Updated: Jul 11, 2022
My latest recipe features a root which is a little bit controversial - konnyaku. While the name konnyaku might not be familiar unless you are Japanese - you might have heard of it by its many other exotic names - Konjac, Devil's Tongue, Snake Plant, Elephant Yam or Voodoo Lily (my absolute favourite.)
Why controversial? Well, both the American FDA and the EU banned confectionary products containing konnyaku - which was believed to present a choking hazard to children. In Australia, konjac (konnyaku by anoher name) is banned as a dietary supplement because it is thought to be able to block the intestine if eaten in large enough quantities. I should point out that other konnyaku products aren't banned - just the children's jellies and dietary supplements. That has to be a good thing because konnyaku is one of the oldest known food sources in Japan with a heritage that goes back well over a thousand years - and despite the bans on some products, konnyaku is also very good for you - it's 97% water and 3% fibre (glucomannan in this case) and it contains almost no calories - no sugars, cabohydrates, fats or gluten. Konnyaku isn't easily digestible - so much so that it used to be called, "the stomach's broom" because of its high fibre content - so yes, it is very good for gut health - just don't going eating it in unreasonably large amounts. Konnyaku is alo a decent source of calcium. The only other ingredient you will find in a block of konnyaku is a plant based gelling agent - kanten or agar agar powder.
Question - How do the Japanese eat konnyaku? Answer - there are two common variants of konnyaku - one, the subject of this recipe - is konnyaku made into a gelatinised block (as in the photo on the right) which can then be cut into small pieces or strips and cooked in various ways. The other - konnyaku noodles - which are usually called "shirataki" or "ito konnyaku" in Japan, are used in Japanese hotpot and simmered dishes such as "nikujaga" and "sukiyaki." You can buy both konnyaku in its block form and in its noodle form at Japanese and Asian food stores. You can also purchase online at sites such as Amazon and a range of other internet based grocers.
Another question - How does konnyaku taste? - Answer - konnyaku itself has little taste (it's a root, so no surprise really) but when it is cooked, konnyaku soaks up flavourings very quickly, so whatever you choose to use as a flavouring or seasoning, konnyaku will suck it up. In the mouth, konnyaku feels quite firm and a little chewy but it really isn't difficult to eat at all.
So, on to the recipe - Soy and Sesame fried Konnyaku. This dish is simplicity itself and takes only 15 minutes from beginning to end. The ingredients you will need are those in the recipe title plus some chilli flakes and white sesame for garnishing. Start by unpacking your konnyaku. At this point you may notice an odour - some people say konnyaku has an unpleasant smell - personally, I think it just smells a little bit "fishy" - but a quick rinse under cold water and you'll find that most of the smell has gone away. In any event, cooking just about eliminates it. Once your block of konnyaku is rinsed, you can proceed to cut it up. I usually cut a 250g / 9 oz block into 16 little cubes and then cut each cube into 2 small triangle shapes - but little cubes are fine as well - essentially, what you are aiming at is a small sized piece of konnyaku that will cook quickly and absorb the flavours that you add to the pan - konnyaku itself has no flavour so it is very much a blank canvas for your to flavour as you wish.
Once you've prepared your konnyaku, heat up a small frying pan and add 1 tbsp of sesame oil. Fry the konnyaku for 2 - 3 minutes and then add 1/2 tsp of chilli flakes and 1 tbsp of soy sauce. Stir fry for 1 minute more before adding 1 tsp of honey. One more minute of frying and then add some white sesame seeds. One last minute of stir frying and your dish is ready.
I serve my soy and sesame fried konnyaku as a side dish - you could pair it with another vegetable and/or meat dish along with some rice. Served regualrly as a side dish, konnyaku will do you no harm and is a fat free source of calcium and dietary fibre - that gets my vote every time!
If you'd like to try this dish out you can find the Youtube tutorial by clicking Soy and Sesame fried Konnyaku here or by scrolling to the bottom of the page. the written recipe is just below.
Happy cooking! Kurumi XXXX.
PS: I have added a little more information about konnyaku jellies at the bottom of this page if you are interested!
(makes 2 / 3 servings as a side dish)
1 250g / 9oz pack of Konnyaku
1 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp dried chilli
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
open the pack of konnyaku, then drain and rinse
slice the block in half longways. cut into quarters, then into 8 cubes. now cut each cube into 2 triangles. once done, stand each triangle on end and slice in half
heat the sesame oil in a frying pan. add the konnyaku triangles and stir fry for about 2 minutes. add the chilli flakes, soy sauce and stir fry for a further 1 minute. next add the honey and stir fry again for 1 minute.
last, add 1 tsp of sesame oil and stir fry again for 1 minute.
just before serving, garnish with 1 tsp of white sesame seeds
Post script: During a recent back home in Japan, I bought a pack of konnyaku jellies to see what
all the fuss was about. A pack of jellies doesn't cost very much - about 300 yen. The pack contains 12 mini-konnyaku jellies each in its own little recyclable cup with a non-recyclable lift off lid. Each jelly is around 25 calories. Nutrition wise 25% of each jelly consists of root fibre. The packaging does carry quite a lot of warnings about eating the jellies carefully and not swallowing them whole. I have to admit, I wouldn't ever think of swallowing one of these jellies
whole but I suppose it's better to be safe than sorry. As you can see from the individual jelly pot on the right, there's also a warning about not giving these to the very young or the very old.
So, you may be wondering how they taste. The jellies are quite sweet and really have a consistency much like a gelatine based jelly. We ate a few of these on a warn evening out of the fridge and they tasted good and were quite cooling. I brought another pack home to the UK with me - I think they make a nice little gift and they would certainly provide a talking point!