You too can cook washoku / Gather around nabe for winter warmth

Courtesy of Mari Nameshida

A miso-based nabe hot pot dish

By Mari Nameshida / Special to The Japan NewsNabe, which literally means “pot,” often refers to a hot pot dish. Every winter, I feel great appreciation for whoever it was who started to cook nabe. I don’t know any other dishes quite like nabe, which is easy and requires no skill but is tasty and comforting.

There are a wide array of hot pot dishes in Japan now, varying by region and household. It can be made with any ingredients or soup bases. As long as you cook vegetables, meats, seafood, tofu or whatever in a big pot, we call it nabe.

Plain as that may sound, there is nothing dull about it. Although it is basically the same as stews in other countries, I think what makes nabe so special as Japanese is that we place the pot — often an earthenware one — in the middle of the table, keep adding and cooking ingredients while eating them at the same time, and sharing with many people. That sounds like great fun, doesn’t it?

My mom is from Hokkaido, so my family’s nabe often used a lot of seafood like cod, shrimp and salmon, in addition to vegetables. Most of the time, we just cooked them in boiling water, shabu-shabu-style, before dipping them in ponzu. After we cooked various veggies and seafood, the soup became a yummy broth, so my dad always used it to make egg rice porridge the next morning, which was a pleasure for me on a chilly day.

At restaurants, you can also see chanko-nabe and motsu-nabe. The former is daily fare for sumo wrestlers, with meat, fish and vegetables cooked all at once, making it a well-balanced, nutrient-packed meal. Motsu-nabe is originally from the Kyushu region and uses offal as a main ingredient, usually cooked with garlic and nira garlic chives to reduce the strong odor.

Both of those types of nabe are very tasty, so I recommend you try them if you’ve never had them before. However, I also recommend that you do nabe at home.

In this recipe, I use a miso-based broth, so you don’t need a dipping sauce, and it appeals to all tastes. This miso broth creates a harmonious and richly flavored base that welcomes seafood or any meat. I usually add vegetables like cabbage, carrot, arugula and so on, but please use whatever you have on hand.

Any leftovers work, and it will turn out super. This recipe offers an elegant economy of time and ingredients. So don’t think too much, just try to be warm with this comfort food.

Mari’s recipe for miso-based nabe

Ingredients (serves 4):

2 salmon fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces (about 400 grams)

5 cabbage leaves, cut into strips (about 250 grams)

1 carrot, sliced into ribbon-shaped pieces using a peeler (about 200 grams)

400 grams arugula, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 packs frozen udon noodles

15-centimeter-long daikon radish, grated

20 grams butter

Cooked rice, fresh eggs (optional for porridge)

Miso-based soup:

1.2 liters dashi broth

4 tbsp miso

4 tbsp sake

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 tbsp sugar

2 tbsp mirin


1. Place all ingredients for the soup in a pot. Bring to a boil. Once it boils, turn to gentle heat to keep warm.

2. In another pot, place half of the soup and half of the vegetables, salmon and noodles. Set the pot in the middle of the table on a portable gas stove and heat it up. Simmer over medium heat for about 5 to 10 minutes until all the ingredients are cooked through. Drop the butter on top.

3. Lower the heat, gather around and eat! Add soup, vegetables, noodles or salmon whenever you need them. To finish dinner or to make breakfast the next day, don’t forget to add cooked rice and crack in the eggs to make a porridge from the remaining soup.

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