Umani: Boiled Vegetables with Chicken
You want to talk about silly-sounding literal translations? Umani comes out as “delicious boiled thing”. Which pretty much tells the tale of this simple, unfussy dish which brings together several of Japan’s favorite vegetables with just a little bit of chicken for flavor. The vegetables – which include the delicious, potato-like taro roots – are chosen not just for their flavors but also for their colors: umani must have those orange carrots and bright green beans to keep it from looking like prison food.
One great thing about umani is that it scales up easily: you can just double or triple the portions below to feed more people. For this reason, it’s a typical choice when you have a lot of guests or in big family occasions.
As is usual with these kinds of recipes, there are any number of variations on umani. In a professional kitchen, you would cook each of the vegetables separately – but that’s far too much trouble for home cooking. It hardly needs pointing out that each family will vary the composition of the dish slightly to suit its taste.
This recipe is the version my mom used to make. It tastes like home.
Ingredients (for five)
- Taro roots – 6 to 8
- Carrots – 1 large one
- Chicken – 250 grams
- Konnyaku – 125 grams
- Shiitake Mushrooms – four or five. Fresh is better, but usually all you can find is dry
- Konbu – one 5 cm. section
- Optional: Gobou, renkon (lotus flower roots), bamboo shoots
- Green beans or snow peas – a handful
- Water – one cup
- Chicken broth – (granulate is ok) – half a cube
- Sugar – three tablespoons
- Sake – three tablespoons
- Soy sauce – three tablespoons
- Place dried shiitake mushrooms under hot water to recompose
- Cut carrots into longish irregular chunks
- Cut chicken into chopstick-friendly pieces
- Peel the taro roots, cut in halves or thirds
- Put cut taro pieces on a strainer, sprinkle with two tablespoons of salt, massage the salt into the taro to get rid of the excess starch
- Rinse the taro well
- Tear apart konnyaku into smallish pieces using your hands, not a knife
- Once the shiitake mushrooms are recomposed, cut them in halves or quarters. Cut off and discard the stems.
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- Heat a mid-sized non-stick pot over a high flame
- Toss in the konnyaku, stir fry, roasting off its excess moisture. Don’t let the weird noise it makes freak you out: that’s normal. After two minutes, you should see the outside become noticeably dryer.
- Add in all the vegetables, the dried konbu and the chicken.
- Add in the cup of water, the granulate broth, the sugar, sake and soy sauce
- Bring to a boil
- With a slotted spoon, carefully skim off any scum that rises to the top.
- Using two layers of kitchen paper towels, make a little dome over the vegetables to seal the moisture in.
- Cover the pot, bring fire down to medium
- Cook for half an hour like this.
- Just before it’s ready, bring a a separate pot with salted water to a boil. Boil the green beans or snow peas for just three minutes. Try to get their color as bright as possible. Then add to the main pot.
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You could serve it at this point but, for best results:
- Turn everything off, allow the pot to cool over 2 or 3 hours. Reheat. Serve.
Umani works well as a main dish, but it’s perhaps more commonly served as a side.