On stomach-holders and rib-stickers
This is what you get when using search terms instead of relying on trends and recommendations. I like food. Every now and again, I trawl for information on food, like low cost and convenient methods to make what I want to eat. For my needs, soups and stews are always a good option, but the ingredients are going to vary depending on where the nearest grocery store is. Sheep more likely than cows? Lamb and mutton recipes. Island nation? Fish dishes. Tropical places? Apples might cost more. Temperate climates? Pineapples have an interesting history. Recently, I rediscovered a favorite ingredient which, from the looks of the store shelves, not many other people like. (ALL MINE! Beside the point.) The question soon followed - what if I had to shop, using my preferred methods, in a country where my usual preferred ingredients are more expensive? 2 qt. water 6 tablespoons hon dashi 1.5 pounds tofu, cubed 3 tablespoons miso paste 1/2 tablespoon wakame seaweed 1/4 cup scallions, chopped Add hon dashi to water, allow to boil, and skim. Lower the heat, add the tofu, allow to heat through. (Firm might hold up better if you're also adding in chunky stuff like mushrooms and potatoes at this point, but since 'just do you' is a thing for however long these trend words last...) Sprinkle in the wakame. If you're not familiar with wakame, use way less than you think you need, or risk that airbag in a clown car effect. It doesn't take long for the seaweed to expand far beyond its initial size. Remove from heat, add the miso paste (white is milder than red - take your pick) and stir to dissolve. (One video used a small strainer to help dissolve the glob of miso in the water more quickly - the strainer held the glob in place in the soup and provided a rough surface against which to 'scrub' the paste. Beats losing the glob in the soup and finding it later in a way-too-salty mouthful.) The scallions go in last - more of a garnish than an ingredient, really. They don't take long to cook through.
Looking up a nutrient calculator for recipes brought me up against a change - the calculator I used to use isn't among my search results, and the ones that exist now want you to create a new account or to download their ad alongside the info you want. Meh. HappyForks has a tidy nutrition label format in GIF, doesn't require a login, and is free. They don't have hon dashi in their database, but they do have an entry for bouillon granules.
I was lucky enough to find a Japanese grocery chain (as in in Japan, not a Stateside one that sells Japanese goods) that had its most recent sales flyer online, but for many of the others, I had to rely on videos that were months to years old, and therefore had different dollar-yen conversion rates. Of course, those videos were shot by people with different food habits than myself, so the ingredients and staples they chose aren't the ones I'm looking for. In addition, the online grocery flyer doesn't have the prices for all the ingredients in the dish. I'm not piecing together a food cost per serving in this one. To me, it seemed until relatively recently that grocery stores around here tend to keep ingredients in stock no matter what the season, while the change in price was the only thing that reflected the seasonality of the produce. Japan has a more solid tradition of seasonal eating, which I think shows up more in their grocery stores' stock and pricing - according to other research, an out-of-season product might still be available, but it could take longer to find (as in searching through multiple shops) than in a comparable Western grocery store. According to one video, tofu is a very common and very inexpensive ingredient in Japan (gasp, someone who eats meat and tofu?). According to another video, scallions can be replanted and treated like a cut-and-come-again vegetable, a bit like lettuce. Or replace scallions with chives - tenacious self seeders with edible flowers, good for container growing (and a related plant). Add that to the seasonality of Japanese vegetables, and you've got a low-cost system with a lot of healthy variety. Speaking of variety - if the 'rule' is that one-pot dishes, the kind that save grocery, cooking, and dishwashing time while providing a full meal, are only good for those with the blues, then you must prepare intricate, time-consuming, multi-course formal meals once you're out of that funk. But if you're not playing with that soap-eating mess, or you really aren't up to full-on kaiseki, there's a basic (and complete) Japanese meal that groups this soup with a bowl of rice, a bit of fish, and some sort of pickle, all of which can be easily made or found precooked. Brown rice instead of white in the cooker? Switch the fish with an omelet, perhaps, or use steamed vegetables instead of pickles? And use different types of furikake on the rice as another way to keep taste buds from getting bored? I also took a look at Japanese apartments to see what the kitchens were like (as well as mass transit lines to see how far away the sights were, but that's beside the point). Of the ones I looked at, there were two stovetops at most. Getting a stir-fry or an omelet going while you've got soup on would take some doing in a cheaper place. There's also very little counter space. Preparing ingredients can be done on the kitchen table, of course, but I'm guessing there are kitchen appliances that you use on a regular basis that you'd rather leave on the countertop. I could be generalizing, though. (*cough* coffee addicts *cough*) One more thing. It took about three days for my search terms to result in expat tips in my recommendations. Took you long enough to assume, video platform.