There are some global cuisines that most of us only experience when we go out to eat, perhaps imagining that they are too difficult to attempt at home. One of them seems to be Japanese food. Even beyond sushi, it just seems like it might be complicated or difficult or hard to find ingredients for. Today, this changes!
It turns out that Japanese food is no trickier to prepare in your own kitchen than anything else, and an absolutely amazing spread can be pulled together without breaking a sweat.
All you need to do is lay in a selection of the right ingredients. The Japanese Vegetable Slaw and the Japanese Spicy Octopus Salad can be made ahead of time, and you can quickly fry up the chicken just before you sit down to dinner.
Here are some of the most commonly used Japanese ingredients — having even some of them on hand will make it easy to dip into this amazing cuisine at will.
This fermented soybean paste comes in a variety of varieties, ranging in color and intensity. White miso is the lightest, having been fermented for the least amount of time. Its flavor is mellow and slightly sweet. Yellow increases slightly in intensity, having been fermented for slightly longer. Red or brown miso increase in assertiveness yet again, and a little goes a long way.
These are all made from soybeans, but you can also find barley miso, which is a combination of barley and miso. Added in small amounts, you can use whichever one you have on hand, but you may want to increase or decrease the amount slightly depending on which kind you have.
Sesame is a very common flavor in many Asian cuisines, Japanese amongst them. Toasted sesame seeds are a common and delicious way to finish a dish with a bit of extra flavor and crunch, not to mention visual appeal. Sesame oil adds wonderful toasty flavor to dishes, though it should be used sparingly as it can be quite potent. Keep sesame oil in the fridge, especially after you open the bottle, as it can start to turn rancid at warmer temperatures.
You may have drank this rice wine at a Japanese restaurant, but it’s also a great way to add flavor to dishes, used similarly to wine in Western cooking. It can be used in marinades, glazes, sauces,
This is a lower-alcohol version of rice wine, with a bit of sweetness. It’s great in dressings, like the dressing for this Japanese Vegetable Slaw. It also adds depth of flavor to the Simple Teriyaki Sauce which is the marinade for the Japanese Fried Chicken, or Karaage.
Ponzu is a citrus-based sauce used often in Japanese cooking. It is salty and tangy, made from vinegar, mirin, seaweed and fish flakes (don’t be turned off, they’re delish) and it has just a wonderful flavor. The citrus most commonly added is that of the tart yuzu, whose flavor is comparable to a grapefruit with hints of orange.
Sudachi is another popular citrus juice added to ponzu. The overall flavor is a lovely balance of soy sauce and tartness. This is a great sauce to finish a stir fry, broiled or grilled seafood or fish, or used in a dressing (like the dressing for the Spicy Octopus Salad dipping sauce for sate or dumplings.
Sometimes called sushi ginger, this is often served with sushi, intended to be a tart and refreshing nibble between bites of fish. But it’s also great served with all sorts of cooked Japanese dishes, as a garnish, or again as sometimes to refresh the palate between bites.
Sheets of dried seaweed likewise make their most common appearance in sushi form, wrapping up all manner of rolls. But slivers of nori are great added to salads and other cooked Japanese dishes.
This Japanese horseradish paste is often blended into soy sauce and used as a dipping sauce for sushi. But it can add heat to dressings and sauces, and is used to add some punch to the Spicy Japanese Octopus Salad. Sometimes it is sold powdered, and you need to add a bit of water to turn it into a paste.
There are certainly other ingredients worth exploring, but this is a great start. Then all you need to do is cook up these recipes, and invite over a group of your favorite people!
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