First some etymology: “renkon” is what we call the root of the lotus flower plant, while manju, less poetically, means something like “round bun”. What we have here, in fact, is a shrimp-infused dumpling made with a dough of grated lotus root. Place one of these in a bowl under sauce and you’ve made a blockbuster side-dish. Put two of them in a bowl and what you have is a deeply satisfying main.
When we lived in Europe, we had a really hard time sourcing fresh lotus roots, but here in Montreal it’s no problem: they always seem to have them at Kim Phat. That means we’re able to make lotus root tempura, which is a particular favorite of mine, as well as braised lotus root (kimpira), which is also very good. But renkon manju is in a league of its own: a truly special delicacy.
Don’t let this recipe intimidate you, though: after you’ve done it once or twice you’ll find it’s much easier than you imagine.
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.
Though the basic package is always more or less the same, each family has its own recipe for the filling. Here, I show you the way my mom used to make it, with glass noodles instead of vegetables.
Whatever you put inside, the thing that makes a great spring roll is simple: the contrast between a soft filling inside and crunchy pastry outside. You can play around with the filling, so long as the result is soft.
What you get is Harumaki, a tasty treat absolutely everybody loves.
There are a lot of steps in this recipe, but don’t be put off: this is actually really easy to make. In fact, because it uses no eggs, no flour and no bread crumbs, Harumaki one of the least messy ways to make a good fried dinner. Give it a try!
You want to talk about silly-sounding literal translations? Umani comes out as “delicious boiled thing”. Which pretty much tells the tale of this simple, unfussy dish which brings together several of Japan’s favorite vegetables with just a little bit of chicken for flavor. The vegetables – which include the delicious, potato-like taro roots – are chosen not just for their flavors but also for their colors: umani must have those orange carrots and bright green beans to keep it from looking like prison food.
One great thing about umani is that it scales up easily: you can just double or triple the portions below to feed more people. For this reason, it’s a typical choice when you have a lot of guests or in big family occasions.
As is usual with these kinds of recipes, there are any number of variations on umani. In a professional kitchen, you would cook each of the vegetables separately – but that’s far too much trouble for home cooking. It hardly needs pointing out that each family will vary the composition of the dish slightly to suit its taste.
This recipe is the version my mom used to make. It tastes like home.