Simply Hot Pots brings hot pot cooking to your table with a complete course of 75 recipes, including 15 base broths (from shabu-shabu to bone broths to creamy corn and tomato broths); pork, chicken, beef, seafood, spicy, vegetable, and specialty hot pot meals; dipping sauces; sides; and desserts. Amy Kimoto-Kahn, the best-selling author of Simply Ramen, shares recipes of traditional and non-traditional Japanese hot pots, along with East Asian hot pots with flavors from Mongolia, Thailand, and Malaysia.
You and your guests will love quickly cooking shabu-shabu–style meats, greens, mushrooms, onions, root and other vegetables, and tofu in the piping hot, savory broths, followed by a shime (end-of-meal course), when plump udon noodles, tender ramen noodles, or fluffy rice are placed into the leftover broth and simmered until warm and bursting with its delicious flavor.
Quarto very kindly contacted me to let me know Simply Hot Pots was available for review; as I was at that very moment considering whether or not to blow my budget and order pho (sort of like Vietnamese hot pot), it seemed like a sign… Needless to say, I ordered the pho (garlic steak, it was delicious) and downloaded the book immediately.
I may have mentioned before that I like to cook. My favourite TV shows are on the Food Network channel, I have entire shelves of cookery books, and my family regularly suffer through me experimenting with new recipes. (Deep fried Yorkshire pudding. Seriously, it was better than it sounded)… And while I’ve been to Japan, and like the food culture very much, I had never heard of Nabemono. I was immediately interested.
What is hot pot cooking? It’s about bringing people together. It’s comfort food. It’s healthy, affordable, quick, and easy. It’s a complete one-pot meal that can be customized for anyone. Hot pot cooking embodies Japanese culture with its use of fresh, seasonal ingredients, delicate presentation, and the humble manner in which it is served. In Japan, hot pots are called nabemono (nah-beh-mo-no), or nabe for short. The stout, clay, lidded pots that nabe are cooked in are called donabe (doh-nah-beh; directly translated, nabe means “pot). They have not changed in thousands of years and continue to be a fixture in today’s Japanese kitchen.
A typical hot pot meal in Japan would have a family gathered around the dining table with a donabe of bubbling dashi (broth) as the centrepiece. There would be overflowing plates of thinly sliced beef, bite-size squares of creamy tofu, fresh shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves), and piles of Napa cabbage, tender shiitake mushrooms, colourful carrots, and julienned scallion – all ready to take a short dip in the warm broth. A small bowl of zesty ponzu sauce would be served on the side as a dip for meat and vegetables. The meal would end with a shime (she-meh), or end-of-meal course.
Needless to say, it sounds absolutely delicious…
The introduction is both sweet and poignant, as the author describes not only where her love for nabemono came from, but the role food plays in the history and life of her family. It was deeply personal, and rather lovely. If anything, it made me love the book, and the idea of nabemono, more. I am always genuinely sold when cookery book authors manage to place their love of food, and the cuisine they are sharing, within the real context of their family life. For me, that’s what food is all about, and what makes it so special. It has the ability to bring people together in a shared experience. It’s such a huge part of the fabric of our lives, our families, history and heritage, and in many ways plays a role in helping us define who we are. Those food memories, those experiences around the table, remind us of what, and who, is important. And that’s what nabemono is all about.
As with all Quarto books (at least the ones I’ve read so far), the photography and layout are gorgeous. There are plenty of mouthwatering pictures of food, all in beautiful table layouts centred around these deeply envy-worthy donabe pots (I’m aware that donabe means “pot”, so I’ve just said pot-pot, but the sentence just doesn’t look right without it – no judgement). I mean, seriously. I love a good kitchen gadget or accessory, and these have just made it onto my list of must-have items. I’m also rather taken by the idea that not only will my new donabe last a lifetime (so it’s clearly a bargain, and how could I possibly feel bad about buying one?), but requires lovingly sealing to prevent cracking – a bit like a traditional Japanese clay tea pot (which I also covet, in case anyone was wondering).
The recipes themselves range from very simple, with a few easily found ingredients, to the sort of thing which would make you look like Martha Stewart if you served it a dinner party. The mark of a good cookery book. And apart from a donabe, they require very little equipment – there was nothing else you wouldn’t already have at home.
I prefer eating tableside because I like the activity of watching my family select what they want to cook for themselves, and I’m tricked into feeling like I’m getting a little break from cooking. There are hands crossing, people dipping, conversation happening – it’s almost a bit chaotic, but in the best way.
Stock making from scratch sounds complicated and time consuming – and I think it can be. But Simply Hot Pots makes it simple, with a range of recipes with easy to follow instructions. Even the novice cook could feel confident giving them a try and would achieve good results. Some of the recipes clearly do require a large time investment, but others can be ready in minutes. I also liked that the recipes stated how long items would keep in the fridge, if you wanted to prepare them in advance.I found the trickier and the international recipes very interesting, and how they were paired with the nabe. It seems like a very versatile style of cooking. And there really was something for everyone. Even a fussy eater would surely be happy with a hearty, warming chicken broth, shredded chicken, and the ability to pick and choose their own accompaniments.
All in all, I was very impressed by Simply Hot Pots. A gorgeous book, written in a comprehensible and personable style, and presenting me with a completely new cuisine – complete with must-have, niche kitchen equipment. I will absolutely be giving these recipes a try.