Friday, December 2, 2011

Umani--Japanese Stew with Vegetables with Chicken

Umani is a Japanese stew with meat.

Umani contains an array of Japanese root vegetables simmered with pieces of chicken in a savory & sweet broth, which I had to look up because I didn't know exactly what umani was.

At our house, we called umani nishime, though technically nishime is only vegetables.

My parents are both Nisei, second generation Japanese-Americans, so we didn't have anyone to correct us.

My cousins, on the other hand, grew up with their dad being a Kibei Nisei--Uncle Roy was born here in the US but was educated in Japan then came back--so their family knows more Japanese and what's proper than us.

When my cousins and aunt came for lunch today, my cousin said, 

"Is it New Year's already?"

Meaning--Umani is a lot of work to make and generally reserved for a special occasion like New Year's Day.

The special occasion was--my cousins and aunt were coming over for lunch!

It was such a special occasion, I even added konnyaku (yam cake that we used to call 'rubber erasers' when I was little) and takenoko (bamboo shoots) because I know my relatives like them (but I don't)--I wanted to make the dish as fancy as I know how to make it.

This is what I used--which most likely will be way too much for the average person to make--but I made a lot because I wanted to have some for my parents to have for dinner.


1 lb. chicken thighs

daikon-long white radish
satoimo-small taro potatoes
renkon-lotus root
gobo-burdock root
shiitake mushrooms
kabocha pumpkin
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas
Quickie Nishime Konbu


konnyaku-yam cake
takenoko-bamboo shoots


bonito flavored dashi-soup stock

This is a box of veggies I got from my dad--beets and carrots--I'm going to use the carrots in the umani.

Start with the carrots and daikon since they take the longest to cook.

Peel or scrape the carrots and cut them into bite-sized pieces by slicing on a short diagonal, going left then right.

Slice them to your preference.

Cut the daikon in half, peel, then cut into quarter spears--then cut the spears the same way as the carrots.

I like to group the vegetables into groups that take the same amount of cooking time.

This is satoimo--the small taro potatoes--peel and cut into bite-sized pieces in a different shape than the daikon so you can tell them apart in the stew.

Peel them under a little trickle of running water--that keeps your skin from itching--or wear gloves.

Some people say to pour boiling water over the satoimo for 2 or 3 minutes makes them easier to peel, but I like the running water method better.

Put them into a bowl of cold water and set aside.

This is konnyaku.

It comes speckled like this or plain and more white.

It doesn't really taste like anything to me--like gelatin.

Since it's packaged, it's best to immerse it in boiling water for a minute or two to get rid of the packaged smell.

Drain and slice into strips, then make a cut in the middle leaving about a thumb's width at each end.

Turn one end inside and through the slit--and you'll get this shape.

Do the same for the renkon.

Slice in half, then slice again.

The lotus root has holes in it--my grandmother used to say that eating renkon on New Year's Day will allow you to see the future.

Takenoko = bamboo shoots.

My cousin Reiko likes takenoko.

Immerse in boiling water for a minute or two.

Then slice into pieces.

Peel or scrape the gobo--burdock root.

Make rolling cuts.

Gobo tastes softly woody.

Soak in cold water until ready to use.

Usually a kabocha pumpkin is really hard to cut into, but this one was surprisingly easy--scrape the seeds out and peel most of the skin off, being sure to take off any bumps.

Cut into bite-sized pieces.

Remove the stems from the mushrooms and cut in half.

I like this konbu, but you can also buy the konbu plain and tie it yourself with kampyo.

I used one package of chicken thighs, about a pound, and cut them into pieces after removing the visible fat.

Put them into a hot pan and saute--the juices from the chicken should release them when the chicken sears, but if it doesn't, add a couple tablespoons of water in the pan and the chicken should come up.


You can use your turkey carcass left over from Thanksgiving to make umani--boiling the bones will make a rich broth--Umani Turkey Soup.

Cook the chicken for 3 or 4 minutes then add 1/4 cup shoyu, 3 tablespoons mirin and sugar, and 3 tablespoon sake with 1 cup water.

Add 1 package or 1 teaspoon katsuo dashi--bonito fish stock powder.

Add the carrots and daikon and bring to a boil.

You can see the fat from the chicken coming to the surface--the foam.

Skim the foam off with a fine mesh wire skimmer or spoon.

The vegetables are sometimes unpredictable to get them perfectly done all at the same time.

My mother says you're supposed to cook them separately--that might just be the daikon, carrots, kabocha and satoimo--but timing them for doneness all at the same time may come from experience.

