basics

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 5 - Fish, Part 3: How to break down small fish

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We are entering the home stretch here for both Lesson 5, Fish and the whole Japanese Cooking 101 course. In this lesson we are going to get very intimate with fish.

Warning to the squeamish: If you find up-close photos of raw fish the way nature made them, with guts and stuff, please do not click through.

I’ve put everything ‘below the fold’ here, so if you want to read the rest please click through to the full article on the site. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 3: Nimono (simmered dish) basics

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This is Lesson 3 of Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. This lesson is about making nimono (煮物) or stewed dishes, while we make a simple stewed or simmered winter vegetable dish. continue reading...

Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 2: Prep and Cook A Great Bowl of Japanese Rice

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A perfectly steamed bowl of plain rice is the unquestioned star of a Japanese meal. And here’s how to cook it, in copious detail - in Lesson 2 of Japanese Cooking 101: The Fundamentals of Washoku. continue reading...

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Japanese Cooking 101, Lesson 1: How to make dashi stock, the foundation of Japanese cooking

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Welcome to the first lesson of Japanese Cooking 101! Throughout this course I hope to teach you about the foundations of traditional Japanese cooking or washoku, as well as how to cook some Japanese dishes. We’ll start with that most critical of Japanese cooking components, properly made dashi. continue reading...

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Basics: Japanese soy sauce - all you need to know (and then some)

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I’m still working on getting my sites organized in the background, not to mention my kitchen operational. In the meantime, please enjoy this updated and revised look at Japanese soy sauce. An exhaustive look at Japanese soy sauce. Originally published in December 2011. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: Nanban sauce or vinegar (Nanbansu)

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Three versions of a versatile Japanese sauce that can be used as a marinade, dipping sauce or dressing. It's called Nanban or "wild southern savage" sauce. continue reading...

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How to cook perfect rice - in a frying pan

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Here’s how to cook rice quickly and easily using a regular old non-stick frying pan. It’s so easy and foolproof you won’t believe it! continue reading...

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Basics: How to sasagaki cut burdock root (gobo)

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Step-by-step instructions for making very thin shavings or doing the sasagaki cut on fibrous root vegetables like the burdock root or gobo. continue reading...

Negimiso or Misonegi - Japanese onion-miso sauce or paste

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This is one of those really useful and versatile sauces or pastes (the consistency just depends on how long you cook it down to evaporate the moisture) that is so easy to make that it’s really barely a recipe. It’s a basic standby in Japanese kitchens. continue reading...

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Miso Basics: A Japanese miso primer, looking at different types of miso

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[From the archives. This miso primer was published here last September (2008). I’ve added some notes about miso-based blends, especially sumiso or miso with vinegar.]

This is a post that has been a long time coming. I kept on holding it off until I had a good variety of miso on hand to show photos of. I can’t say I have a comprehensive selection to show you, but I hope you will find this article useful anyway.

Miso (味噌、みそ), as you probably know already, is a naturally fermented paste made by combining cooked soy beans, salt, and often some other ingredient such as white or brown rice, barley, and so on. The texture can range from smooth to chunky, and the color from a light yellow-brown to reddish brown to dark chocolate brown, and the flavor ranges from mildly salty and sweet to strong and very salty. It is packed with umami and protein, not to mention all sorts of nutrients.

Miso-like fermented bean products and pastes exist all over Asia, but here I will mainly limit myself to the most commonly used Japanese misos. continue reading...

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Basics: Cold soba noodles with dipping sauce

I’ve updated this very popular article a little bit and pushed it up from the archives, since it is the season for cold noodles now. I’ll also have a followup recipe soon for the perfect accompaniment to zaru soba. Originally published in May 2007.

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Most of Japan gets very hot and humid in the summer. To combat the heat, a number of dishes meant to be eaten cold have been developed. One of the main cold summer dishes is cold noodles.

Soba noodles, made of soba (buckwheat), are available all year round but are really popular when the heat turns unbearable. As with other cold noodles, they are prepared in a way that may seem strange if you’re used to pasta and other Western-style noodles. Unlike pasta, most Japanese noodles, including soba, are rinsed rather vigorously in cold running water. This not only cools them down but gets rid of excess starch, which adversely affects the flavor of the noodles. Many recipes written in English omit this critical rinsing step: you don’t just plunge it in cold water, as many directions incorrectly state, but you actively wash the noodles. Once you’ve done this once, you will definitely notice the difference. I’ve given detailed instructions for this procedure below.

