Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook
By Nancy Singleton Hachisu (New York: Phaidon, 2023, 368 pp, $54.95, hard cover)
Nancy Singleton Hachisu is back with a vegetarian companion to her first book, “Japan: the Cookbook,” and it does not disappoint. Once again, Hachisu’s sheer volume of recipes in “Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook” will give readers an astounding range of recipes and ideas for dishes that capture the culture and essence of Japanese home-style cooking.
This cookbook has recipes that range from simple and traditional (Red Miso Soup (aka akadashi) or Seven Greens Okayu with Mochi (Mochi-iri Nanakusagayu) to more modern takes on Japanese home dishes, such as Tofu and Tomato Gratin, a lighter take on a popular dish. Hachisu has recipes for seemingly every kind of food: main dishes, sides, salads, desserts, sauces, beverages and snacks.
She begins every recipe with a little back history, story or brief suggestions on preparation to give readers context and advice on how to approach, best enjoy or source ingredients for each dish.
She defines unfamiliar ingredients and terms. While the book has color photos of select dishes, the majority of the recipes do not have photos. She has written the instructions in a simple, matter of fact way, in the same style as her first book. Note that while while every recipe has standard preparation estimate times, ingredients and measurements, you will need to have a sense of what “doneness” means, as while the recipes generally describe what to watch for, or cooking times when possible, they are written in a more narrative way, as if someone was sharing how to make this with you verbally.
People who grew up eating Japanese home cooking may feel nostalgia as they flip through recipes, and if you grew up in Japan eating these dishes, certain dishes will likely evoke memories of seasons and specific times of the year when certain foods are in season, such as eating Chestnut and Ginkgo Nut rice in the autumn, hot pot (nabe) in the winter, or fresh Bamboo Shoot Rice (takenoko gohan) in the spring. Even if you didn’t grow up in a seasonal location, Hachisu’s recipes lean into the seasonal desires that present themselves through the ingredients, such as a Tomato Juice recipe with sudachi, Yuzu or lemon juice, shiso and hot sauce, which simply begs for a hot summer day, or the Yuzu fritters which she recommends to be eaten during the height of winters.
While the entirety of the book is not vegan, it includes many recipes and variations of foods that are, and can easily join the repertoire of dairy substitute-seeking cooks. Hachisu’s vegan whipped cream, Parmesan-style Vegan “Cheese” and her soy milk and tofu-based mayonnaise recipes can accompany other dishes in the book. Recipes such as Potato Chip Salad and Natto Okonomiyaki will give people a chance to explore some fun takes on familiar foods, while other dishes such as the Sweet Potato Croquette or the Sweet-simmered black-beans (Kuromame) will find easy ways to to be apart of your regular mealtimes.
If you’re a vegetarian, vegan or an omnivore that just loves veggies, Hachisu’s book brings 250 Japanese vegetarian recipes that will invigorate your home cooking in new and familiar ways.