SJ here, back in NYC after a lovely winter holiday in New Mexico. Greeted by bone chillingly cold weather and to add insult to injury, a dead battery and a flat tire. If you have ever changed a tire while the eagle claws of a NYC winter wind clamp down on the tiniest patch of exposed flesh, then you can well imagine my sorry state when I arrived home for dinner.
Well, I have made one very, very smart choice and that was joining forces for life with the great Exquisite Maiko. For she, among her many many talents, knows how rejuvenate with a meal. And if anything can rejuvenate in the winter, it is what she welcomed me with, Onabe or Hot Pot. This is a simple dish really. You take stock — take the time to make homemade stock please as it makes an enormous difference — and kombu and boil it in a clay pot over an open flame (we use a portable gas grill). And then you just add stuff. Napa Cabbage, bean sprouts, marinated chicken, fish balls, shitake mushrooms, tofu, watercress, noodles and really any vegetable (except cucumbers and a few others!). Spoon out the steaming hot broth, add some ponzu sauce, some chili paste and pick out your favorite vegetables and proteins and dig in. The various vegetables and meat flavor the soup and the pure heat of the boiling broth could warm up one of those frozen Siberian mammoths in a matter of moments.
Onabe is the essence of Japanese home cooking – simple, delicious, healthy; a virtual translation of the concept of hearth and familial warmth into something edible. It is a bed rock favorite of the Sumo cuisine known as Chanko. And the best part is all that delicious broth does not go to waste. Tomorrow night the soup gets added to rice to make Ojiya, a sort of Japanese congee that is as heartwarming as it sounds. Normally Ojiya is made at the end of an Onabe meal — just add rice, a beaten egg and scallion and cover!
So, while the frost may fall in layers about my ears and the winds may whistle, I have the pleasures of Japanese Winter foods to look forward to — and that may just be worth whatever cold I have to face.