Dipped into a properly made sauce or soba tsuyu, with plenty of spicy condiments or yakumi, there’s nothing more refreshing to eat on a hot summer evening. continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: How to make Japanese-style plain rice and sushi rice

Update: I've updated this post substantially in these two articles, 10 years later: How to cook great Japanese style rice, and How to make sushi rice (shari). Please take a look there - you'll probably find them a lot clearer. I've learned a lot myself in 10 years! ^_^

This is the first how-to and recipe that I posted on Just Hungry. Properly cooked rice is the foundation of a traditional Japanese meal, and you absolutely cannot skimp on the steps detailed here if you are aiming for anything approaching authenticity. I've edited the text to make some things clearer. Back to basics! Originally published in November 2003.

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Rice is the staple of Japanese food, and making it just right can be rather difficult if you don't know how. If you think you will be preparing rice regularly, an electric rice cooker will make your life so much easier. You can cook non-Japanese style rice in it too, though I tend to make those in a regular pan. continue reading...

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How to cook lotus root (renkon)

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Lotus root (renkon in Japanese) is actually the rhizome of the lotus plant. It’s a popular vegetable throughout southern and eastern Asia, but it’s still not that well known in the west. Lotus root is full of fiber and various vitamins and other nutrients. In Asia it’s believed to have various medicinal qualities, but in macro-nutrient terms it’s best to think of it as a starchy vegetable, like potato. Visually of course, it’s very appealing with all those little holes. Here I’ll explain how it’s prepared and eaten in Japan. continue reading...

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Variable Roasted Vegetables (an everyday favorite)

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Following up on the previous post where I asked about your favorite go-to everyday dishes (keep your ideas coming!) I thought I’d introduce some of mine. The posting of them may be sporadic, since I’ll be taking pictures and things when I actually made them for dinner.

First up is something that is very easy to assemble, quite healthy, cheap, as seasonal as you want it to be, and almost infinately variable. It’s simply roasted vegetables. I make this all the time, throughout the year, using whatever vegetables I have. It’s a good refrigerator-clearer too. continue reading...

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Favorite everyday go-to dishes

Here are some of my favorite ‘go-to’ meals, that I go back to time and again. Most take minimal effort to make and are quite healthy. They are all very good of course!

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The role of alcohol, onion and ginger in Japanese meat dishes

One of the most frequently asked questions here is about substituting or leaving out sake or mirin from a dish (most recently to the chicken karaage recipe). This reminds me of how certain ways of thinking exist in Japanese and East Asian cooking, that may not necessarily exist in Western cooking. One of those is the perception of the flavor of meat. continue reading...

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How to cook taro root or satoimo

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How to prepare that hairy looking beast, the taro root or satoimo. continue reading...

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Cooking whole dried soybeans

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Until fairly recently I had a blind spot when it came to the humble soybean. I regularly consume soy products like soy milk, tofu and okara, not to mention fermented soybean products like natto and tempeh. And green soybeans or edamame are always a great snack.

But for some reason, I didn’t really get into eating the whole dried (and cooked) soybean. It’s not that they are that much harder to cook than other dried beans either.

In any case, I’ve rectified that situation and now I cook up a batch of soybeans quite regularly and store them in the freezer. Plain boiled soybeans are amazingly delicious, and just packed with nutrition. The cooking liquid is so rich that it can be used as a very nutritious stock or dashi for making soups and such.

There are a couple of points to watch out for when cooking whole soybeans, which are noted below in copious detail. continue reading...

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Vegetarian / Vegan dashi (Japanese stock)

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As I’ve stated many times here over the years, the basis of most Japanese savory foods is a good dashi, or stock. Dashi is not just used for soups, it’s used for stewing, in sauces, batters, and many, many other things.

The regular way to make dashi was one of my first entries on Just Hungry. It uses kombu seaweed and dried bonito flakes (katsuobushi). Some people use niboshi, small dried fish, in addition to or instead of bonito flakes.

Katsuobushi and niboshi are both fish-based, so not vegetarian. So how do you make a good vegetarian, even vegan, dashi? continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: Kaeshi, soba and udon noodle soup or sauce base

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When the weather gets warmer, we eat a lot of cold Japanese noodles: soba (buckwheat noodles), hiyamugi (thin wheat noodles), so-men (even thinner wheat noodles), Sanuki udon (thick wheat noodles- Sanuki is the name of a region famous for udon) and harusame (bean or ‘glass’ noodles). For most cold noodle dishes a salty sweet soy sauce based soup or dipping sauce called mentsuyu is used. You can buy pre-made mentsuyu concentrate, but to me most of them taste too sweet or are overwhelmed by a too-strong MSG or similar artificial tasting umami flavor. Making mentsuyu at home from scratch is not so difficult, and the difference in taste is quite worth the little extra effort.

