Four Foods that Keep the Japanese Thin
By Zester Daily | Shine Food –
It’s seldom you find a Japanese person on a diet. For the most part, the population doesn’t have a weight issue. Average Japanese women’s sizes are 7 and 9, which are the equivalent to an American extra small and small.
What makes them so lean? Asian genes? Yes. Exercise? Most Japanese use public transportation, so they walk a lot. But the Japanese diet is probably the primary reason that Japanese, as a nation, stay within the normal weight range.
Check out four traditional Japanese foods that fill you up and give you good nutrition without piling on the calories.
Kanten, the seaweed gelatin also known as agar agar, is white and semi-translucent. It is sold in powdered form, dried in strips or as a long stick. Used mostly to make dessert jellies in Japan, dried kanten is soaked in water to soften and boiled until the solids or powder dissolve. What’s great about kanten is that it solidifies at room temperature. Because it is about 80 percent fiber, it gives the sensation of fullness when eaten.
Konnyaku is made from elephant yam flour. It originally came from China and was used as medicine by the Buddhist monks. Made up of minerals, dietary fiber and protein, konnyaku is 97 percent water and known to aid in normalizing blood sugar and cholesterol.
Konnyaku rice can be used like a filler or grain substitute. For instance, it can be combined with regular rice and seasoned with tomato and herbs to make a low-calorie paella. You can fill up on this dish without feeling cheated.
Hijiki is a wild black sea vegetable that grows in the coast lines of Japan, Korea and China. It has been appreciated for its rich mineral content of calcium, magnesium and iron.
Hijiki ragout crostini, for instance, is a classically flavored Japanese dish that doesn’t even use a drop of soy sauce in the seasoning. Who would have thought of a combination of hijiki sautéed with pine nuts, celery and onions?
Yuba, or soy milk curd, is a delicacy in Japan, and comes fresh, semi-dried and dried. High in proteins and dietary fibers, it is often used in shojin-style vegetarian cuisine, which is regarded as the foundation of Japanese cuisine. Shojin cuisine is prepared in Buddhist temples throughout Japan. The texture of yuba is slightly chewier than cabbage and milder in flavor.
If Americans can acquire a taste for these foods, as they did with sushi and tofu, kanten, konnyaku, hijiki and yuba may well become the country’s next healthy diet foods.
Chef Suki Sugiura’s Chilled Hijiki Ragout Crostini with Tomato and Pine Nuts
⅔ cup hijiki
⅔ cup medium onion diced
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ cup diced celery
½ bay leaf
1 cup vegetable stock
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ cup roasted pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup diced tomato, peeled and seeded
3 teaspoons olive oil
Italian bread, sliced and grilled with olive oil and garlic
1. Soak hijiki in cold water for about 30 minutes and drain.
2. Sauté onions and celery in olive oil until transparent, add hijiki and continue to sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Add balsamic vinegar, vegetable stock and the ½ bay leaf.
4. Cook slowly until the stock is almost all absorbed.
5. Add the pine nuts, tomatoes, lemon juice and basil and salt and pepper to taste.
6. Top grilled bread slices with mixture.
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Zester Daily contributor Sonoko Sakai is a Japanese freelance writer and film producer who divides her time between Tokyo and Santa Monica California. She has contributed stories and recipes to the Los Angeles Times, the former Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Saveur and Bungei Shunju (Japan). She is passionate about making soba by hand and, with master chef Akila Inouye of the Tsukiji Soba Academy, has created MazuMizu to teach Japanese home-cooking in Japan and abroad.