Buta no yasai itame is a delicious and fragrant stir fry dish made with thinly sliced pork and a variety of vegetables served in an umami-rich sauce. It's quick, nutritious and delicious!
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What is yasai itame?
Buta no yasai itame is a simple stir fry dish made with pork and vegetables. The name of the dish can be translated directly from Japanese: buta (豚) means pork, yasai (野菜) means vegetables and itame (炒め) means stir fry.
The vegetables are actually the main ingredient in this dish and because of this, it's more commonly known as "yasai itame" or "vegetable stir fry". However, this can be a little misleading as the dish nearly always contains pork.
The point to make here is that the pork is not the star ingredient and you could easily substitute it for something else or omit completely.
Yasai itame is usually served with rice and pickles.
Brief history of yasai itame
Stir fry as a cooking method became common practice in households in Japan from the 1950s and 1960s onwards, especially during the period of high economic growth.
The main reasons for its popularity are believed to be the reduction of cooking oil price, the effect of satisfying children's big appetites at low cost by adding more vegetables to less meat, and the fact that it is simple to prepare and can be easily adapted in various ways.
Since then, yasai itame is definitely one of the most widely cooked home recipes in Japan.
Inspired by Chinese cuisine
As with many dishes in Japan, yasai itame is originally a Chinese inspired dish.
Here are a few features that make Japanese yasai itame a bit different:
- Often use green cabbage instead of Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage)
- The whole process is simplified (e.g. using chicken stock powder rather than making from scratch)
- A small amount of meat (mainly vegetables)
So basically whole process is simplified and uses different ingredients.
Ingredients to use for yasai itame
As with many stir fry dishes, there's no real rule when it comes to the ingredients. You can add and omit whatever you like.
Here are the ingredients I like to use in my recipe:
- Shimeji mushrooms
- Green cabbage
- Chinese chives
- Piman (small Japanese bell pepper)
- Pork belly
It's packed with different vegetables right? Other than these above, here are some other common ingredients:
- Pak choi
- Chinese cabbage
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Wood ear mushrooms
There are no rules so feel free to use any stir fry vegetables that are easily accessible to you!
Tips and tricks to make delicious yasai itame at home
Stir fries are one of the most commonly made dishes in the world and everyone has their own way to cook them.
One problem many people face is the dish becoming too watery. Let's avoid that problem by following some of these tips and tricks!
The size of vegetables
If all your vegetables are cut in all different shapes and sizes, some might quickly become overcooked while others remain raw.
It's important to cut the hard vegetables small and the softer vegetables bigger so that they cook in a similar time. This way you can avoid burnt or watery/soggy vegetables in your stir fry!
It's good to add things like carrots and onions to the pan first because they require a bit more cooking time. I also add mushrooms quite early on so that they release more umami to the dish.
Things like cabbage and beansprouts only need a short cooking time otherwise they become watery, so I tend to add them last. Timing is important!
Don't overcrowd the wok
Yasai itame is a quick and easy dish that uses a variety of vegetables, but if you just throw everything in the wok at once without any thought, the ingredients will release water and start to steam, creating a soggy stir fry.
This ties in with timing, but frying the vegetables at different times is the best way to avoid this. It's also a good idea to fry the watery ingredients (like cabbage) on a high heat so that they cook faster and have less time to release too much water.
Pre boil or pre fry the vegetables
The reason why yasai itame at restaurants taste so good and look so beautiful is because of the fact that they quickly pass the vegetables through hot oil. To put it simply, raw vegetables are flash fried.
Of course we don't want to do that at home because it uses a lot of oil (and makes it more unhealthy), but if you want to create restaurant style yasai itame, you can pre-boil your vegetables with a bit of salt and oil.
You can easily substitute oil + salt by pre-boiling in hot water. Pre-boiling cooks the vegetables at once and removes excess water from the food, which has similar effect as deep frying.
This is simply a tip I wanted to share with you, but to be honest I personally don't use this method for home cooking unless I'm cooking for guests.
Slowly cooking medium / medium low heat
When it comes to yasai itame, we tend to think of frying quickly with high heat.
However, stir-frying vegetables with high heat at once at home can break down the vegetables' cells and draw out their water content, especially in regular frying pans.
Fry over medium to medium low heat is the safe option at home.
Seasoning at the end
When salty content is added too early, the osmotic pressure caused by the salt can make the vegetables watery.
So it's best to add salty condiments towards the end!
I hope you found these tips useful, enjoy making delicious buta yasai itame at home!