The base of mentsuyu is a mixture of soy sauce, sugar and mirin called kaeshi (or hon-gaeshi: hon means “real” or “authentic”). It can also be used as a flavoring base for many other things. You just need good quality dark soy sauce, white sugar, and good quality mirin. It keeps for months in the refrigerator, or even in the freezer (where it will stay liquid) so I like to make as big a batch as I can afford to price-wise and fridge-space-wise.

This is similar to the Japanese essence mix, but doesn’t include the kombu seaweed or bonito. If you are a vegetarian you can use kaeshi safe in the knowledge that it’s totally vegan, and combine it with a vegetarian stock. Kaeshi also lasts a lot longer since the basic ingredients are indefinite keepers.

I’ll be talking about cold noodles and such in upcoming posts, so if you’d like to follow along, you may want to make some kaeshi to be ready.

This is a very traditional basic recipe. continue reading...

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Poached and marinated pork (Nibuta)

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With summer just around the corner, I like to think of food that can be made well ahead and tastes great served cold, or at least cool, to keep me out of a hot kitchen. The vegetable part of this is usually taken care of with seasonal vegetable salads and the like. If the protein part means meat, I like to have pre-cooked pieces tucked away in the freezer.

One of my favorite cold meats is poached and marinated pork, or nibuta. (Ni means to cook in liquid, and buta is pig.) It’s very easy to make, stores beautifully in the refrigerator for about a week or much longer in the freezer, and of course, tastes great - savory, slightly sweet, and very juicy. It can be sliced very thinly or julienned for one-dish meal salads or in sandwiches, or chopped up and added to stir-fries, wraps, and so on. It’s a great addition to a bento box. It can be cubed or coarsely ground and used instead of char siu (roast pork) in steamed buns or bao. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

There’s one unusual ‘secret ingredient’ in the poaching liquid, umeboshi or pickled plum. You can omit this if you like, but adding just one umeboshi seems to de-fat the meat a bit more than just poaching, plus making it taste a bit cleaner and fresher in an interesting way. continue reading...

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Basics: Tamagoyaki or Atsuyaki Tamago, Japanese sweet omelette

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Tamagoyaki is such a integral part of Japanese food that I am rather kicking myself for not having posted a recipe for it before here. The name tamagoyaki means “fried egg”, and the alternate name, atsuyaki tamago, means “thick fried egg”. (Some books or restaurants erroneously called it just tamago, which just means “egg”.) A slightly sweet, moist square-shaped egg concoction, tamagoyaki is a bento box staple, as well as being a popular sushi neta (topping). It’s also great as a side dish for any meal.

You don’t really need a special tamagoyaki pan for making this. A regular small non-stick frying pan will do. The one advantage of having a small tamagoyaki pan like this one is that the size is good for making small, thick tamagoyaki without using extra eggs. Conversely, a big square tamagoyaki/atsuyaki tamago pan is used for making those thick tamagoyaki served at better sushi restaurants. (Cheap sushi places use manufactured tamagoyaki, which is an abomination.) However, I’m assuming most people are likely to own a small frying pan, so that’s what I’ve used for the photos here. The one I have is an ordinary (pretty cheap) Tefal model that I got at a sale somewhere.

Once you get the hang of making the multilayers of egg, it’s very easy to do. A 2-egg tamagoyaki takes less than 5 minutes to cook, and a 4-egg one just a bit more. 4 eggs is the maximum that’s practical to cook in a 20cm / 8 inch standard frying pan.

I prefer my tamagoyaki to not be too sweet so there isn’t much sugar in this - I’ve seen recipes that add up to 3 tablespoons for 4 eggs. You can add more or less to your taste. continue reading...

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Soy sauce based dipping sauces used in Japanese dishes

A lot of Japanese dishes are quite subtly flavored to start with, and are eaten dipped in a simple soy sauce based dipping sauce. You’re probably familiar already with the wasabi + soy sauce combination used for most kinds of sashimi and sushi, but there are a few others. Which sauce goes with which dish really seems to depend as much on tradition as anything, though certain combinations just fit better than others. The ratio of flavoring to soy sauce is a matter of personal taste in most cases.

Whenever using a dipping sauce, try not to dunk whatever you are eating into it. The common sushi eating mistake made is to dunk the rice side into soy sauce - this not only makes the rice grains go all over the place, often down your front, but absorbs way too much soy sauce. Turn the sushi over and dip the fish just a bit instead. (I tend to think that this rice-dunking is why a lot of the finer sushi restaurants nowadays serve their sushi pre-seasoned, needing no dipping.)

