lot of different vegetables, and the sweet, savory and rich broth makes everything taste addictively delicious and comforting.

One yellow flag in this sukiyaki dish for DASH diet followers is its impact on your daily sugar intake. Sukiyaki broth is on the sweet side, and one serving of the sukiyaki does come with ¼-½ serving of sugar. All is not lost, though: You can stay on the low side of the spectrum by not drinking the broth. (This is hard to do--it’s so yummy! Lol.) For this reason, it’s probably better to serve the sukiyaki and rice separately, rather than make it into a sukiyaki don (sukiyaki rice bowl).

DASH diet servings:
2.5 vegetables & fruits
1 meats & fish
2 nuts & beans
¼-½ sweets & sugar
400-500 mg sodium
Prep Time 30 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place the gobo, daikon and onion in a saucepan and pour water until it comes up to about 80% of the ingredients.
  2. Add the soy sauce, mirin and sugar. Stir, and bring to a boil on medium high heat.
  3. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a medium simmer.
  4. Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until all the ingredients are cooked through.
  5. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the brisket and broiled tofu. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, or until the beef is cooked through and tofu is heated.
  6. Serve with pickled red ginger. If you don’t have it, don’t sweat it, but the pickled ginger does add an awesome acidic tang to this sweet-savory dish.

Kenchin Jiru: Japanese Tofu, Root Vegetables & Maitake Mushroom Soup

Tofu, Root Vegetables & Maitake Mushroom Soup
Kenchin jiru is a Japanese soy sauce-based soup, made of tofu, various root vegetables and mushrooms. It’s usually vegetarian, but I added a tiny bit of beef strips to give it a savory backbone. This is another DASH diet-friendly Japanese soup.

Kenchin jiru is a traditional Japanese soup with an origin in Buddhist temples where monks sustain themselves with vegetarian meals. My mom used to make it vegetarian, too. However, I like to add a tiny bit of meat or chicken to add that satisfying savoriness to the soup. Kenchin jiru is easy to make with almost any root vegetables you happen to have. It doesn’t require a long list of esoteric sauces or spices, either: You just need soy sauce and salt. That’s it! You’ll be amazed how much complexity the vegetables and a teensy bit of meat or chicken can give to this comforting soup. In this regard, it’s very similar to the pork miso soup with root vegetables and shiitake mushroom that I posted recently: It’s a super-simple recipe with BIG flavors.

Tofu, Root Vegetables & Mushroom Soup 2
We had a veggie-loaded Japanese soup called kenchin jiru with baguette (!?) and a side of kabocha squash salad. The totally comforting meal filled up our DASH diet vegetable reservoir.

Kenchin jiru with a bowl of rice (and maybe a side of quick-pickled cucumbers) could be a perfectly satisfying, if humble, DASH diet meal for someone who likes Japanese home cooking. (Me and Hubby!) Other times, we treat kenchin jiru like a simpler miso soup, accompanying a spread of main dish like a broiled fish, rice and a couple of veggie-leaning sides. You can even have this hearty soup with a hunk of baguette–which we did the other day. I have to admit, I was surprised by how well this odd combo worked!

Other common ingredients in kenchin jiru includes daikon, lotus root, shiitake or enoki mushrooms, spinach and fried tofu. I’d have used daikon if I had one on hand. Alas, I was out of daikon, so the trusty turnip stepped up and filled in the gap. If you want to make the soup vegetarian and more traditional, omit the beef. In that case, I’d stir-fry the ingredients in a bit of sesame oil before adding water. The sesame oil adds the extra kick that a vegetarian version probably needs.

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Kenchin Jiru: Japanese Tofu, Root Vegetables & Maitake Mushroom Soup
DASH diet considerations: Kenchin jiru is a wonderful addition to your DASH diet soup repertoire. It’s full of vegetables, plant-derived protein from tofu and only a tiny bit of meat, maybe ¼ serving per person. It’s also oil-free. Some recipes call for stir-frying the ingredients before simmering them in the soup, but this step really isn’t necessary, thanks to the surprisingly robust broth from the little it of beef.

