Recently a Japanese food enthusiast has been trying to convince me natto is a good thing. This Hawai‘i transplant from the the midwest eats the fermented soybeans on a regular basis believing it will help with all manner of life’s aches and pains. I’m not convinced.

The polite way to describe natto is to say it’s fermented soybeans. A more realistic description would be to say it smells like strong cheese combined with wet dog and dirty running shoes. Natto has the sliminess of boiled okra, multiplied by about 100. For such an evil-smelling substance, natto’s taste is surprisingly mild. I know a few brave eaters-in-denial who compare it to the flavor of medium cheddar cheese.

But in researching natto, I’ve learned it’s also low in calories and fat, high in protein and important amino acids. Natto contains fairly significant amounts of calcium, fiber and iron, along with a few trace elements. It’s a popular breakfast food in Japan and among Hawaii’s more culinarily adventurous residents. My friend says it helps with his arthritis.

My grandmother (we called her Obachan) used to firmly declare “Natto is good for you!” as she was stirring an odiferous lump of slimy fermented soybeans into her hot rice for a breakfast treat. Sometimes she’d add a few drops of shoyu, chopped green onions and a bit of wasabi for extra flavor. We grandchildren stared with stunned fascination as she proceeded to add a raw egg – which increased the sliminess quotient a few thousand times – and, after a few more stirs, lifted a morsel with slimy strings of natto… juice? sauce? oozing off the chopsticks into her mouth. “Natto will help you live a long time!” she would say.

And Obachan did live a long time – 96 years. For most of her life she enjoyed relatively good health, likely enjoying natto all the way. Obachan tried to eat a healthy diet, mostly vegetables from the backyard garden, along with fish and chicken. She stirred skim milk into her coffee and ate fresh papaya and bananas almost everyday. Obachan ate desserts and fried foods sparingly. But, like my friend, she thought there was something special about natto.

I tried experimenting with natto, determined to benefit from its highly nutritious qualities, and came up with this recipe for an Omelet with Salmon, Nori and Natto.

Omelet with Salmon, Nori and Natto
makes 2 servings

1 sheet sushi nori, torn into 1” wide strips
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 Tbsp. mirin (sweet rice wine)
1 Tbsp. low salt shoyu
1/2 tsp. salt

3 or 4 oz. salmon (leftover is good), cooked and flaked, about 1/2 cup
1 – 2 oz. pkg. natto
2 or 3 stalks green onion, finely chopped for garnish
Toasted sesame seeds for garnish

Heat a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Mix eggs, mirin, shoyu and salt in a medium bowl. Add vegetable oil to hot pan, then carefully place nori strips in the pan. Pour egg mixture into pan and swirl pan gently to distribute over the pan bottom. Cook eggs for 1 – 2 minutes, then lift up the sides of the omelet to let uncooked portion slide underneath. When egg mixture no longer appears runny in the middle, after about 2 -3 minutes, sprinkle in the salmon flakes. Top with natto and cook for 1 or 2 more minutes, depending on how well done you like your omelet.

Roll omelet onto a serving dish and sprinkle with green onions and sesame seeds.