Here are the most commonly used dipping sauce combinations: continue reading...

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roux step 1

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Easy unit conversions with Google

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I own a lot of cookbooks that are published in the world of pounds, ounces and farenheit (mostly the U.S....British cookbooks nowadays have metric or both metric and imperial) and the rest of the world, which uses metric. I also read various web sites and food blogs from all over the world. Converting units from one and the other can be a bit of a bother, so I try to include both in my recipes. I am guilty of using American cup measurements sometimes, but I try to limit that to recipes were the amount doesn't have to be totally exact, such as for bread.

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Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the stovetop in a pot

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As part of my weight loss efforts, not to mention generally trying to 'eat better', flirting with 'makurobi' (the Japanese word for macrobiotic, and also meaning a 'hipper' version of macrobiotic cooking) and such, I've been cooking more brown rice as opposed to polished white rice. Fortunately my rice cooker has a gen-mai (brown rice) cooking setting.

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Japanese basics: Essential Japanese cooking equipment

Since I posted my article about essential and not-so essential Japanese ingredients, a number of people have asked about the equipment I use for preparing Japanese food. It's taken me a while to get to it, but here it is finally. (You can consider this as a kind of gift guide for anyone who's into Japanese cooking too..'tis the season and all that after all!) continue reading...

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Japanese basics: the anatomy of a Japanese meal

In this episode of my continuing series exploring Japanese food basics, I'd like to explain the breakdown of a typical Japanese home meal, which differs quite a bit from a Western meal.

In Western culture, a meal consists of a light first course or two, followed by a main course, then smaller following courses. The most basic format is soup or appetizer, main course, then a dessert. The main course itself is centered around the protein part, whether it's meat, fish or something vegetarian, and the vegetables are starch are the side dishes. continue reading...

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Back to Japanese Basics: The essential staples of a Japanese pantry

If there is one request I get about this site via email or in comments, it's for more Japanese recipes. I have covered many of the basics here already, but it's worthwhile to go over some things again. So, for the next few weeks I'm going to focus many of the posts here back on Things Japanese. Where better to start than with the ingredients? continue reading...

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How to make tofu (Milking the Soy Bean, Part 2)

In Part 1, I showed you how to make your own pure, unadulterated soy milk. Now let's turn this into tofu(豆腐). Tofu is soy milk that has been coagulated with the addition of a harmless chemical. (Incidentally the kanji characters for tofu literally mean fermented beans, but tofu is not fermented in any way - at least as it's made currently.) continue reading...

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Japanese basics: Osekihan (Sekihan), Festive Japanese Red Rice and Beans

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I haven't posted a basic Japanese recipe here in quite a while, so it's about time I did again! The main basic here is the method for cooking sweet rice. continue reading...

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Homemade mayonnaise without tears (Basics)

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If there is one food that has defeated me over the years, it's mayonnaise. For the longest time I couldn't figure out how to make a good mayonnaise. I read the instructions in numerous cookbooks. I watched the Good Eats episode about it. I tried using a food processor, a stick blender, whipping by hand. continue reading...

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Perfect roux and bechamel

I have two articles on the back burner at the moment, and both of them use roux. Roux is a basic that every cook should know about, but for various reasons it's rather shrouded in myth.

Roux is basically a mixture of flour and oil, which are brought together to become a thickening agent for liquids. It is used for anything from gravy, stews, soups and various sauces. The most commonly used oil is butter, clarified or not. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: the essence of Japanese flavor, in a bottle

I’ve got an amazing bottle in my refrigerator now. It’s filled with a mixture that forms the base for just about any sort of Japanese food. It takes all the drudgery out of making a clear soup, or a Japanese style stew, or the dipping sauce for noodles. I can’t live without it anymore. continue reading...

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How to make apple bunnies, to eat with a Camembert in Calvados

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On Easter, we had a selection of cheeses, one of which was this very interesting Camembert soaked and aged for a while in Calvados. Since Calvados is an apple cider-based brandy, apples seemed to fit well. And, since it was Easter, the apple wedges were transformed into apple bunnies. continue reading...

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Basics: Choux pastry

Choux pastry is what is used to make cream puffs, profiteroles, and eclairs. It is also used to make such delights such as the Paris-Brest, a giant cream puff ring filled with flavored cream. continue reading...

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More about Yohshoku

Previously, I wrote about yohshoku, or Japanese-style western cuisine. Prompted by a question from Elise, I've done a bit more research on this. (Much of this is gathered from a book in the Just Look Just Cook cookbook series from Yomiuri Shimbun Co., called "Yoshoku in Japan". (Note that it can be spelled Yohshoku or Yoshoku.)) continue reading...

