A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO JAPANESE FERMENTATION: HEALTHY HOME-STYLE RECIPES USING SHIO KOJI, AMAZAKE, BROWN RICE MISO, NUKAZUKE PICKLES & MUCH MORE!

By Hiroko Shirasaki (North Clarendon, Vt., Tuttle Publishing, 2022, 112 pp., $19.99, hardcover)

While the technique has been around for hundreds of years, fermenting foods at home has seen a surge of popularity in recent years for good reason: it preserves food, has health benefits and creates a depth of flavor and umami that only gets better with time. Hiroko Shirasaki introduces readers to some easy Japanese fermenting principles, using rice koji to create fermented bases such as miso, shio koji and amazake. Once you have these base fermented recipes, you can use them in a variety of ways: turn them into soups, create pickles, add them directly to foods or as flavor enhancers for other dishes.

While there are now many fermenting tools and gadgets available to use if you really want to, you actually don’t need much of anything. Shirasaki uses accessible, ordinary food containers such as ceramic tuppers, plastic bags and lidded jars, to create her fermented foods.

The book has plenty of pictures showing what each step should look like, and she describes what to watch and how to prepare ingredients. Her dishes are approachable and geared for everyday Japanese home-style cooking.

If you’re not sure where to start, or are a total beginner, try your hand at a pickle. Rice bran pickles (nukazuke) are mild, salty and versatile. A bonus to this recipe is that you can ferment a really wide variety of vegetables. You can use carrots and cucumbers, but eggplants and cabbage also have great textural variety and are great in this recipe as well.

There are many appetizing dishes to try, but the sauces really shine. The fermented onion paste, when used as a marinade, will make meats on the drier side juicy and flavorful, but can also be used to create an onion soup. There’s a spicy miso sauce that only gets better as it ages. And one intriguing recipe she includes is for Homemade Fermented Mayonnaise, which uses amazake and ume vinegar to create a rich tang, but no eggs — it’s vegan!

Through her recipes Shirasaki shows readers the almost magical quality of shio koji, and its versatility in being featured in a main dish or as a great side. She lauds the health benefits of fermenting, acknowledging that while you can easily buy commercially produced fermented foods, making it yourself will allow you to reap more of the probiotic and microbial health benefits that can contribute to better gut health. And through her book, she shows readers that fermenting our own food is not as hard as you might think.

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