There’s a real disconnect between how complex many Brits perceive Japanese cooking to be, and how difficult it actually is. In reality, the majority of every day Japanese food is straightforward to make, especially if you have a clear, easy-to-follow recipe. That’s where Aya Nishimura’s Japanese Food Made Easy comes in, a cookbook to help you discover how simple and delicious Japanese food can be.
Nishimura, who was born in Japan but now lives in London, is a fully qualified chef, food and prop stylist, recipe writer and home economist. She has worked for many of London’s top restaurants and catering companies as well as UK food media and newspapers. This is her first book, and showcases popular Japanese recipes such as ramen, gyoza, teriyaki and tonkatsu, as well as a wide range of Japanese dishes eaten at home. These include treats such as homemade atsuage (fried tofu) served with warm gingery cherry tomatoes, braised daikon with pork miso, green beans with sesame dressing, chawanmushi (savoury egg custard), cold udon noodles with sesame miso sauce, onigiri (rice balls), hotpot, sweet soy-simmered pork belly and egg, and sweet tofu with hojicha (roasted tea) syrup,
None of the techniques involved are difficult, and most ingredients can be found in major supermarkets, especially those with a decent “world foods” aisle. There are also a range of online suppliers that deliver nationwide, including my personal recommendations of Sous Chef and Japan Centre.
The Introduction includes a wonderful foodmap of Japan (which I’d love to frame and hang on my wall) listing 12 key places across the whole of Japan, and the food(s) for which they are most famous. Following this is a really helpful glossary of key ingredients used in Japanese cooking, categorised into fresh ingredients, liquid ingredients, pantry items and miso.
The recipes themselves are organised into chapters for Bar Food, Side Dishes, One Bowl, Main Meals, Condiments, Desserts & Drinks. The index is detailed enough to identify recipes by main ingredients; be aware that the book is produced by an Australian publisher, and aubergine is listed under eggplant – there may be other such examples. There’s also a double page menu planner that provides groupings of recipes that would make a great Japanese breakfast, casual evening drinks snacks, a do-it-yourself sushi party, a vegetarian spread, and a weekend family dinner.
As usual when reading a new cookery book, I attached a slew of sticky tabs to mark recipes I want to make – and in this book there are so many that tempt me – including nasu dengaku (miso aubergine), kaarage (japanese fried chicken), tuna tataki, okonomiyaki, yakitori chicken, ochazuke (salmon with tea broth), braised daikon with pork miso, grilled aubergine with ginger, green beans with sesame dressing, sake-steamed clams, kistune udon (udon noodles in hot broth with fried tofu), smoked mackerel and ginger japanese pilaf, nanbanzuke (marinated salmon), yuzu-marinated salmon, tempura, tea-braised pork, kushikatsu (crispy pork skewers), sweet soy-simmered pork belly and egg, shichimi toarashi (seven spice mix), yuzu kosho (salted lime and chilli paste), furikake (dry seasoning mix), sweet tofu with hojicha (roasted tea) syrup, and shiratama mochi balls with brown sugar and ginger syrup
Most recipes have photographs of the finished dishes, some with extra step-by-step images to show the method more clearly. A few have wonderfully quirky line-drawn illustrations, like the rolled omelette and the basic dashi stock recipes. I also love the three ‘6 Ways With’ entries dotted through the book – these include 6 ways with tofu, with eggs, an with miso; each one gives 6 simple recipes featuring the key ingredient on a single page, with some fun illustrations of the ingredient on the facing page.
Photography by Lisa Linder is bright and attractive, having been styled by Nishimura herself. I love the use of light and beautiful crockery, with simple backgrounds and minimal extra props; the images give a real sense of being achievable for home cooks.
Thus far, we’ve made the quick soy-pickled cucumber and ginger recipe, the teriyaki tofu steaks, and adapted the sesame miso dipping sauce for cold udon noodles (and served it with hot soba noodles instead). The recipes are incredibly straightforward and simple to follow, and the results are excellent. The pickled cucumbers were a revelation – how so few ingredients combined so simply can taste so amazing is a magical mystery! I also adored the teriyaki tofu steaks and the same teriyaki marinade recipe can be used on chicken, salmon, or in a vegetable stir-fry – it’s very versatile.
What I particularly like about the book is how many diverse dishes you can make with a relatively small larder of Japanese ingredients such as miso paste, soy sauce, rice vinegar, mirin, sake, sesame seeds and yuzu juice. Combine these with meat and fish, fruit and vegetables, and other fresh produce such as ginger, mushrooms and tofu, and you can enjoy a wide range of really delicious and easy-to-make Japanese food.
Recipes from Japanese Food Made Easy
We have permission from Murdoch Books to share a couple of recipes with you from the book:
Kavey Eats was provided with a review copy of Aya Nishimura’s Japanese Food Made Easy from publisher Murdoch Books. Photography by Lisa Linder. This book is currently available (at time of review) on Amazon UK for £11.98 (RRP: £14.99).