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Consider the omelette

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Sometimes making a particular dish takes a long time, involving several steps, but if you follow the directions carefully enough it's fairly easy. On the other hand there are things that only take a few minutes to prepare, but may take years to really get right.

One such item is a classic plain omelette. continue reading...

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Basics: pizza dough

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I have to admit, that a lot of the baking I do is quite time consuming - such as the desem bread. For me, baking bread is sort of a hobby, not something I just do for the sake of making bread, but it's not practical to bake things that require long kneading and hours of rising time frequently. But not all bread doughs like that. This dough, which can be used for pizza, foccaciaa, calzone, and the like, is very simple to make, especially if you have a food processor.

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Basics: tomato sauce

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I've been posting some of the basic building blocks of Japanese cooking, and I thought I would add some other basics too. While I like to experiment with a new recipes sometimes, for everyday cooking this isn't too practical. So I rely on a few basic recipes that I have more or less memorized, and vary them to produce different results. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: teriyaki

The term "teriyaki" is used a lot these days. Usually it indicates that a sweet-savory soy-sauce based sauce called teriyaki sauce has been used. However, teriyaki is actually the word for a cooking method - and it's very easy to do. continue reading...

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Yohshoku or yoshoku (or youshoku): Japanese-style Western cuisine

So far I have been writing about Japanese foods that are quite traditional. The flavors are based on the SaShiSuSeSo of sugar, salt, rice vinegar, soy sauce and miso, plus the all-important dashi soup stock. In Japan, this kind of food is called washoku, or quite literally “Japanese food”. continue reading...

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Japanese Basics: SaShiSuSeSo

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Top row: Sa (satoh=sugar), Shi (shio=salt); Middle row: Su (su=vinegar), Se (shoyu=soy sauce); Bottom row: So (miso=fermented soy bean paste)

Besides dashi stock, the basic flavors of traditional Japanese cuisine are sugar, salt, soy vinegar, soy sauce and miso. While not many sauces uses all of these ingredients, many use at least 3. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: thin omelette (usuyaki tamago)

(This is a revised and expanded version of a recipe that I posted when Just Hungry was brand new.)

Japanese people love eating eggs in many ways. One of the most popular uses for the egg is to make a very thin omelette called usuyaki tamago (literally, thinly cooked egg). Usuyaki tamago is used julienned as a garnish, or as a wrapper for sushi rice and other things.

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Onigiri (rice balls)

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[Update:] Be sure to check out my easier, neater way to make onigiri!

Onigiri are rice balls, usually with a tasty filling. They are very portable, and therefore are very popular for carry-along lunches. Part of their appeal lies in the fact that if you're Japanese, you just love the taste of rice. It's genetic. [Edit: another word for onigiri is omusubi. I guess it just depends on what word you grew up with. In our house it was always onigiri.]

Onigiri can stand on their own, or be part of a bento or boxed lunch. (For some reason it's never just called "nigiri", though bento is also called obento, which is the honorific term.) Onigiri are also a great make-ahead snack for a crowd, since with the appropriate fillings they keep rather well. I remember my aunt making 12-cups of rice worth of onigiri at a time for the large family gatherings at New Year's or Obon (August festival to pay respect to our ancestors). Her hands would be bright red from the heat of the rice. She favored salted salmon (shio zake) as the filling usually - very salty salmon in fact.

Onigiri is also one of my top comfort foods. It reminds me of the ones my mother used to make for me for school outings (ensoku) as well as countless school lunches. When we stayed at my grandmother's and my cousines and I would take trips to the Chichibu mountain area, my aunt would make huge rice balls to assuage our appetites. There's a comforting feeling of continuity with history too, because Japanese travelers have sustained themselves on those salty rice balls for hundreds of years.

Like obento boxed lunches, onigiri can be elaborate creations, but the simple versions the are best in my opinion. We often bring some onigiri with us on long train trips: it's a lot better than buying the overpriced sandwich buns from the vending carts. Yes, sometimes people look at us curiously as we bite into those soccer-ball colored balls. We don't care one bit.

While I was working on writing up this entry, I came across this post by Mimi Ito . Japanese people have a lot of emotional attachment to obento, and to onigiri too. continue reading...

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Japanese basics: dashi stock

One of the regular features I’ll be putting here are some basics of Japanese cooking…since that’s what I am (Japanese). Believe me, it’s not as hard as you might think it is. continue reading...

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