This braised dish is one way my mother solved that perennial “so, what’s for dinner?” problem: unbelievably delicious, made from ingredients that cost next to nothing, healthy and ready in just a few minutes.
When you find you’ve bought a bit too much Napa Cabbage (hakusai) and you’re not sure how to finish it all, this is the solution.
A hotpot cooked at the dinner table, Nabe is the quintessential Japanese winter dining experience. With Nabe, you’re cooking and eating in “real time”, which imposes its own pace on a meal: it’s just not physically possible to eat a Nabe in a rush.
That probably helps explain why Nabe conjures up that special kind of conviviality you get when it’s cold outside and you’re huddled around a warm pot sharing a leisurely meal with friends, family or business associates.
Strictly speaking, “Nabe” refers not to the recipe but to the hardware: the clay pot itself. In Japan, everybody eats from a single Nabe, sort of like with a fondue.
All kinds of stuff can go into a nabe, from thin slices of meat (for “shabu shabu” and “sukiyaki”) to meatballs (“chanko-nabe”) to salmon and miso (“ishikari-nabe”) to poisonous blowfish (“te-chiri”).
There’s even a fun dinner party game you can play, called Yami-nabe, where you turn the lights off and each guest has to put a secret ingredient in the pot: the fun is in trying to guess what all the different ingredients are. I remember playing this one time when I was in college and a friend of mine put a McDonald’s McNugget in our yami-nabe: we never invited him again!
Out of the dozens of nabe variations out there, Yose-nabe is one of the simplest and most popular: a light broth flavored with sea kelp and starring, chicken, shrimp, tofu, mushrooms and vegetables. Readers in Quebec may think of it as “Fondue Chinoise Japonaise”, only with none of that weird curry mayonnaise. And with a lot more vegetables in it.
In Montreal, you can find Japanese Nabe clay pots starting at $25 in Chinatown, and we just use a simple portable electric burner to put on the table ($19.95 at Canadian Tire). But if you have an electric pot for Fondue Chinoise, or even a normal Fondue pot, those will work fine. You just need something to keep the ingredients simmering.
In fact, zousui isn’t even really “dish” so much as a clever way to use up leftover rice that’s gotten a little bit too dry to eat straight.
The basic idea couldn’t be more straight forward: 1-make a clear broth (like osuimono) 2-dump leftover rice in it. For really spectacular results, though, you want to use the left-over broth from making nabe: the richer the nabe was, the better the zousui is going to be.
Zousui is very easy to digest, so it’s the classic Japanese upset tummy food. And my husband swears it’s an excellent hangover cure. More than anything, though it’s real comfort food: a hearty winter dish to warm you from the inside out.