Thursday, November 3, 2016

Kitchen Adventures with Japanese Cookbooks

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that for much of my life, I lumped everything from crab rangoon to sushi and from miso soup to fried rice in the vague category of "Asian." I knew that there was some overlap between cuisines in that part of the world, and, in my ignorance, I figured that everything was interchangeable-that Japanese food was the same as Chinese food, for example. Thankfully, my husband corrected me :) 

Recently, I read some Japanese cookbooks, and saw that yes, as my husband told me long ago, Japanese cuisine-while it shares some similar dishes with other countries-is its own unique cuisine. Since I love taking a hands-on approach to learning, and really wanted to try out some new foods, I created many of the recipes that I found. As I did this, I discovered that while I love the meat, potatoes, and thick gravies often found in "good American home cookin'," I really love the light, filling, rice-based approach that many of the Japanese recipes involved. I learned to put less focus on meat, and more focus on the balance of a dish as a whole. I learned to involve a large variety of vegetables and colors. I cooked with tofu for the first time, and I discovered that I like rice even more than I thought I did! I really enjoyed trying out new recipes, and I'm excited to try out more in the future.

Tsukune with Teriyaki Sauce and mini-sushi rice balls
 This meal was extremely easy to put together and quite delicious. I used ground turkey for the patties, and especially when dunked in homemade teriyaki sauce, they were powerful, crunchy (due to the onions and celery) bites, bursting with flavor. Sushi rice is so simple and tasty, and the mini rice balls were the perfect size (and quite fun).

Udon Noodles with a Ground Meat Miso Sauce
 I love how this dish involves the same concept as something which I am very familiar with (spaghetti and meat sauce), but with Japanese foods and flavors. The udon noodles are thick and filling, and the miso paste meat sauce was so flavorful. This was such an easy meal to make (just cook the noodles in water and cook the meat sauce in a pot), and it was really tasty. I think this meal could be a great introductory dish for people who want to cook Japanese food, but may be shy to try out new cooking techniques or flavors.

"Strawberry" Hot Pot
 This hot pot was very tasty! The dumplings were made of shrimp, and they cooked in a dashi broth along with napa cabbage and spinach. It was a light soup, but very good. This one was a little bit more labor intensive, because I had to de-tail and pull the outer skin off of raw shrimp to make the dumplings. It was very good, but it wasn't my favorite dish out of the recipes I made (I think I'd prefer my shrimp in non-dumpling form).

"Failed" Onigiri
 Ever since I was a very young girl and read a recipe for onigiri in Highlights Magazine for Kids, I've wanted to try it. The pictures of large, pyramid-shaped mounds of rice filled with savory ingredients seemed so cool! So, following the recipes and instructions in one of the cookbooks, I gave it a try...and failed. When I tried to mound the rice around spicy tuna salad, it all fell apart into one delicious heap. So, I decided to forego that, and simply piled rice and spicy tuna salad on a place, garnished with green onions and sesame seeds. It was really good, and I'm astonished at how a tiny bit of sesame oil can completely transform canned tuna into an extra-amazing dish.

Miso Soup, White Rice, and Spinach, Tofu, & Bean Sprout Salad
It really doesn't get much simpler than miso soup and rice. I always love enjoying a steaming bowl of miso soup at restaurants, and I was super excited to make it myself! And it is so easy to make. Seriously-the recipe I followed simply used dashi, miso paste, green onions, and tofu. The spinach salad was also very easy to make, and it was really good. Cooked spinach, bean sprouts, and tofu were all tossed together with a homemade sesame dressing, and the end result was subtle, delicious, and filling. The only problem that I encountered was not draining the tofu long enough, so it made pools of water at the bottom of the bowl, which I then had to drain out.

Cold Soba Noodles with Japanese-Style Fried Chicken
I love fried chicken, and I really enjoy making homemade chicken nuggets on occasion. When I tried this recipe, I decided that Japanese-style fried chicken is especially awesome. I'm all about low-maintenance recipes, and this recipe makes American chicken nuggets look labor intensive. Instead of going through the process of coating the chicken in flour, dunking it in an egg wash, and rolling it in bread crumbs, the chicken is simply marinated in a misture of sake, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, and then doused in cornstarch before it is fried. That's it (and the chicken is really juicy and delicious). Honestly, this is my favorite way to make fried chicken nuggets now-easy and incredibly delicious! 
The cold soba noodles were really good, light, and simple. The buckwheat noodles were topped in a mixture of soy sauce and dashi, and then garnished with grated daikon, green onions, and sesame seeds. So good.

Tofu Veggie Scramble
When I made this, I actually combined two very similar recipes from different cookbooks, so that I could incorporate the ingredients I had in my kitchen. Daikon, potatoes, onions, peppers, green beans, and carrots were all stir-fried in a mixture of soy sauce and sake, then eggs were scrambled in the pan before the whole dish was combined with tofu. It was filling, delicious, simple to make, and worked well as a main dish, side dish, and snack. I really liked this one a lot!

Beef and Taro Root Hot Pot with Ginger Rice
This hot pot was so cozy and delicious. The variety of vegetables-some familiar, some not familiar-in it added a nice variety. The beef was delicious, but there was only a small amount so that the vegetables were not overpowered. It was just a really balanced, tasty dish. The ginger rice was flavorful and really good. I recommend both of these dishes! 

I really, really have enjoyed incorporating more Japanese meals into our diet, and if any of you are curious about Japanese food, I recommend that you try it out! Pick up some cookbooks from the library and go for it :) 


  1. I like the idea of using less meat and focusing more on balance and integrating more veggies. However, my husband is super picky, so I'm not sure how much he'd appreciate Japanese cuisine.
    The ginger rice in the last meal you mention sounds good and might work for him. We eat a lot of rice and it can get boring. I'll look up a recipe for this.

    1. I hope you're able to find a ginger recipe that you and your husband both enjoy! It really is a nice way to jazz up an ordinary pan of rice.

      This whole cooking experience has really helped my perspective-before this, I'd focus on making a nice main course of meat, and then throw together a mediocre veggie dish to add some more variety and health. But now, even when I'm not making Japanese food, I am a lot more attentive to putting effort into making delicious vegetable dishes, and not simply making meat the only star of the dinner table.