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Japanese home cooking: Where clean eating meets comfort food

Adriana Velez is Food Editor for SheKnows. She spent her formative years in Brooklyn, which pretty much explains everything about her. She now lives somewhere else and has discovered life after kale and kombucha. She's written for Civil ...

Chef Masaharu Morimoto has the answer to your craving for warm, cozy clean-eating

January is the month my appetite sends me mixed messages. On one hand, I am so done with all the rich, sugary, decadent holiday food that I want to run away to a Buddhist temple and live on gently poached vegetables for the rest of the month. On the other hand, winter kicks in for real and I want to eat the food equivalent of a big, cozy down comforter. You know, the opposite of gently poached vegetables.

More: Hearty vegan stews that'll keep you warm all winter

And that's why I turn to Japanese home cooking. Think less sushi and more hot, steaming bowls of udon noodles and fragrant chicken hot pots. Sounds satisfying? Check out these two recipes from celeb chef Masaharu Morimoto's new cookbook, Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking.

Chef Masaharu Morimoto has the answer to your craving for warm, cozy clean-eating
Image: Evan Sung

Nabeyaki udon ("claypot" udon noodle soup) recipe

Morimoto: When I feel November’s first frigid wind, my first thought is, “Maybe it’s time to check on my restaurant in Hawaii.” If I can’t, I know I’ll be okay — after all, there’s always nabeyaki udon. Traditionally served in an earthenware hot pot called a donabe that retains heat really well, the soup is the ultimate cold weather comfort food. Each portion is a meal, thanks to slick, springy udon noodles, chicken, greens, and the strange but wonderful pink-rimmed fish cake called kamaboko. Another classic addition is shrimp tempura, plunked right into the soup to soak up the luscious, egg-enriched broth. For a real treat, use homemade udon noodles that have been boiled, shocked in ice water, and drained well.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 6 cups dashi (dried fish and kelp stock) or kombu dashi (kelp stock)*
  • 1/2 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)*
  • 1/2 cup usukuchi (Japanese light-colored soy sauce)*
  • 2 pounds homemade udon noodles or fresh or frozen precooked udon noodles
  • 1/4 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into thin bite-size pieces
  • 8 (1/4-inch-thick) half-moon slices kamaboko (Japanese fish cake)
  • 4 medium fresh or rehydrated dried shiitake mushroom caps
  • 4 cups very loosely packed baby spinach, dunked in boiling water then squeezed well
  • 4 cups very loosely packed stemmed shungiku (chrysanthemum greens) or more baby spinach
  • 2 scallions, whites and light green parts, cut into 2x1/2-inch strips
  • 4 large eggs
  • 4 pieces shrimp tempura*
  • Shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice powder) to taste
*Editor: Recipes for dashi are in the cookbook, but you could swap with an equal volume of chicken or vegetable stock. You can also use sweet white wine instead of mirin, regular soy sauce instead of usukuchi and cooked shrimp instead of shrimp tempura. It won't be exactly the same, but it will still taste wonderful.

Directions:

  1. Combine the dashi, mirin and soy sauce in a wide, shallow pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Add the udon noodles and cook, stirring occasionally, just until the noodle clumps separate, about 2 minutes for fresh noodles and 4 minutes for frozen noodles.
  2. Add the chicken, fish cakes and mushrooms onto the noodles, each ingredient in its own cluster. Reduce the heat to maintain a strong simmer if necessary. Cook, without stirring but turning over the chicken pieces once, until the chicken is cooked through, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat slightly. Add the spinach, chrysanthemum greens, and scallions onto the noodles, each in its own cluster. Cook just until the greens begin to wilt and the noodles are fully cooked but not mushy, about 1 minute. Add each egg to a different area of the pot, taking care not to break the yolks. Cover the pot and cook until the egg whites have just set and the noodles are fully cooked but not mushy, about 3 minutes. Add the shrimp tempura so it floats on the surface.
  3. Bring the pot to the table along with 4 large bowls and a small dish of the shichimi togarashi for sprinkling.

More: 15 ingredients you need in your pantry to master Japanese cooking

Chikuzenni (chicken simmered with lotus root and bamboo shoots) recipe

Chef Masaharu Morimoto has the answer to your craving for warm, cozy clean-eating
Image: Evan Sung

Morimoto: Once a dish prepared mainly during the first few days of the New Year, chikuzenni is so tasty that it has become everyday food. I know I can’t wait until January to dig into this vegetable-heavy, sauce-less chicken stew. As usual, little more than dashi stock and a couple of pantry ingredients team up to make a humble, healthful collection of ingredients taste special. The most festive versions feature carrots and lotus root carved into cute shapes, but your guests will love yours whether or not your carrots resemble little flowers.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 pound vacuum-packed precooked bamboo shoot (takenoko) 
  • 1/4 pound vacuum-packed precooked lotus root (renkon)*
  • 1/2 cup green beans, trimmed, cut (about 1- inch lengths) 
  • 1/2 cup snow peas, trimmed, halved
  • 8 (3- inch long, 1/4-inch-thick) slices drained gray konnyaku (Japanese “yam cake”)*
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3/4 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces
  • 1-1/2 cups roughly chopped (into irregular 1- inch pieces) peeled carrots
  • 6 medium dried shiitake mushroom caps, rehydrated and quartered
  • 2 cups dashi (dried fish and kelp stock) or kombu dashi* 
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)*
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
*Editor: Recipes for dashi are in the cookbook, but you could swap with chicken or vegetable stock. You can also use a sweet white wine instead of mirin. If you can't find lotus root or yam cake, simply omit. It won't be exactly the same, but it will still taste wonderful.

Directions:

  1. Drain the bamboo shoot and lotus root. Trim the bumpy exterior from the base of the bamboo shoot. Cut each into 1/4-inch pieces.
  2. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the green beans and snow peas and cook for 2 minutes. Scoop them out and rinse them well under cold water. Drain well and transfer to a bowl.
  3. Add the lotus root, bamboo shoot and konnyaku to the boiling water, cook for 1 minute, then drain in a colander.
  4. Combine the sesame oil and chicken in a large skillet and set it over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add the lotus root, bamboo shoot, konnyaku, carrots and mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the dashi, let it come to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce, mirin and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook at a boil, tossing occasionally, until the liquid has completely evaporated, about 20 minutes.
  6. Add the green beans and snow peas, toss well, and transfer to bowls. Let the dish cool slightly before serving. It keeps in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Before you go, check out our slideshow below.

Chef Masaharu Morimoto has the answer to your craving for warm, cozy clean-eating
Image: Curious Nut
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