An Easy Japanese Soup Recipe: A Healthy Soup of Beef and Napa Cabbage for Cold Winter Evenings

Whether you are a gardener with a bumper crop of Napa cabbage, or a farmer’s market shopper wondering what to do with this imposing vegetable, this satisfying Japanese soup will be a welcome addition to your recipe box. Served with rice, this makes a warm, healthy meal with minimal preparation. What is more, this recipe is gluten free, casein free, and egg free.  

Choosing a Napa Cabbage or Chinese Cabbage

Napa cabbage (also known as Chinese Cabbage) grows as upright heads, with light green to white leaves. Choose a cabbage that feels heavy for its weight and shows no sign of wilting. This is a vegetable that, when fresh, will give an astonishingly sweet flavor to soups and stews. It is also a singularly healthy vegetable, high in vitamins A and C, as well as fiber. Leftover cabbage can loosely wrapped in plastic and kept in the vegetable crisper to be added to soups and salads.  

Substituting for Sake and Mirin

Sake and mirin are staples of Japanese cooking, and using them will add authenticity to this dish. Both are available at most Asian markets, and at some natural food stores. If you do not have these on hand, however, a white cooking wine can be substituted for the sake. One tablespoon of mirin can be replaced with a mixture of 2 teaspoons sake or wine and one teaspoon of sugar.  


  • 1/4 – 1/2 Napa Cabbage
  • 1/2 pound thinly sliced beef
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or gluten-free tamari)
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • Optional additions: 1 cup thinly sliced carrot, thinly sliced burdock root or julienne turnip
  • Optional toppings: lightly ground sesame seeds, sesame oil


  1. Begin by cutting the washed cabbage in half lengthwise, then dividing one half in to quarters. Cut one quarter to one half of the cabbage into bite-sized pieces, roughly one inch square.
  2. Heat a wide, heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the beef, cabbage, soy sauce, sake, mirin and any of the optional additions to the pot and cover well. As the dish cooks, liquid from the cabbage will fill the pot to make a delectable broth.
  3. Once an inch or so of liquid has accumulated in the pot, give the stew a quick stir, cover again, bring to a medium boil and cook for 5 to 10 minutes. A young, fresh cabbage will cook more quickly than an older cabbage.
  4. When the cabbage is very tender, taste the broth and add salt to taste.


Traditionally, this type of stew is served in a soup bowl, accompanied by a bowl of rice and one or more small dishes, such as pickled vegetables or dressed greens. It can also be enjoyed on its own or over rice as a one-dish meal. In either case, a sprinkling of lightly ground white sesame seeds or a light drizzle of sesame oil can be added to each bowl. Serves 2 to 3 people. Leftovers reheat well.