What is Niratama?
Niratama (ニラ玉) literally means “garlic chive eggs” in Japanese and is a dish of Chinese origin that’s been adapted using Japanese ingredients. Flavorful and nutritionally dense, it’s become a staple of home cooking in Japan, and it’s eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Although there are many variations of Niratama, the most common method of making this dish is to saute the chives and then scramble in some eggs. In my version, I add seasonings and starch to the eggs to give them a wonderful savory flavor while preventing them from getting soggy.
Ingredients for Niratama
The ingredients for this dish are straightforward, but the balance of seasonings, garlic chives, and egg creates magic in your mouth.
Nira is the Japanese name for Garlic Chives (a.k.a. Chinese Chives). Related to the onion, it’s long flat leaves look like blades of grass, but it has a mild garlicky fragrance and pleasantly fibrous texture that is almost crunchy. As the color would suggest, Nira is packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s widely available in most Asian grocery stores, and if you can get your hands on the seeds, it’s an easy-to-grow crop that will propagate like a weed if left unchecked.
These are just regular old chicken eggs, but I like to use fresh eggs of the highest quality for this dish to get a nice color.
Potato starch is the secret ingredient that makes it possible to add vegetables (like Nira) with a relatively high moisture content to the eggs without making them watery.
The seasonings are just sugar, salt, and just enough soy sauce to give the eggs some flavor, without turning them brown. I also add a bit of dashi stock to the mixture to help dissolve the potato starch, while adding a bit of extra umami. If you don’t have some dashi on hand, you can also use water.
How is Niratama Prepared?
Niratama is pretty straightforward to prepare, but there are a few techniques I’ve incorporated from other dishes that make this recipe special.
Most versions of this dish will have you cut the garlic chives into longer pieces, but I like to chop them quite small as this makes it possible to add a higher ratio of chives to egg without having the whole thing turn into a tangled mess.
Nira tends to contain a lot of water, so there are two crucial steps to take to keep your eggs from getting soggy. The first is to saute the chives until they don’t sweat liquid anymore. The second trick is to add some potato starch to the egg mixture, which helps prevent any liquid the eggs have absorbed, from leaching out.
Because potato starch won’t dissolve evenly if you mix it directly into the eggs, I make a slurry using a bit of dashi and the rest of the seasonings. By beating the eggs into this slurry, you get even dispersal of the starch and seasoning mixture into the eggs.
Once the Nira is sauteed, the eggs are added and left to cook a bit without scrambling them. This is the technique I use for my Scrambled Eggs recipe which creates big fluffy curds that are rich and creamy. Then I use chopsticks to gently scramble the eggs, allowing the uncooked egg to flow under the cooked curds.
The most important thing is to take the eggs off the heat while the eggs are a little less done than you want them to be, as the residual heat will continue to cook them, and there is nothing worse than tough, dry eggs.
dashi (or water)
garlic chives (1 small bunch, chopped)
Add the potato starch, sugar, salt, dashi, and soy sauce to a bowl and whisk until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps.
Break the eggs into the potato starch mixture and beat the eggs until they're mostly uniform in color.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil and garlic chives.
Sautee the chives until they're vibrant green and not sweating liquid anymore.
Add the egg mixture and let it cook for a few seconds until the bottom layer of egg starts to go opaque.
Gently scramble the eggs, pulling up the cooked layer from the bottom of the pan and allowing the uncooked egg to run underneath.