Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)


Yasai no nikumaki, or vegetables wrapped in thinly sliced meat, (niku means meat and maki means wrap or roll) is a standby item for bentos in Japan see an example here). They are easy to eat, and the cut sides are colorful and pretty. I haven’t given you a recipe for nikumaki so far though on this site because a critical element, very thinly and evenly cut slices of pork (the usual meat used) or beef, is just not easily available in the U.S. or most areas of Europe. If you live near an Asian market you have a better chance of getting a suitable cut - but I know, many readers don’t have easy access to such markets.

Here is a version that uses a cut of beef that you can get more easily, at least in the U.S. - cheesesteak beef. Philly cheesesteak beef is very thinly cut sirloin or similar quality meat, just as is used in Japanese sukiyaki, and that works great for nikumaki. Trader Joe’s sells something called shaved beef steak which works quite well, and is fairly affordable too. Here’s the pack I used to make this recipe. 1.08 pounds for $7.71 is not too bad, considering you get 6 to 8 rolls or portions out of it.


So, let’s make nikumaki!

Recipe: Yasai no Nikumaki (Vegetables wrapped in thinly sliced meat)

Makes 6 to 8 rolls

  • 450g / 1 lb very thinly cut beef sirloin such as cheesesteak beef (see notes about meat alternatives)
  • thinly sliced strips of vegetables - here I’ve used green, red, yellow and orange bell peppers (see notes about vegetable alternatives)
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 Tbs. cornstarch (approximate) or plain white flour
  • 1 Tbs. cooking oil
  • one of the following sauce alternatives

Sauce A: Classic Japanese

  • 2 Tbs. dark soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs. mirin
  • 1 Tbs. sake
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbs. water

Sauce B: Soy and pomegranate juice

This is the one I’ve used in the photos. It has a savory-sweet-tart taste.

  • 2 Tbs. dark soy sauce
  • 3 Tbs. 100% pomegranate juice
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. sugar

Sauce C: Barbeque-y

  • 2 Tbs. ketchup
  • 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • a few drops of Tabasco (optional)

Prep the vegetables by cutting them into long, even thin strips. Here I have used multicolored bell peppers. To get long strips out of peppers, try cutting of the tops and bottoms the cutting them in half lengthwise, then turning the halves 90 degrees, flattening them a bit and cutting the strips out in the horizontal direction of the peppers.


Heat up some water in a pan and toss in the vegetable strips. Blanch them until crisp-tender. For the bell peppers that just takes about 3 minutes. Drain and let cool.


If you’re using the Trader Joe’s ‘shaved beef steak’ or similar, this part is a bit tricky since the bits of beef are rather scraggly.


The key is to lay out the bits of thin beef in a fairly even layer, leaving no gaping holes, so you end up with something that looks like one piece of beef, like so. If you have more uniformly shaped slices just lay down one or two slices.


Sprinkle very lightly with salt and pepper (don’t overdo it - remember you’ll be adding a savory sauce later) then a bit of cornstarch. The cornstarch will help to hold the meat together.


Now, lay some strips of your precooked vegetable on one end.


Start rolling up the beef around the vegetables as tightly as possible, tucking in any straggly ends as you go (a bit tricky, again, with that TJ’s beef, but it can be managed).


Keep rolling tightly…it helps to pull a bit on the unwrapped end of beef with one hand as you wrap with the other.


End the wrapping with the end bits on the bottom. Now, some directions for nikumaki say you should poke the roll through with a toothpick to hold it together, but I don’t find this necessary as long as you manage to wrap the meat quite tightly, and you follow the cooking instructions that follow.


Coat the surface of the roll lightly in more cornstarch. Again, this helps to keep the roll together and also thickens the sauce a bit.


(Not pictured) Mix the sauce mix of your choice in a small bowl, and have ready to go next to your cooktop.

Heat up a frying pan with the cooking oil over medium-high heat. Put the rolls in seam side down This is important - if you start with the seam sides up the rolls will fall apart. Put the rolls in in batches if needed - you should have plenty of space around them so you can turn them easily. (I did mine in 2 batches.) Cook the rolls until the seam side is browned and sealed.


Turn the rolls and brown them on all sides. Looks yummy already!


Add the prepared sauce mix to the pan - careful, the pan may spit at you a bit. Turn the rolls around in the sauce a few times so the sauce coats them. Keep cooking until the moisture in the sauce mix has almost evaporated and the sauce is quite sticky.


Take the rolls out of the pan, and let cool.

You can use the rolls whole like this of course and they still look good.


Or, cut them to reveal the mosaic-like cut surface. My slices here are a bit shaggy (I blame this again on that TJ steak) but not too bad. Allow 1 to 2 rolls per bento.


Tip: Chop up the scraggly end bits of the rolls and hide them under your cut rolls!


You can freeze nikumaki very successfully. Wrap each uncut roll in plastic wrap, then put the rolls in a freezer bag or container. They’ll be good in the freezer for a month. Take them out and transfer them to the refrigerator the day before you need them, and slice them through while still half-frozen. That will give you very neat cuts.

Meat alternatives for nikumaki

The meat really has to be paper thin, not escalope-thin.

As mentioned above, you can find very pre-packaged, thinly sliced pork or beef at most Asian (Korean, Japanee, Chinese) grocery stores.

If using beef, you do need to use a quick-cooking cut like sirloin or filet. Ask your butcher if he/she can slice the meat very thinly for you, or try it on your own with a half-frozen piece of meat.

Raw meat is preferred, since thinly sliced precooked meat such as ham may not stick together properly. See ham negimayaki, which is made with very thinly sliced ham. Cured, uncooked ham like proscuitto will work better, though you will have to compensate for the saltiness.

