Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Welcome to Miso and Yuzu, the Japanese food companion to my warm-climate food blog Saffron and Lemons (S&L). Without realizing it, I somehow managed to take a one-year hiatus from S&L. It wasn't just the trauma following the triple earthquake-tsunami-nuclear disaster last March. The truth is I had just been cooking more Japanese food and got out of the habit of posting on S&L (tut tut!).

So, Japanese food? I've often heard it said that Japanese food is so healthy! So delicate! So artistic!


Sure, Japanese food can be all of those, but do we really think that the person cooking the evening meal, night after night, has three hours to make it all pretty on a raft-load of dishes (and do the washing up)? Or that Japanese people's palates are so refined that nary a spice crosses their lips? And can I be the only one that suspects that what Japanese typically eat today is often more laden in salt, sugar and fat than I'd really like to admit?

At the risk of ruining anyone's visions of the culinary purity and aesthetics of Japanese cuisine, that's just not the Japanese food that I know (and cook!).

I hope the recipes that will appear here will help to dispel some of the cliches that have grown up around Japanese food, and give you a better idea of what Japanese really cook at home for their families, with maybe a few special occasion recipes thrown in for good measure. After all, the cuisine of Japan is as wide and varied as any of the other classic cuisines of the world (and far wider and more varied than the one I grew up with in Scotland and Australia).

The recipes will come from Japanese language food magazines, primarily Orange Page, the most popular in the country, and occasionally others such as Haru-mi, the eponymous food magazine of Japan's "charisma housewife" (read "Martha Stewart"), Harumi Kurihara. They will, therefore, assume you have the basics of the Japanese pantry:
  • Shoyu (regular Japanese soy sauce)
  • Sake (rice wine for cooking)
  • Mirin (sweetened rice wine for cooking
  • Miso (fermented bean paste; I usually have a blended miso and a white one on the go)
  • Dashi makings (I use "dashi pack", a big teabag of dashi ingredients, and, occasionally, dashinomoto, a granulated stock powder)
  • Torigara soup (granulated chicken stock)
  • Su (Japanese rice vinegar)
  • Goma (sesame seeds, toasted whole white and black seeds and ground white seeds)
  • Nerigoma (toasted sesame seed paste; tahini can be substituted but tastes slightly different as it is untoasted)
  • Goma-abura (toasted sesame seed oil)
  • Katakuriko (potato starch powder; cornflour/starch can be substituted at a pinch)
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Sugar

With these, you have the basic flavour building blocks of Japanese cuisine. Add one or two spicy extras as the need comes up, and you will be set for just about all the recipes that will appear here.

  • Wasabi (the pungent green horseradish-like paste in sushi)
  • Karashi (Japanese mustard; rarely used at my house)
  • Togarashi/Taka-no-tsume ("falcon's talon," Japanese dried red chillies)
  • Shichimi togarashi ("seven-flavour chilli", a blend of dried chillies, citrus peel, sesame and other spices)
  • Yuzu kosho (a paste of yuzu (Japanese citron) zest and fresh green chillies)
  • Kochuujan (Gochujang, a Korean chilli, glutinous rice and soy bean paste)
  • Tobanjan (Dobanjiang, a Sichuanese chilli and soybean paste

If you plan on cooking Japanese food quite often, it is also worth having Japonica rice in the pantry. I've seen this marketed as "sushi rice" in Australia, but any short-grain rice will probably do. Long-grain rice is less desirable, as the grains do not stick together as well after cooking.

And just so you know, I'm a make-it-from-scratch kind of cook. I routinely cut the oil and sugar and salt in recipes. I don't often have time to make more than 2 dishes for a Japanese meal (though that would be on the low side for many Japanese), I'll sometimes forgo rice (which would really be sacrilegious to most Japanese) and, since I do all the washing up, I usually don't faff about with lots of little bowls and dishes. Lastly, I deliberately didn't include mayonnaise and tomato sauce/ketchup in my pantry list above, as more often than not, I don't bother with recipes that are overly reliant on these ingredients.

Sound like your kind of cooking? Then let's get on with it!


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