Layers of thinly sliced pork belly alternating with napa cabbage cooked in a light dashi broth. Easy, warm and comforting meal for your winter nights!
Happy Winter Solstice! 冬至快樂! In Hong Kong, we actually celebrate winter solstice. Winter solstice is the second most important festival after Chinese New Year. It’s the short day of the year with the fewest hours of sunlight. Back in the old days, it means that days are going to be longer from now on and spring is not too far away. That’s why Chinese celebrate this specific day. Everyone will go back home and enjoy a lavish meal together with the families.
In the US, winter solstice is also considered as the first day of winter. It’s getting cold for sure, even in Los Angeles. Bryan and I were just talking the other day that this year has been feeling much colder than the last few years. I absolutely welcome the cooler weather. For Bryan, he always complains how the house is freezing cold. He definitely won’t and CAN’T survive snow weather. HAHA!
In cold days, nothing is better than a hot meal, like this mille-feuille nabe. The name of the dish may sound fancy. “Mille-feuille” means “thousand leaves” in French. It’s commonly known as the French dessert that is made up of alternating layers of puff pastries, pastry cream, whipped cream, and sometimes fruits. This is a Japanese dish and it’s not a dessert. This is a pot of napa cabbage leaves and thin pork belly slices placed in layers and cook with a light broth. “Nabe” means “cooking pot” in Japanese. Together, it means “a cooking pot of thousand leaves”. By looking at the dish, the name sure fits it.
This dish is stunning to look at and the flavors are incredible. It’s warm and comforting. The tender napa cabbage soaked up all tasty flavors from the pork and the dashi broth. The dish is light, but savory and meaty. When serving with ponzu (citrus-based sauce) and shicimi togarashi (seven spice powder), there were acidity and saltiness from the ponzu and spiciness from the seven spice powder. Everything goes well together. DELISH! And of course, this dish has plenty of vegetables and it requires very few ingredients. I think this nabe is a short cut version of shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot). Everything is cooked in a light broth, but much easier (less chopping) and prettier. No doubt, this is a one pot meal that will definitely keep you warm and happy throughout the cold winter.
- 6 cups water
- 2 dashi packets
- 1 large napa cabbage (about 2½-pounds)
- ½ - ¾ pound thinly sliced pork belly
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 (1-inch) piece ginger
- 1 green onion (finely chopped)
- ponzu sauce (for serving)
- sesame sauce (for serving)
- shichimi togarashi (Japanese mixed chili pepper)(for serving)
- Prepare a 10-inch pot or dutch oven.
- Cut the cabbage into quarters lengthwise. Do not remove the bottom. Carefully wash each quarter under running water and keep the whole thing intact. Set aside and let it drain. Continue with the other quarters. Reserve any leaves that got washed off.
- In a medium pot over medium-heat, add 6 cups water and 2 dashi packets. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Discard the packets and remove from heat. Set aside.
- Back to the cabbage, lay a slice of pork belly in between the cabbage leaves. If the leave is big, you can put 2 slices of pork belly side-by-side. After the cabbage is all stuffed, trim off the cabbage bottom. While holding the cabbage quarter tight together, carefully cut the quarter lenthwise into 2½-inch pieces.
- In the prepared pot, starting from the outer edge, place the cabbage & pork layers. Make sure everything is packed tightly. If needed, put some of reserved leaves in the middle.
- Measure out 5 cups of dashi broth (not all) to a large bowl. Add sake, soy sauce and salt to the bowl.
- Place the ginger slice on top of the cabbage and pour in the dashi mixture.
- Cook over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until cabbage is tender and meat is cooked through, about 5 – 8 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped green onion. Serve with ponzu sauce, sesame sauce and shichimi togarshi.
- Dashi packets can be bought in Japanese supermarket or Amazon. You can also make your own dashi or use instant dashi powder.
- Pre-cut pork belly slices can be found in most Asian supermarkets. If not, you maybe able to get them from stores like Whole Foods. Ask the butcher to cut them very thin for you. I usually use about ¾ pound of pork.
- Ponzu sauce and sesame sauce are commonly used for shabu shabu (Japanese hot pot). They and shichimi togarashi can be easily found in most Asian supermarkets or Amazon, like this, this and this.
- I like to start with stuffing just 3 quarters of the cabbage. Then I cut them and tuck them into the pot. If I need more, I continue to stuff the last quarter. That way, I don’t run into the problem of having too much stuffed cabbage, but no space in the pot.
- Make sure everything in the pot is tightly packed before cooking. If not the dish may not look as beautiful as leaves and pork fall over. If needed, you can add mushroom in the center to fill up space.
- I like to serve this dish with steamed white rice.
- When eating, watch out for the hot cabbages. They are so hot that they can burn your tongue.