Gently simmer the vegetables for about 15 - 20 minutes or until fork tender.

Sometimes the satoimo cooks fast and gets mushy and sometimes it takes longer--like today.

The other things don't take long to cook, add them, bring to boil, and simmer for about 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the kabocha is fork tender.

Taste and adjust seasonings.

If your broth isn't as full bodied as you want it, add some chicken broth or a bit more dashi powder (bonito or konbu), a pinch of salt or a bit more sugar--whatever is to your liking.

Sugar snap peas make a colorful garnish and they add a crisp, crunchy texture to the stew.

I take the strings off the peas.

Put the peas into lightly salted boiling water just until they turn bright green--less than a minute, drain and put into ice bath to stop the cooking so the color will stay bright green--drain.

Garnish each bowl with the peas--if they go into the pot they will lose their pretty color.

Garnish with the sugar snap peas and serve with a bowl of rice.



My cousins, Reiko and Channie, and our Auntie Kiku came over for lunch.

Auntie Kiku came and took care of all of us when we were born.

She was a nurse.

Auntie loves an outing, a change of scenery and eating Japanese food--especially rice.

If you've been following along, you might remember Auntie's wedding picture from my Sekihan post.

I practiced my Photoshop skills today.

I really wanted all four of us in one photo.

I took these two photos and used the extract tool to cut myself out and dragged it onto the other, then I used the erase tool to erase the part of me that was in front of Auntie.

I also changed Reiko's face to the one I liked better in another photo.

My kids say my cousins and I look just alike.

I am the oldest of five children, and with my cousins, I get to be the youngest.

It feels good.

I have looked up to Channie and Reiko my whole life--they are my role models and I adore them.

We spent the whole afternoon talking, laughing and giggling--the four of us.

Thank you for the perfect afternoon!



Serves 6 to 8


1 lb. chicken thighs-fat removed and cut into pieces

2 cups each, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces:

daikon-long white radish
satoimo-small taro potatoes
renkon-lotus root
gobo-burdock root
kabocha pumpkin

shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut in half
1/2 lb. sugar snap peas
2 packages Quickie Nishime Konbu


1/2 konnyaku-yam cake-sliced and shaped
1 cup takenoko-bamboo shoots, sliced


1/4 cup shoyu
3 tablespoons mirin
1 teaspoon bonito flavored dashi-soup stock
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons sake
1 to 2 cups water

Wash, peel and cut all vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Put the daikon and carrots into one bowl, and the satoimo and kabocha into another.

Immerse the processed packaged vegetables--renkon, takenoko and/or konnyaku into boiling water for a minute to freshen them, drain, cool and cut into bite-sized pieces.

Put the gobo and renkon in a bowl and cover with water, it keeps them a nice color. Then put the shiitake, kabocha and optional takenoko & konnyaku on top since you're going to put them in at the same time.

Cook the chicken pieces in a large pot, then add the water, sake, sugar, dashi stock, mirin and shoyu. Add the daikon and carrots and gently simmer for 15 - 20 minutes, checking for tenderness. When they're almost done, add the kabocha and satoimo, simmer gently for 5 minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring the pot to a boil again and turn the heat down to simmer and cook for 10 minutes until satoimo and kabocha are fork tender.

Taste and adjust seasonings.

String the sugar snap peas and put them into boiling water just until they turn bright green, then drain, put into ice water, drain and set aside.

Garnish with sugar snap peas in individual bowls.


  1. "Rubber Erasers" and bamboo shoots are the BEST part of nishime!! hahaha :P

    You are making me soo hungry, Auntie Karolyn! :D

  2. This looks delicious. Would love for you to share this with us over at

  3. I was looking for a recipe for umani and came across your blog. This is great, and following your recipe, mine turned out pretty good considering it was the first time I made it. My mom, being from Japan, makes it very traditional without chicken. It's something we always enjoy, especially as part of osechi ryori on New Year's Day. The addition of chicken makes it similar to chikuzen-ni. I think folks nowadays use nishime-umani-chikuzen interchangeably, perhaps depending on what part of Japan their ancestors came from. Your blog is very educational and entertaining. I'll be following...

  4. Hi!
    Me too....I am a foreign Oyomesan trying to cook for my 81 year old Okaasan...and I found your blog while checking how to make umani! I love the clean, clear design of your blog and the stage by stage pix of the food. Last year I helped Okaasan make umani - and she cooked every single ingredient took hours....this year her dementia is more advanced and no cooking, so I bought a ready cut bag of veggies and all I have to do is put them together with the chicken and all-important seasoning....I'll be following too!!!