There is nothing easier or more delicious in winter than a big clay pot brimming with natural ingredients. Nabe, or nabemono refers to a Japanese style of one-pot cooking, typically done at the table, bringing the family together to share a warm, healthy meal.
Because each person takes what they want from the pot, it is an easy meal for mothers to serve fussy children without leftover food, and basically every ingredient is a health shop in itself so it’s a simple way to provide quality nutrition to a hungry family.
Firstly and most importantly for the true nabe style, you’ll need a means of cooking the meal on your dining room table. There are two ways you can do this. The more traditional method is to purchase a little one-burner gas stove which runs on cylinders of gas. These are called “kaseto konro, or カセットコンロ, ガスコンロ.” You can find a selection of them here on Amazon.
You will then need a clay pot, a “donabe or 土鍋,” literally “earthenware pot, for use over an open flame in the Japanese kitchen. You can find one at any home centre or department store, especially during winter months. You can find a selection of them here on Amazon.
A more modern alternative to the gas burner is an induction heater, which runs on electricity. If you choose this method you will have to be more careful about the type of pot you use, as a common clay pot will not conduct the electricity needed for the IH heater to work. There are however special converted IH donabe that will do the trick, or you can use any pot made out of a conducting metal. Not very traditional and far less popular, but far less likely to burn the house down as well.
Now that you’ve gathered the tools, it’s time to go to the supermarket.
You can make your nabe out of literally anything, but it’s good to start with an idea of the kind of nabe you want. If you want to take a short cut, you can start by choosing a pre-prepared nabe soup mix, which you’ll be able to find in the same section of the supermarket where nabe ingredients such as fish, are sold.
Yose Nabe – literally means “whatever you want to put in it” nabe – a very versatile stock for all ingredients.
Kimchee Nabe – this Korean base is great for ingredients such as tofu and pork. It can be as spicy as you like it, if you add extra kimchee.
Tohnyuu (soy milk) Nabe – great for mild tasting ingredients such as vegetables and chicken.
Chanko Nabe – This nabe was traditionally used for sumo wrestlers and is suitable for high-protein, high calorie ingredients such as chicken drumsticks.
Kaki (oyster) Nabe – Oysters add a wonderful flavour to the nabe, and can even be used the next day if measures are taken to make sure the oysters are OK (see below).
Kani (crab) Suki – Crab is also a wonderful flavour for a nabe, and adds another dimension to the family meal if you use real crab legs – messy but fun!
After you’ve chosen the soup, walk around the supermarket and put anything in your shopping basket that takes your fancy. Some common nabe ingredients include:
You can find a selection of “nabe no moto,” or soup base for nabe pot cooking on Amazon.co.jp here so you can get an idea what to look for in the grocery store.
A word on keeping the nabe fresh for the next day – most of the time you will not need to refrigerate ingredients if you just boil them a couple of times before you use it again. For example, boil the nabe in the morning after you get up, and then once again that night before you are going to eat it.
Refrigerate extreme perishables like oysters if the temperature in your house is high. Eat as many of the ingredients as you can the first night of the nabe, not adding unecessary ingredients you’re not going to eat that night.
The wonderful thing about nabe is that it only gets better the second night, as the stock has had time to mature. On the final night, you might like to add udon noodles to the soup, or cooked rice to the soup to make delicious zosui (rice gruel). Zosui is the chosen food of sick people, because it is so mild to the stomach and is filled with nutrients, but healthy people find it just as delicious! Adding a beaten egg to this final mix and then cooking on very low heat with the lid closed will give the best finish to zosui, sticking the mixture together very nicely.
To finish off, I leave you with some other websites and blogs that will tell you more about nabe and also give you some ideas for recipes and variations (not that you need them, a good nabe makes itself!)
Image by Yamaguchi YoshiakiCamera [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons (modified) Image By User:Toki-ho and User:Ananda [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons (modified)