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Japanese Home Cooking SPECIAL EDITION

Nobody would call The Last Tea Bowl Thief’s Robin Swann a gourmet cook, but she makes a mean Sesame-Miso Hotpot for herself as she begins tracing the ownership of the missing tea bowl.

I think you’ll find that this is the perfect cozy dish as fall deepens into winter! You can cook it on the stove and serve it in bowls for a savory meal that’s not only super tasty, it’s as healthy as you can get.

But I can’t resist telling you, the traditional Japanese way of cooking fresh ingredients at the table in a clay pot is extra-magical. I make it when I invite people for dinner who don’t know each other very well, because cooking at the table somehow always leads to great conversations and lasting friendships.

And if—like Robin—you’re eating solo, what could be more perfect than sitting at your table with a good book and putting goodies into the pot until you’re full, then saving the rest? (I’ll post pictures at the end of the stove and pot you’d need to cook at the table—I think you’ll be surprised by how little you have to buy and how easy & inexpensive it is to get!)

Japanese Sesame-Miso Hotpot

Miso-Goma Nabe

As this tasty broth bubbles away and fills your kitchen with cozy goodness, you’ll forget that this dish is as healthy as it is satisfying

Miso-goma nabe sesame-miso hotpot

Serves 2*

For the broth:

3 c. (700ml) dashi (Japanese smoked bonito soup stock, which can be made with boiling water and instant Hon-Dashi* granules)

¼ c. (32g) miso (I mix half white miso, half red miso)

2 T. (30ml) mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine for cooking)

1 T. (15ml) tahini or Japanese nerigoma (sesame paste)

1 t. (10g) sugar

*I double these amounts for my family-sized pot

Hondashi instant dashi granules
*Use one cup of boiling water plus 1/2 t. (3g) of Hon-Dashi granules to make each cup of broth

What to put in your hotpot:

Boneless, skinless, chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated for a few hours before serving

Marinated chicken
Marinade: 2 T. (30ml) soy sauce, 2 T. (30ml) mirin, 2 T. (30ml) sake, 2 t. (10g) sugar

Carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

Carrots sliced on the diagonal
Don’t cut these too fat, or they take forever to cook

Leeks, sliced diagonally into two-inch lengths

Check the slice closest to the leaves for sand, and rinse it out if you find any

• Shiitake mushrooms (or your current favorite), stems removed

• Firm tofu, cut into bite-sized pieces

Napa cabbage, sliced crosswise and halved OR spinach OR other leafy greens (the bitterness of dark greens is beautifully offset by the richness of the sesame-miso broth), washed well and torn into large pieces

This is the assortment I usually use, but please feel free to put in whatever seasonal vegetables you love!

The key to this hotpot is adding the ingredients at the right time, starting with the things that take longest to cook (the meat) followed by the carrots, leeks, mushrooms and tofu in turn. Don’t stir in the leafy greens until you’re ready to eat, because they’ll cook pretty much instantly.

If you’re cooking at the table, this is much less important, because everybody can help themselves from the pot as various ingredients are ready!

So, what do you need to cook at the table?

This is the trusty clay pot and burner I use (my burner runs on easy-to-switch-out butane cans), but the pot doesn’t have to be clay to work. You can use metal pots too. The best pots for tabletop cooking are wide and somewhere between a saucepan and a frying pan in depth, because it’s easier for people to add ingredients and serve themselves when the simmering contents aren’t deep down inside. I use the lid while heating the broth to boiling on my regular stove, then take the lid off when I put it on the table burner.

Some Japanese clay pots you can get online

If you do want a Japanese clay pot (it’s good for cooking all kinds of great stuff besides hotpot, because you can use it on the stove or in the oven) here are a few selections of what came up with I searched “Japanese clay pot” on Amazon. Of course, you don’t need one of these to make nabe—if a metal pan works better for you, go for it!

Some options for tabletop burners

I got these by searching for “one burner tabletop gas stove.” The butane canisters that fuel them can be bought on Amazon too, if you don’t have an Asian market nearby. And if you prefer an electric hotplate, those work just fine too.

I hope you love this as much as I do, and I’m all ears if you find other things that are awesome to cook at the table too!

“The brilliance of this novel sneaks up on you as the pieces of its puzzle come together.” —Mac Salman, Tokyo Authority

Two women from opposite sides of the globe are both chasing the same missing artifact, but what happens when they discover that neither can get their hands on it without the other?…read more

Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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