In spite of what some of you might think the white balls you see above are not gnocchi or any other floury dumplings, but tama konnyaku, a wonderful, healthy, almost zero calorie Japanese product made with a plant called konnyaku (Amorphophallus konjac). Often called devil’s tongue, yam or konjac this plant is transformed into flour and then mixed with water to produce a sort of gelatinous, transparent substance, sold as noodles (shirataki or ito konnyaku), rectangular blocks (ita konnyaku) and the “balls” you see above (tama konnyaku). All these products are very rich in fiber, contain no carbs, have almost zero calorie per 100 g and an amazing capacity to absorb the flavours from the sauce or the soup they are served with. The high fiber they contain regulates the digestion, gives a very quick sensation of satiety, while the low-calorie and low-carb intake allows even the biggest diet freak to enjoy a fabulous dish. Konnyaku is called in Japan “the broom for the stomach” due to its high fiber content.
Until now I have posted only two konnyaku-based recipes (Stir-Fried Shirataki or Ita Konnyaku Noodles and Tama Konnyaku with Bacon and Shiitake), but I stir-fry them quite often, which is not the way they are usually served in Japan (very often served in broths or soups). Whenever I know I will have a rich, high-calorie dinner, I prepare my lunch with konnyaku noodles or balls and can guiltlessly indulge in a pizza, foie gras, duck confit or another rich dish I adore.
This is how a package of konnyaku balls looks like:
Last week, when I decided to prepare a tama konnyaku lunch, I had a quick flash of skewered tama konnyaku probably seen on a website, a blog or a tv program. I combined them with asparagus, my favourite spring vegetable and served as a side-dish with stir-fried chicken breasts. Since konnyaku balls don’t have much taste, a sauce was obligatory and teriyaki glaze seemed the easiest choice. I must say I was very happy with this first skewered side-dish in my life. It looked cute and was a perfect lunch the day I planned to dine in my favourite pizzeria (I needn’t add I do not go there to have a light salad…).
TIPS: Tama konnyaku is sold in bags filled with water. They have a very long shelf life if kept in the fridge. If you don’t use the entire bag content, rinse the balls, put them in a bowl, cover with fresh water and keep tightly closed for a couple of days in the fridge.
I don’t have a grill, so this recipe explains how to prepare the skewers on a simple grill pan.
If you prefer a sweeter teriyaki glaze, add some sugar. (For me the sweetness of mirin is enough).
Preparation: 30 minutes
Ingredients (serves 3-4 as a side dish):
1 bag of tama konnyaku (400g)
10 green asparagus stalks
2 tablespoons mirin (can be substituted with 1 – 2 tablespoons syrup)
3 tablespoons soy sauce (or 4-5 if you have low sodium soy sauce)
3 tablespoons sake
Soak the skewers in water for at least 15 minutes to avoid burning.
Cut up the asparagus stalks into bite-sized pieces, preferably similar in length to the tama konnyaku thickness.
Drain and rinse tama konnyaku. Cook them in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
Rinse them once more.
Thread the konnyaku balls and the asparagus pieces on skewers.
Heat an oiled grill pan (or a grill).
Place the skewers on the pan (oil brushed side down) and grill about 7 minutes on each side (or more depending on the asparagus thickness).
In the meantime bring the teriyaki glaze to boil in a small pan and boil it until it thickens. Put aside.
Place the skewers on serving plates and brush them with teriyaki glaze on both sides.