Nikudango no donabe
Meat balls, napa cabbage, harusame noodles and scallions
are cooked in a seasoned chicken broth.
The first and best Chinese food I ever ate was at my Chinese friend Peichun's house in Tokyo. Peichun's father worked for a Taiwanese newspaper. He was the Japan correspondent for many years so Peichun did most of her schooling in Japan but at home, she was completely Chinese. Her mother was an excellent cook. Their house always smelt of exotic foods and spices- anise star, peppers, sausages, dried shrimp, dried mango, sesame oil. Even the soysauce was different than what I used at home. I remember how my nose would wiggle from all the unfamiliar aromas whenever I was invited to their house. This was back in the sixties.
Peichun's mother made cooking look very easy. She would stand at the stove, frying up one dish after another in the sizzling wok. If Peichun's father came home from work early, he would serve us the food. and we girls would giggle and eat. One particular dish that I loved very much was Peichun's mother's hot pot with Meat Balls. The hot pot had four huge meat balls, napa cabbage and spring noodles. I was thirteen or fourteen years old but could eat a whole meat ball. My friends still remind me of that. Yesterday, one of my old girlfriend, Yumiko, e-mailed me from Tokyo telling me that she made Peichun's mother's hot pot with Meat balls. I got inspired to make the hot pot too. Fresh chicken broth is key to making a good nabe. My meat balls are smaller than Peichun's mother's meatballs but they are made in the same spirit - joyfully.
Meat balls recipe:
10 oz ground pork
5 water chestnuts, chopped (optional)
1 tsp salt
1 tbls sake
1 tbls potato starch (katkuriko) or cornstarch, dissolved in equal amount of water
1 tsp chopped ginger
1/2 tsp roasted sesame oil
Ground pepper to taste
4 oz Napa cabbage leaves, washed and cut into bite sizes, about 2.5 inches wide
1 tsp sliced ginger
2 tbls sake
1/2 -1 tsp salt
2 tbls sliced scallions or negi
1 hot pot or cast iron pot
Hydrate the Harusame noodles in water for at least 3 minutes.
Put the meat ball ingredients into a food processor. Add only 1/2 of the chicken broth and pulse until the meat is combined well. Then add the rest of the broth and pulse again until the mixture is smooth and feels starchy. You can do this step by hand. The broth makes the meat balls very tender and flavorful.
Bring the donabe hot pot or cast iron pot to the stove or portable burner. Add 8 cups of chicken broth with the sliced ginger, sake and salt and bring to a boil. Then turn down heat to a simmer.
Add the harsume noodles and cook for a minute.
With wet hands, make little meat balls, using about 1.5 tbls of meat mixture.
Put the meat balls into the simmering pot. If you plan to serve the nabe in two stages, only put half of the meat mixture. You should have about 16 meat balls.
Add the napa cabbage and cook for a couple of minutes, with lid on.
Test one meat ball to see if it is cooked. Taste the soup. If it needs more flavor, add a itittle more salt, pepper and sake.
Garnish hot pot with sliced scallions. Serve in individual soup bowls.