I do a lot of research in order to bring a monthly feature to life, and as a result I come across a lot of wonderful resources. Periodically, I like to share these resources and recommendations with you so that you can expand on or continue your food adventures.
We’ve spent a month exploring some of the basic elements of the Japanese culinary repertoire, and hopefully you’re hungry for more (literally and metaphorically). It’s a huge topic, and we’ve only started to scratch the surface. I’ll definitely be returning to this subject in the future, but for now, here are 7 books I highly recommend to help you continue your culinary adventures. These are some of my personal favourites, and they’ve been indispensable in helping me to develop my Japanese cooking skills.
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Japanese Soul Cooking
This book makes me hungry. A masterful set of recipes with fascinating accounts about the history of modern Japanese food, Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat have made a book that you’ll love to read, and love to cook from. It’s full of mouth-watering Japanese classics and Japanese takes on Western food (yoshoku), with a heavy emphasis on scratch-cooking. I’m waiting until summer produce is at its best so I can make my own Tonkatsu sauce! Best of all, it takes a broad approach to the diversity of Japanese cuisine – instead of one recipe for ramen or tonkatsu or curry, you get to explore multiple regional or ingredient-based variations on a theme.
The Japanese Grill
Another spectacular book by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, this time covering the numerous delights of the Japanese grill. As with so many things, Japan has taken the idea of grilling food and taken it to another level entirely. What makes this book so special is the way in which the two authors make Japanese flavours and techniques accessible to a Western audience. You can cook incredible grilled Japanese food without having to transport yourself to a Tokyo izakaya joint or tend to expensive binchotan charcoal (though you certainly can if you want to). While the focus of the book is, unsurprisingly, meat, there’s actually a welcome diversity of vegetable dishes, and even snacks like grilled rice balls. All in all, it’s a book the shows you just how diverse and exciting grilling can be.
Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen
Elizabeth Andoh is the guru of traditional Japanese cooking among English-speaking audiences, and for good reason. She has lived and cooked in Japan for decades, and has an unparalleled appreciation for and understanding of traditional Japanese home cooking. This book is a combination of reference guide and recipe book, and it’s definitely content-heavy. Just to be clear – the recipes themselves are fantastic, but if you’re looking for a page-after-page of glossy food photography, this isn’t the book for you. Instead, I think it brings something much more valuable to the table – meticulous detail, clear explanations, and an in-depth look at Japan’s ancient and venerated culinary traditions. This is a book about food, meant to be read, and not just a catalogue of dishes.
Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions
For nearly a millenium, Japan was a nearly vegetarian nation. While the ocean did provide a bounty of seafood (including a handful of staple ingredients), the day-to-day cuisine was built around vegetables and grains. Centuries of adaptation and experimentation gave the world a rich, complex, and endlessly variable meat-free cuisine. In this book, Elizabeth Andoh (who also wrote the Washoku book above) focuses on the amazing and approachable vegan and vegetarian dishes from the Japanese repertoire, and she does so with skill, clarity, and detail. There is also a focus on avoiding waste and using ingredients fully — the kind of top-to-tail cooking I get so excited about here at Diversivore. Where this book really excels though is in making vegetarian food seem appealingly diverse. I’m not a vegetarian, but I am trying to base more and more of my diet vegetable-based, and I find it frustrating when recipes begin to overlap too much. Kansha makes it clear that this food can be endlessly varied and delicious.
Japanese Farm Food
Unlike Andoh’s Washoku cookbook, Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s Japanese Farm Food takes a more casual but no-less fascinating approach to comforting, traditional Japanese food. Hachisu continuously demonstrates her deep passion for quality ingredients, traditional methods, and slow food to deliver a book that is an intriguing mix of staples, specialties, and comfort food. The meals and stories that unfold in the book are center around the environs of a working Japanese farm, and you can’t help but feel like you’ve been invited to join the family to tuck in to a hot meal around an old wooden table. It’s the kind of book you’d be proud (and excited) to feed your family from.
Preserving the Japanese Way
Those who know me well will know that I love preserving food, and I’m always looking for different preservation traditions and methods . Japan has an incredibly diverse history of pickling and preserving, often using methods that seem rather unusual to the uninitiated (rice-bran pickling being a prominent example). Nancy Singleton Hachisu continues to demonstrate her love for the old Japanese culinary traditions in this excellent book, detailing the ins and outs of this rich food culture. I realize that this might seem like something of a niche book, but I honestly believe that this book has a universal appeal for two reasons. First, Japanese cuisine without the pickles and preserves simply isn’t the same – they add brightness, acidity, colour, and complexity to nearly every dish. Just imagine sushi without the pickled ginger and you start to get the faintest hint of what I mean. Second, pickling and preserving has this bizarre appeal that seems to me to be somewhat universal; it can seem difficult or finicky before you try it, but once you see how easy it can be and how amazing the results are, you’ll be hooked.
Classic and Modern Japanese Clay Pot Cooking
Donabe, by Naoko Takei Moore and Kyle Connaughton, is one of those books that food geeks won’t be able to resist. It’s spectacularly photographed, incredibly detailed, and packed with hearty, homey recipes. It’s also a book that makes you respect the artistry and attention to detail that goes into making food, and that should go into the objects that help us prepare our food. One other reason that I can heartily recommend this book is that it goes well beyond what many of us in the English-speaking world know about Japanese food. Claypot cooking is hardly the first thing that comes to mind when the average Westerner thinks of Japanese food, but it’s a spectacular and flavourful tradition that merits more attention. But even if you don’t cook a single dish out of this book (but really, you’d be crazy not to), you’ll still fall in love with the evocative imagery and clear, instructive prose.