I would not recommend using chicken or turkey meat since these meats may get too dry.

Vegetable alternatives

You can wrap all kinds of vegetables in the meat. The key is to have vegetables that are sliced to the same width, or are already like that, and to make sure the vegetables are tender enough by pre-cooking or slicing very, very thinly before wrapping.

  • Thin green asparagus stalks with carrot sliced to the same thickness as the asparagus. Blanch both the carrot and asparagus (start with the carrot, then add the asparagus) until crisp-tender.
  • Enoki mushrooms with the root parts cut off can be used as-is.
  • Green onion or negi. Slice lengthwise very thinly, and/or blanch lightly before wrapping. Green onion wrapped in beef is a pretty common item on Japanese restaurant menus - you may see it called negimaki or negima for short.

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Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Have you been watching "Cooking with Dog" Maki?

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

I watched a couple of the videos a very long time ago but none since. (Not a fan, sorry.) If by chance they've posted a nikumaki recipe recently well, it's a classic, what can I say.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

No no, not the recipe. It's the "Let's make … ". The guy ALWAYS says that and when I read it on your post I heard it in his voice in my head.

The lady who does the cooking has had a nasty accident apparently. Got knocked off her bicycle in Tokyo.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Wow! I was wondering... =(

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Why not use thin-sliced deli-style lunch meats? I'm sure they can be found in almost any grocery store.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Most deli meats will not work especially if you want to slice them, since they are precooked and won't stick together properly. A 'raw' ham like proscuitto can work, though you would have to compensate for the saltiness. I've added a link to the ham version of negima and some notes about using precooked meat.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Wow! I had the same idea of using Philly steak shaved beef to make nikumaki. I made it tonight, using the same sort of technique (layering the thin, irregular pieces of shaved beef). I used carrots and asparagus, with a soy sauce/mirin/sake/sugar sauce. My family loved it! It was easy and fun to make. After dinner, I decided to read your blog for further inspiration, and what do I see posted today?! Nikumaki!! :D The coincidence has made me smile tonight. Thank you for all of your wonderful recipes, I use your site and your book all the time!

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

First: Thank you for this detailed recipe =) I made nikumaki a few years ago. As you have said I had the problem of getting meat that fit. In Germany the thinnest meat is for "Rouladen". That are meat rolls with filling and look someway like nikumaki, but with other seasoning, filling and thicker meat. It is possible to use those Rouladen-meat, but it's not the best choice. One day I was lucky and found a butcher who was willing to cut us meat in really thin slices. That was great =) We used it for nikujaga and it was really more delicious than with the much thicker Rouladen-meat.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Could be carpaccio an alternative to do the rolls? It's quite easy to find it in supermarkets in Europe, with the oil and cheese separated.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

I was thinking about carpaccio meat or pierrade-cut meat. Very easily available in France, beef or pork. What about string beans inside? Or brocoli stalks? And here it is, I'm hungry....

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Carpaccio meat should work if it's thin enough. Blanched green beans will work great as a filling too.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Thanks for the recipe! I bet I can find super thin pork if I look around. I generally prefer pork to beef.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

This recipe reminds me of an Argentinian classic: "niños envueltos". I used to make a filling consisting of a slice or two of bacon, chopped parsley and garlic. They were served either in tomato sauce or a red wine reduction, with pasta or rice. Hubby and I don't eat meat anymore, but I think I could use those sauces you posted for other purposes.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)


Since we've switched to local grass-fed, the cheapest cut of beef that I can readily get is "chip steak" which is a very thinly shaved sirloin. I've been having some difficulty figuring out how to use it, so this recipe was right on time. :D

My only problem is that I never stock corn starch or white flour.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

I just made this last night!! Our TJ does not have the shaved steaks, but I got the frozen sliced beef. I used carrots and green beans instead of peppers. And I froze half of what I made for the future when I don't have time to cook.
Great minds think alike!!

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Mmm - thinking of subbing asparagus, and we are lucky to have Nijiya - with both pork and beef options. Going to experiment with pom vinegar, too.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

This is definitely going on the menu this week! Is shabu-shabu meat thin enough for this recipe? We've got a Korean market nearby and their butcher always has beef, pork and lamb shabu-shabu cuts. If that would be too thick, I suppose that I could always pound the meat thinner.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

I think it could work with chicken or turkey, if you can get boneless, skinless thighs and slice them thin either at home or from the butcher it might work. The chicken thighs have a little more fat than chicken breast meat and might not dry out as badly.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Made this today to take tonight for dinner at work...I couldn't resist trying it. I found a milanesa cut of beef at this store this morning and used rice wine vinegar instead of the was so yummy!!!

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

This looks delicious! Great high-protein alternative to my normal sushi maki. Thank you very much!

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

I was wanting to make this but didn't know what I would do for the meat, here in Australia, but the next day I was in Safeway and spotted some very thin beef under the name "Sizzle Steak". This did the job really well, at least it did after I worked out which end to start rolling at and making sure it was tight. I used spring onion, carrot and green and red pepper with the classic sauce. This recipe is a keeper.

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Looks fantastic. This recipe reminds me of "envoltini", an italian recipe we use to de at home with some veggies inside too (also peppers and onion or leek and celery too). :)

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

oh my ..... this looks FANTASTIC !

picture with the rolls chilling in the pan made me so hungry now :(

Re: Beef and vegetable rolls (Yasai no nikumaki)

Thinking outside the (bento) box...made tiny beef meatballs and pan fried them. Then put first sauce on top and followed instructions. Very yummy. Veggies separate. Very nice cold too.

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