Japanese


One of the most generally useful Asian cookbooks I own is The Complete Book of Japanese Cooking, by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz and Mitsuko Endo, which I found at a Half-Price Books near my old apartment in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. It’s wide in scope, and covers most of the basic and traditional dishes. When I was a budding anime fan in college, I used to use it as a reference guide to the various things the characters ate.

It’s an older cookbook (it was first published in 1976), and it therefore assumes that you’re going to have to make your own stocks and condiments rather than buying them at the supermarket (imagine, if you can in our own sushi-in-the-deli century, a day when supermarkets carried almost no Asian food!). This isn’t a bad thing, since it’s instructive to see how they’re made…and if you’ve got the time, homemade always tastes better anyway.

Japan’s got a lot to teach single people about cooking. Not only do they have to provide quick, tasty food for a huge population of workers, but they have to do it in some pretty oppressive summer heat. This is a classic example:

Somen no Hiyashisuimono (from The Complete Book of Japanese Cooking)

  • 1 oz (about 2 bundles) somen noodles (you can usually find these in your supermarket’s Asian section. If not, go to your nearest Asian market and buy some after staring slack-jawed at their amazing noodle section for a while)
  • 3 cups dashi (I just use Hon-Dashi, following the package directions)
  • 1 tsp light soy sauce
  • 6 large green beans
  • salt

Add noodles to a medium saucepan of boiling water and cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Return to a boil and add 1 cup cold water, return to a boil again, and drain. Rinse noodles with cold water in a colander, drain, and set aside.

Bring dashi stock to boil in a saucepan and add the soy sauce and salt to taste. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Drop beans into boiling, salted water and cook uncovered for 5 minutes. Drain, rinse, and cool. Cut each bean into three diagonal slices.

Divide noodles amongst 4 bowls and add stock and beans.

I had this with some grilled beef in bulgogi marinade (Choripdong’s my brand of preference for this most useful item). Total cooking time…25 minutes. Perfect for a muggy day after work.

I’m at a conference this week, so I won’t have much chance to experiment. Here’s something to tide you over: 

Like many gaijin, I am a big fan of katsu. When the Portuguese missionaries showed up in Japan in the 1500s, they brought along both the Roman Catholic Church, and their mastery of fried foods. Catholicism ended up not being a permanent fixture, but nobody could debate the tastiness of the frying. Tempura and pork and chicken katsu have remained a vital part of japanese cuisine, and a refuge for westerners on whom the flavors of raw fish and edamame are lost.

This particular katsu recipe has the double virtues of being fast and easy. I’ve seen other recipes that advise marinating your chicken or pork with a little soy sauce, sake, and sliced scallions before frying. These are tasty, but less convenient for a work night.

Chicken Katsu (from Hiroko Shimbo’s The Japanese Kitchen)

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3 eggs beaten  with 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups panko crumbs
  • oil for frying
  • 1/2 head cabbage shredded

Put the flour, egg/water mixture, and panko crumbs into separate bowls. Dip the chicken breasts into the flour, then the egg wash, then back into the flour, then back into the egg again, and roll in panko crumbs. Heat oil for frying (about 2 inches) and fry chicken breasts about five minutes on each side, until golden brown. Serve with shredded cabbage and tonkatsu sosu.