After surviving the harsh winter in Nagoya (anytime the weather is cold enough to snow this Southern California kid knows it’s too cold to go outside) I would like to share with you one of my tricks for staying warm and full through the winter months. This dish, called Nabe, or winter Japanese hot pot, is a traditional winter food here in Japan for good reason. It is warming, filling and most of all delicious.
To start with, you will need a soup stock or base. Nabe comes in all varieties and flavors depending on your taste, what base the soup is derived from, and what will best match with the ingredients you intend on cooking. Some of the most popular bases are pork, kimchi, mushroom, or motsu nabe (made from pork or beef tripe).
After picking out your base it’s time to choose our ingredients. Japanese people are very traditional, and any deviant from their recipe may be greeted with scoffs or chuckles at the foreigner. However I welcome that and cook to my taste. This is my go-to winter dinner as it is fresh, healthy, and, once you get the process down, easy to make.
Here is my typical nabe grocery list:
• Japanese Mushrooms: Shitake and Enoki. The firmer the better, these really will soak up some flavor as our dish cooks for longer than you would expect.
• Carrots: A subtle sweet and nice change in texture
• Yellow or White Onion
• Green Onion
• Tofu-The firmer the better
• Salad Spinach
• Meat: Usually pork strips cut then with a little fat.
• Noodles: Udon
Prepare the ingredients for the nabe by cutting them into bite size pieces. How you cut them is up to you, some people are very big on the presentation of their nabe and make it look like a work of art. Some people cut, dump and mix the ingredients with no care at all for presentation. I am somewhere in the middle.
Now we will pour our soup base into our nabe pot (any deep soup pot would do) and bring to a boil. Next adding carrots, onions and mushrooms first will allow them to cook longer, soften, and absorb more flavor. I typically prepare and add these first to my soup base, then continue preparing the rest of my ingredients as they cook over medium heat, covered.
Tip: A good nabe pot will retain heat for a while, allowing the food the be eaten slowly from the center of the table.
Then I add the rest of the ingredients to the mix, and let them cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes before adding my meat. Let the meat cook for another couple of minutes, and then finally add the cabbage or other leafy greens last. I will turn the heat off, cover it and let it rest as I prepare the table.
Tip: Add only half of what you think you will need. I like to do meat and veggies as the first course, and then add the remaining ingredients and noodles together as the next course.
Tip: Sometimes I enjoy this with a side of raw egg as a dip. Coming from America where raw eggs aren’t commonly eaten, it took some time getting used to but is a great way to add flavor and texture variants to your dish.
I like to eat my nabe in courses. This will be my first course, I’ll pick out my veggies and meat into a large bowl and, before I dig in, add the rest of the ingredients I saved for the second course. This time I am a little less particular about presentation and the timing of when I add the ingredients. I will add the remaining meat and udon noodles last.
Cook over low heat until the noodles are warm and then enjoy your second course. This is the food dish that keeps on giving. Repeat this process, adding more broth if necessary, for as long as you would like.