If you’re new to Japan and aren’t well versed in Japanese cookery, going to the grocery store is a bit of a nightmare. A shopping trip that should take twenty minutes turns into an hour-long mystery tour. Is that bottle soy sauce? Black vinegar? Some other magical sauce/liquid/concoction that could be used with a lighter to fend off intruders? After a while, your eyes kind of glaze over, you buy only what you recognize and stumble out into the night, saggy plastic bags in hand, confused and defeated.
This scenario is familiar to most, so I recruited a long-time resident to coach me in making a simple, cheap, healthy meal traditionally eaten during cold weather months: Nabe.
The name Nabe refers to the pot itself, like Japanese hot pot. It’s a one pot soup that’s really hard to screw up since you can put pretty much whatever you want in it. Here’s how I made it for the first time.
Sesame Miso Nabe
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
1) Buy a Nabe Pot: There are a couple different kinds- the ceramic pottery-style ones like this need to be seasoned by boiling cabbage in them first.
Or a non-stick style like this. This is what I bought at Ito Yokado for 2000 yen.
2) Go to the store and get stuff. I bought what my Nabe coach told me to buy, and he read the suggestions of the package, but again—you can do whatever.
- Soup base: You can buy this at any grocery store. It looks like this. There are different base flavors too: miso, kim chi, vegi-base… we bought the sesame-miso base. You can also make your own base, but in the interest of time and making something edible… we didn’t do that.
- Negi (Japanese leeks)
- Nira- (Japanese chives)
- Mushrooms: eringi (big fattys), enoki (little skinny guys), shimeji (fluttery ones)
- Shabu Shabu pork (any thinly sliced pork or beef would be good—you can do chicken, meatballs, seafood too or just vegi)
- Hakusai (Chinese cabbage)
- Tofu (firm—looks like this)
This all cost around 1200 jpy. Hella cheap.
Now do this:
1) Start the soup base on low heat.
2) While that’s warming up, wash and chop the hakusai. Rough cut it into big chunks because it shrinks. Set aside.
3) Rough cut the negi at an angle into 2-3 cm pieces
4) Rough cut the nira into 4-5 cm pieces
5) Chunk cut the eringi
6) Shimeji- clean and break apart
7) Enoki—wash, trim the yucky stuff off—pull apart
8) Cube the tofu—slice it in half if it’s block style
9) Toss everything in—you can mix it up or arrange it by vegi group for a pretty composite-style.
10) Cook over medium heat until the negi and hakusai are tender.
11) Add the shabu style pork last… it will cook quickly.
BOOM. Awesome, easy, healthy, and cheap. Making this totally boosted my confidence at the grocery store. I must make all kinds of other winter deliciousness—if you have any cool cooking blogs or ideas—let me know!