Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

* * *

As our stay-at-home life continues, lack of exercise and its effect on our health may be a concern. That is where a balanced diet comes in. Let us feast on spring vegetables to get us into shape.

This week's recipe focuses on the succulent and tender spring cabbage.

Although it tastes good when eaten fresh, you can eat more of it if it is cooked.

Cooking expert Akiko Watanabe recommends a method called "nibitashi," where the ingredients are simmered and left in a mild broth. The simple method and ingredients produce a dish with a gentle flavor. It is a strong candidate for when you feel that the dinner table needs one more dish.

The cabbage will be cooked in a modest amount of simmering liquid, anticipating that the cabbage will release some water and allowing for only a small amount of liquid to evaporate due to the short cooking time. Although the cabbage may entirely cover the liquid in the pot, there is no need to worry about it burning. If there is too much cooking liquid, the flavor will become unfocused and end up unsatisfactory.

Serve the cabbage after three minutes. It offers spring flavors that taste good even when it gets cold.


According to a spokesperson for the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, winter cabbages have leaves that are tightly wound and taste sweet, whereas the leaves of spring cabbages are loosely wound and tender. The latter can be enjoyed fresh in a salad or lightly pickled.

When shopping, choose one that is lightweight and loosely wound. In addition, the cut end of the stem should look moist and be free of cracks.

When storing a whole cabbage, place it in a plastic bag. Precut ones should be wrapped in plastic kitchen wrap to prevent the cut section from being exposed to air. Cabbages should be stored in the crisper drawer in your fridge. It is said that it stores better if the core is hollowed out and a wet paper towel is stuffed in the hole.


(Supervised by Akiko Watanabe in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients (Serves two)

200 grams spring cabbage, 1 thin deep-fried tofu (abura-age), 150 ml dashi stock, 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp sweet mirin sake

About 80 kcal and 1.1 grams of salt per portion

1. Cut cabbage into rectangles 2 to 3 cm wide. Finely slice cores lengthwise so that they cook evenly with the leaves (PHOTO A).

2. Cut deep-fried tofu in half lengthwise, turn 90 degrees and cut into strips 1 cm wide. Skip the oil-removing process to add richness to the dish.

3. Pour dashi stock, soy sauce and sweet mirin sake in pot and bring to a boil. Add deep-fried tofu, then cabbage (PHOTO B). Press down with cooking-purpose chopsticks and mix briefly, place lid. Steam and simmer on medium heat for 3 minutes. After 1 minute, mix as if turning sides of cabbage.

4. Turn off stove after 3 minutes (PHOTO C). It is done if the cabbage has softened. Komatsuna or Chinese cabbage may be used instead of cabbage. Slices of fish-paste products such as "chikuwa" and "satsuma-age" may replace deep-fried tofu.

* * *

Akiko Watanabe is a cooking expert specializing in Japanese cuisine.
Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairwoman of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.


Lightly pickled spring cabbage

Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a pot and turn off heat. Add 2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, 1/2 tsp vinegar and dissolve. Add a piece of 5-cm square dried kombu kelp to pot and cool. Cut 300 grams cabbage into 3- to 4-cm square pieces. Finely slice cores. Place cabbage in plastic bag, pour liquid from pot and press out air from bag. Weigh down with dishes or bowls. The cabbage will release water in about an hour and become immersed. Once this happens, place the bag in the fridge.


When vegetables are pickled with salt, osmotic pressure removes the water and water that is available to microbes is reduced. Although salinity of about 15 percent is needed for long-term preservation, it is the same concentration as soy sauce and therefore quite salty. The salinity of light pickling is usually 3 to 4 percent. Although the texture of the vegetables is similar to fully pickled ones, they do not keep long.