DASH diet servings:
3 vegetables & fruits
¼ meats & fish
500-600 mg sodium
Prep Time 30 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 30 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Place the water, along with carrot, turnip, taro, maitake and gobo, in a pot. Bring to a boil on high.
  2. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium so it keeps boiling gently. Cook for 15-20 minutes until all the vegetables are cooked through.
  3. Add the beef strips to the soup.
  4. Add the soy sauce to the soup. Stir, taste, and add salt as needed.
  5. Divide the soup into serving bowls and garnish with the sliced scallion.
Recipe Notes

*Gobo is a (somewhat absurdly) long, thin, fibrous root that is chock full of toasty, earthy flavor with a slight bit of sweetness that develops when cooked. Also called burdock root, you can find gobo in Japanese, Chinese and Korean grocers.

**I buy thinly sliced meats from a Korean or Japanese grocer. They are sliced almost paper-thin and high quality (i.e., a small amount lends a huge amount of flavor). If you don't have access to this kind of meat, a small amount of ground beef or chicken might work instead.


Pork Miso Soup with Root Vegetables & Shiitake Mushroom

Miso Soup with Pork & Root Vegetables
Pork miso soup with root vegetables (tonjiru) is a classic Japanese soup full of daikon radish, carrot, burdock, sweet potato, shiitake, little bits of pork and more. A perfect vehicle to meet DASH diet’s vegetable goals.

Miso soup is a mainstay of Japanese home cooking. It’s one of my go-to comfort foods. In my DASH diet life, miso soup also serves as a handy dandy tool to balance out some of the more meat- and fat-heavy meals. I made this pork miso soup with root vegetables just for that purpose, and it was so comforting and delicious!

Even better yet, it’s super easy. You may have heard that you need to make a “dashi” broth for your miso soup, or add some dashi powder (which is the easy route I take). Not in this pork miso soup with root vegetables. Thanks to the meaty flavor of the pork and the complex, deeply earthy flavors of the combination of root vegetables and shiitake mushrooms, broth is totally unnecessary. All it takes to build the full flavor of the soup is to simmer the ingredients and dissolve the miso at the end. That’s it! The soup basically makes itself, if that makes sense.

This stew-like miso soup gets better overnight in the fridge. Definitely make more than you’d have in one meal. You might want to add fresh scallions after reheating the leftover soup. They add a nice bright pop to the otherwise earthy, savory soup.

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Pork Miso Soup with Root Vegetables & Shiitake Mushroom
DASH diet considerations: This pork miso soup with root vegetables is a DASH diet winner: It uses very little pork and no fat, yet somehow turns into a robust, deeply satisfying soup that feels like a complete meal with just a plain bowl of rice. Aside from the ones I used, you can use any root vegetables you have on hand, like potatoes, rutabaga, turnips or taro.

Miso does contain a fair amount of sodium, so you don’t want to go overboard. However, the rest of the ingredients provide such a medley of flavors that you really don’t need a ton of miso to make it tasty. Start with 1 tablespoon of miso and add more little by little, if you find it lacking.

DASH diet servings:
3 veggies & fruits
¼ meats & fish
¼ nuts & beans
200-400 mg sodium (depending on the brand and amount of miso you use)
Prep Time 25 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Prep Time 25 minutes
Servings
servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil on high heat. Add the yam, gobo (burdock root), daikon, carrot and shiitake. Bring it back to a boil on medium high. Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium low and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.
  2. When the vegetables are done (the thickest pieces should be pierced easily), add the pork belly. Cook until the pork belly is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  3. Dissolve the miso into the liquid. To make sure the miso is completely dissolved, take some of the liquid into a ladle and dissolve the miso in the ladle, then pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Give it a good stir, and let it simmer for 2-3 minutes so the flavors come together.
  4. Add the ginger and ladle the miso soup into serving bowls. Serve with chopped scallion on top.

Hubby, who didn’t grow up eating this stuff, also loves miso soup. I like to think that miso soup has universal appeal. Then again, he’s been eating my miso soup for over a decade now–and he’s only one data point (albeit the most important one for me!). So I’m curious: For those of you who didn’t have a Japanese upbringing, do you find miso soup delicious and comforting? Could it be a part of your regular diet, if not already?