If there’s a life conducive to food blogging, it’s being unemployed in a college town and newly attached. Conversely, if there’s a lifestyle conducive to letting that blog go stale as an opened box of wheat thins, it’s a nine-to-five job in a full-fledged city with your mate 370 miles away.
These things—with all their promise, exhilaration, and loneliness—have wrecked the most havoc here on these pages.
The excuses fly in: I don’t have the time. I’m too tired and too transient. I don’t have a car. I already spend my days thinking about and working on food. With three new housemates, there’s no space in the fridge for leftovers.
But every good excuse has a better antecedent: I have my weekends. I need the energy and the sense of home good meals bring. I have my bike, the metro, and a great co-op nearby. I can never get enough of food. And lastly, when you share life with great people, there are seldom leftovers anyway.
Perhaps without knowing it, my new housemates have helped eased my transition back into domesticity after more than a month spent country, county, and couch hopping. (Shout out to my wonderful sets of parents, June and Raul, and Rebecca and her parents for their respective hosting!)
They’ve been there with cookies at midnight after long days exploring the city. They’ve offered liver and onions before a treacherous bike ride through D.C.’s morning traffic. They’ve shared roast chicken and salad after a long day at the office, and left notes on perfectly-ripe avocados to spread on my evening slice of supper toast. And they’ve introduced me to Japanese hot pot: a first, and a delight to come home to one chilly Monday night.
As the chef herself put it, nabe is a “true communist meal”: each diner gives and takes according to their ability and need. There’s one big pot in the middle, steaming and stewing away with fresh cabbage, spinach, and seafood. Rather than tending your own little morsel, as is the case with fondue, you simply toss things into the pot at will and fish them out as you so desire.
In the end, everyone is amply fed.
I’m slowly relaxing into life here: exploring the smooth corners and rough edges of the communities around me, giving my hours to this new world and taking from its pool when I need to. There will be times, I know, when take-out will triumph and I will succumb to canned soup. But because I believe in and love good food, my fully-stocked (and darling) kitchen will call me back to a place I hope to never unlearn.
Until then, I owe it to my housemates.
makes 4 – 6 servings
8 ½ cups dashi stock
3 T light soy sauce
2 T sake
2 tsp salt
3 ½ oz daikon radish, peeled and cut into quarters
1 ¾ oz carrot, cut into ½ inch thick rounds
4 dried shiitake mushrooms (softened in warm water for half an hour), cut into halves.
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 leek or 1 bunch scallions, cut into diagonal slices
14 oz Chinese cabbage, cut into 1 ½ inch width
raw seafood, cut into bite-sized pieces: choose from clams, oysters, shrimp, red snapper, salmon, and firm white fish fillets
12 oz tofu, cut into cubes
noodles of your choice (udon, soba)
finely chopped scallion
grated daikon radish mixed with red chiles
lime or lemon juice mixed with soy sauce
First, make the dashi stock. According to Becki’s book, Japanese dashi is the soul of their cuisine, and its most distinctive element. The author says that good instant dashi powders do exist, some of them being very good. If you’re using instant dashi, follow the instructions on the package to make the 8 cups needed for this recipe.
If you’d like to make your own dashi (not a difficult process), purchase a bag of kombu (kelp), and soak 12 inches of it in 8 cups of water for an hour. Heat to the boiling point, but remove the kelp just before the water actually boils.
Using the stock, prepare the simmering stock.
Parboil the prepared daikon, carrot, and potatoes and set aside.
Yosenabe is cooked and served right at the table, like it’s French counterpart, fondue. Arrange all the ingredients attractively on a large platter: the fish on one and the greens on another. Prepare a large electric heating unit on a table and add the simmering stock. Heat until simmering, and add some seafood. Add other ingredients, and begin to cook. As everyone helps himself, replenish pot with more fresh ingredients, adding more simmering stock if necessary.
from Japanese Cooking for Everyone by Yukiko Moriyama