Shabu Shabu: Communal Food (Part 2)

I seemed to have lucked out with friends who entertain at home, as I am able to enjoy a cultural and dining experience right in their kitchens! In my last blog, I recalled my Swiss friend’s cheese fondue. This week, I thought about my Japanese friend’s tabletop communal meal, Shabu shabu. Several years later as I replicate the dish, I replaced some of the red meat with more vegetable options that is just as delicious. Similar in style to cheese fondue meal, Shabu shabu has a central pot that uses hot broth instead of cheese. Shabu shabu is also surrounded by a variety of side dishes.

Shabu shabu broth is made easily with water that is flavored with dried seaweed (kombu) and fish (bonito) flakes or powder. I shopped at my local Japanese market for the more traditional accompaniments such as chrysanthemum leaves, nori and kombu seaweed, but most large supermarkets carry dried seaweed, tofu, and enoki and shiitake mushrooms. Instead of investing in a bottled version of the dipping sauce, ponzu, I made my own version with soy sauce, mirin, orange juice, lemon and chili flakes – ingredients that I had at home.

Communal meals can be cobbled together quickly and stretched if more people are going to share the meal. Shopping and preparation can be done ahead of time. There are no measurements involved, and the meal can be an impromptu dinner if you have some of basic ingredients such as cabbage, mushrooms, and carrots in the refrigerator.

For the Broth:

  • Bring 3 cups of water to boil, lower the heat and add ½ sheet of kombu
  • Let the water simmer and then add 1 ½ tsp the bonito powder. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Strain the broth and discard the seaweed.
  • Keep the broth on slow simmer.
  • Add the vegetable such as carrots that take the longest to cook into the broth.
  • Bring the broth to the table and each person dips the meat into the broth.
  • Once the vegetables and meat are cooked to your desired level of crispness, remove them.
  • Serve with the dipping sauce and bowls of cooked rice.

Suggested Accompaniments:

  • Sirloin beef, sliced thinly and flattened further (press the sides of the knife on the thin slice of meat)
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Napa cabbage leaves
  • Cubed tofu
  • Strips of carrots
  • Chrysanthemum leaves
  • Cooked sticky rice
  • IMG_2915

All about Cabbage

I hope your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations went well, complete with green beer and some traditional Irish dishes of stew, corned beef and cabbage, or cabbage and mashed potato! Many of A. and N.’s friends have been vegetarians since high school, and I’ve learned how tough it is to incorporate a vegetarian palate into traditional festivities. The following two cabbage dishes can become part of your vegetarian repertoire, and you can come prepared for any party!

Cabbage used to be classified as a cruciferous vegetable, but an updated list has it under the classification brassica vegetables. This group includes: Brussels sprouts, collard greens, cauliflower, and broccoli. They are also called “cole” crops, as cabbage and broccoli were often made into coleslaw.

There are five main types of cabbages:

  • Green – the most commonly found cabbage has tightly interwoven leaves that form a perfect ball-shape. Its mild taste makes it a great candidate for salads and sauerkraut. It retains its shape when steamed, but it cooks down to a tasty, mushy base in a stew.
  • Red – its shape is like that of the green cabbage, but it has a stronger, earthier taste. Red cabbage is often combined with green cabbage for a shot of color in salads.
  • Napa or Chinese cabbage – has an elongated shape (looks like bok choy) with long, pale-green leaves. It is sweeter than the above two.
  • Savoy – it is shaped like green and red cabbage, but it has curly, ridged leaves.
  • Bok choy – its leaves are dark green and has a subtle flavor.

Tips on getting the most of this vitamin C and potassium-loaded vegetable:

  • Cabbage is best steamed with little or no water. Boiling or cooking it in the microwave destroys most of the nutrients.
  • Add a little lemon juice to red cabbage to prevent it from turning a purplish-grey color.
  • Shred the leaves just before you start cooking – cabbage starts losing the nutrients once it is cut.


This is an easy recipe that requires no cooking experience.  Pickling vegetables is an old way of preserving the harvest long past its prime-growing season. The main ingredient for preserving vegetables is salt. Fermentation, the shortened (yet still unattractive) name for the scientific process called lacto-fermentation, occurs naturally. Salt leaches out moisture, and the cabbage ferments in this brine solution. Hence the translation of “sour cabbage.” The process taps into the same good bacteria that go into making yogurt, Korean kimchi, and Colombian curtido. I am not a big beer drinker, but drinking beer with a side of crunchy sauerkraut with just a hint of tanginess remains my favorite memory of Prague. The dish was a far cry from the soggy mass that is usually available in stores.

For ½ head of green cabbage

  • Remove the outer damaged or tired-looking leaves.
  • Cut the cabbage in half, and shred the cabbage with a sharp knife or in a food processor. Remove the hard center.
  • Wash the shredded cabbage and drain.
  • Clean out a large non-reactive container (a glass jar or ceramic pot) in hot water.
  • Place the shredded cabbage in the jar, and add 1 – 1 ½ tbsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. caraway seeds (optional) and ½ tbsp. whole peppercorns.
  • Place a sterilized weight (stones or a can resting on a cabbage leaf) on the shredded cabbage. This is an important step; the weight keeps the leaves submerged in the brine solution. Exposed leaves may develop mold. I don’t add water. If after a day you do not have a salt solution, then add a little water. Store the jar in a cool area or in your refrigerator. Tamp it down (I used my rolling pin) at least couple of times each day over the next 3-14 days. It is safe to eat at any time during this period, but if you notice that as the solution bubbles up and a frothy scum forms on the surface, do not be alarmed. Skim off the foam. Sauerkraut keeps for a long time in the refrigerator. Experiment with different vegetables, adding more or less salt, or try keeping it longer. I am now trying this experiment with cauliflower and will report back next week!


Indian-style cabbage

I have combined some of the steps of this very traditional dish to make it a one-pot dish. It still is as flavorful, but cooking and washing up time is shortened. Don’t be intimidated by the number of ingredients!

For ½ head of green cabbage

You will need: 1 tbsp. oil, ½ tbsp each of mustard seeds and cumin seeds, ¼ tsp. turmeric (optional), 1 medium onion or shallot, chopped, 1 cup grated, unsweetened coconut, 2 chilies, minced, 2 garlic cloves, minced, 1 tsp. ginger, minced, and salt to taste.

  • Remove the outer damaged or tired-looking leaves.
  • Cut the cabbage in half, and shred the cabbage with a sharp knife or in a food processor.
  • Wash the shredded cabbage and drain.
  • Heat a wok. Add vegetable oil.
  • Once heated, add the mustard seeds.
  • Once it pops (few seconds), add the cumin seeds.
  • As soon as the cumin sizzles (a few seconds), add the chopped onion and cook for about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the minced ginger, garlic, and chilies. Stir-fry for a minute.
  • Add the grated coconut and turmeric. Stir-fry for a few seconds.
  • Add the shredded cabbage. Cover. Reduce the heat to simmer.
  • Cook for five minutes (depending on your preference for a crunch).
  • Salt to taste.