Fresh take on an old favorite

SIMPLY JAPANESE: MODERN COOKING FOR THE HEALTHY HOME

By Yoko Arimoto (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 2010, 160 pp., $27.95, hardcover)

With her new book “Simply Japanese,” Yoko Arimoto injects a breath of modern air into traditional Japanese home cooking. While Japanese cooking is often considered to be somewhat time-consuming, given its focus on serving multiple smaller dishes, Arimoto not only modernizes traditional Japanese dishes, but also streamlines its process, making it more accessible to everyone. Arimoto’s book focuses on home-cooking — dishes that you might find on the table for lunch or dinner in a typical Japanese household. She puts particular emphasis on basics such as using fresh ingredients and precise technique.

The layout of the book is modern and clean. Arimoto relies minimally on supplementary information in smaller sidebars, instead providing clear step-by-step photographs of the cooking process for every recipe. Every recipe is supplemented with full color pictures. Chapters are organized by ingredients, with exception to a chapter on deep-frying, and another dedicated to more traditional Japanese foods such as nikujaga and chirashisushi. There is also a glossary at the end that not only defines ingredients and processes, but also provides helpful tips on purchasing, usage and storage.

While most recipes can easily be done at home, there are a few that may pose specific challenges. The wood grilled fish would require cooking on a grill and open flame, and the vinegared mackerel requires, as Arimoto puts it, “extraordinarily fresh mackerel,” since it is essentially served raw, although it is salted and vinegared. Something to keep in mind is that the heart of the taste in many of these recipes lie in having access to the freshest ingredients possible, as her dishes are designed to showcase the taste of the primary ingredient, using few dressings or sauces. While most recipes center on ingredients that can be found in most Asian supermarkets, Arimoto also provides substitutions for potentially harder to find ingredients, such as mirin or certain types of fish.

While Arimoto includes recipes with tried-and-true flavor combinations, such as her tuna avocado rice bowl or vanilla and black sesame ice cream recipe, she still manages to surprise us with a few unexpected takes on traditional Japanese recipes. One is a mimolette cheese and nori sandwich recipe, which sounds odd at first, but with the combined flavors of brine and salt, turns out to be a match. Carrot and tarako cod roe is another recipe where Arimoto brings together two unexpected ingredients to create a sweet and savory, yet simple, dish.

The range of expertise needed for these dishes varies greatly, from simple recipes with few ingredients, to more complex dishes that involve more time and preparation. The most detailed dishes and processes are ironically the ones that seem the most basic in nature, such as cooking rice and making tofu. While more time consuming, Arimoto shows how to create basics such as gari (pickled ginger) that can be stored in the refrigerator and served with multiple meals.

With “Simply Japanese,” even the most seasoned Japanese home cook will find new recipes to try, all modernized for today’s kitchen, yet keeping with the traditional wafu taste that we all know and love in Japanese cuisine.

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