It always takes me a couple of weeks post-new year to get in the groove, but right about now I start craving lean, clean flavors. The trick is to produce something light, yet satisfyingly warming this time of year.
That’s when I turn to my nabe, a Japanese pot used for nabemono (“things in a pot”), which are basically cold-weather one-pot meals typically cooked communally at the table.
While it’s nice to swish shabu shabu with friends, the pot itself is a very handy, inexpensive piece of kitchen equipment for everyday cooking. I keep my enamel-lined cast iron version (clay is also traditional), which looks a bit like chuckwagon cookware, on the stove and at the ready.
With a quick “hot pot” in mind, I headed to the farmers’ market. Everything I saw suddenly seemed suited to my purpose. The trick now was to decide which flavor direction to go—Japanese? Indian, Southeast Asian? French?
Here’s what I used for my first winter “detox” dinner: Early spring onions and green garlic, fresh ginger, napa cabbage, golden turnips, tiny all-white “hailstone” radishes, napa cabbage, and an acorn squash, plus salmon, homemade chicken stock I had on hand, and rice vinegar for a japonais (japanesque?) meal that was ready in less than 30 minutes.
If you’re vegan or a fan of New Year’s cleanses, you’ve already got a bone to pick with me. But here’s what’s great about this master recipe I’m about to give you: It works with or without animal protein (tofu!) and the liquid can be anything from dashi or other stock to as simple as water. Vegetables and aromatics can be varied endlessly, but what gives this meal its refreshing, renewing qualities are the cooking techniques and the inclusion of some sort of acid to brighten the dish.
Here we go. If you’re using fish, plan on 3 to 4 ounces per serving. If fish is “skin on,” heat the pot and crisp the skin side in 1 tablespoon healthy cooking oil such as grapeseed or avocado. (If skinless, fish is added later below.) Remove the fish to a plate and stir in chopped onions and green garlic (or leeks or regular brown-skinned onions). Cook a few minutes to soften, stir in ginger, radishes, sliced turnips and squash. Add a bit of salt. Cook a few minutes and pour in a cup or two of your preferred liquid (just enough to get half way up the vegetables). Simmer covered until almost soft, about 10 minutes.
Stir in cabbage (or other quick-cooking green) and vinegar to taste. Nestle the pieces of fish in the stew skin side up. If you’re using cubes of silken or regular tofu, add them now. Spoon a bit of the cooking liquid over the fish or tofu, cover pot, and simmer gently until fish is cooked through, about 5 minutes. Season with additional vinegar to taste.
Next up, Country French “Nabemono” with Monkfish.