Konnyaku is made from the corm of the konjac plant. It is rich in fiber with virtually zero calories which is why it is of recent interest to the diet industry. There are diet products made from konjac-- from appetite suppressant supplements to noodle/pasta substitutes—on the market today.
The corm is ground into a flour which is mixed with water and limewater. Its natural color is translucent white but it is usually tinted grey to brown mottled with black flecks with the use of hijiki, a type of seaweed. Konnyaku comes in rectangular blocks or noodle-like strands. Although it has little flavor of its own, konnyaku readily absorbs flavors from broth or seasonings and is enjoyed for the texture it adds to a dish. It’s described as gelatinous but it has more of a toothsome chew than gelatin.
It comes packaged in a little bit of water and if you need to store any unused konnyaku be sure to add some water along with it in an air-tight container. The noodle form is sold as “shirataki” noodles. Read the label carefully as some shirataki noodles are made from tofu while others from konnyaku. Drain and rinse well before cooking.
Konnyaku is a requisite ingredient in both nishime and oden, both Japanese vegetable stews. One of my sisters and I would fish out the konnyaku slices and konbu knots because they were our favorite ingredients. My mother used the translucent shirataki noodles in her sukiyaki and they would take on the flavors and color of the broth.
But Konnayaku Kinpira is another great way to enjoy this ingredient. Kinpira is a method of cooking: Foods are slivered, sautéed and simmered in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine) or sake, and sometimes chili peppers. Usually tough root vegetables like gobo (burdock root), carrots, rinkon (lotus root) benefit from this style of cooking, but other ingredients like seaweeds can be turned into kinpira dishes as well.
1 block konnyaku
½ Tbsp. vegetable or sesame oil
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. mirin
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 small red chili or shichimi (7-spice chili pepper/togarashi) to taste
Rinse konnyaku block and pat dry. Julienne the konnyaku into matchsticks. Heat the oil in a sauté pan and add the konnyaku slivers. Saute for a few minutes. In a small bowl, blend together the soy sauce, sugar and mirin. Cut the red chili in half and add to this mixture, or add the shichimi, if using. Pour the soy mixture over the konnyaku. Stir until sugar is dissolved and bring this to a simmer. Continue to simmer until the konnyaku has absorbed the liquid.