Japanese Soul Cooking

It’s not often a cookbook review is life-altering, but Fine Cooking’s review of Japanese Soul Cooking (by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat) a while back nudged me toward purchasing what I consider the best cookbook I’ve ever owned—and I’ve owned many.

In Greater Vancouver, we have a lot of Japanese restaurants, so I can get sushi and sashimi pretty much anywhere. I can even get some pretty good pub food. But what I’ve really been missing since returning from seven years in Japan is the street food, home cooking, and the coffee shop/local restaurant “western-style cooking.”

Soul Cooking has put an end to that. The book has all of my favourites and a few new things as well.

Here are some of the recipes I’ve tried from the cookbook (in order of appearance):

Ramen (pages 9–17)
I had no idea that making ramen is such a fairly complicated process, what with the stock and the marinated eggs (which happen to be the best part!). The first time I made ramen, I made the shoyu ramen, and I encountered no glitches. The second time (when I made shio [salt] ramen for my daughter’s birthday dinner), I accidentally drained the stock right into the sink. I tried to recover the meal by creating a less elaborate stock, but got completely distracted with the rest of the recipe and ended up adding way more salt than necessary. I’m going to try this again (mostly because the eggs were so good), but will likely save it for a time when I am alone in the house and can fully concentrate.

Gyoza (pages 28–34)
Making home-made gyoza (potstickers) is a rather time-consuming process, but the resulting product is so worth it. The instructions are very detailed and accurate, and the photos showing how to fold the gyoza help immensely.

Tadashi’s Lamb Curry (page 52)
I really liked this recipe, but apart from the lamb, my husband thought it tasted just like the packaged House Curry I pick up at the local Japanese grocer. I suppose that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I figure why waste time making something from scratch if the people you are feeding don’t appreciate it. (To me, it was way better than House Curry, however!)

Tomato Salada (page 80)
I just loved the way the other ingredients complemented the tomatoes in this one. I have only made it once, though, because my husband doesn’t like onions and you can’t really hide them in this recipe. Still, if you have garden-fresh tomatoes around, this recipe rocks.

Korokke (84–91)
I make the potato korokke (croquettes) quite often and even make extra for the freezer so that I can deep-fry them at a later date for a quick meal. The korokke recipe is one of my favourite recipes in the book. Don’t let the name fool you, these korokke also contain pork. I haven’t tried the curry-rice recipe yet, but that’s on my to-do list. While the kani (crab) cream korokke were good, they’re a bit more complicated to make and my family doesn’t like them as much as the potato ones.

Tatsuta-age (page 95)
Tastuta-age (what I know as chicken kara-age) is the dish I cook the most. It’s the reason I always make sure I have chicken legs and katakuriko (potato starch) on hand. While it sounds like a cumbersome dish to make, it’s really very quick and easy.

Potato Salada (page 210)
My husband hates potato salad but loves this, so it’s pretty much the only potato salad I make now. What’s different about it? Thinly sliced cucumber, carrot, and onion are lightly cured in salt before they get added to the cooked potato. (The onion hater doesn’t even complain about the onions.) When I make this salad, sometimes I go with the original recipe; other times I add a bit of yuzu koshou (a citrusy chili pepper condiment), which really spices it up. Either way, though, this salad is great.

Hamburg (page 220)
The Japanese version of Salisbury steak takes the humble meal to a whole other level. The soya sauce adds that touch of umami, and the milk-soaked panko makes the burger almost melt in your mouth. I’ve even served these with a side of perogies for a Japanese-Polish fusion meal.

Mushroom Wafu Pasta (page 231)
To be honest, I don’t recall what this tasted like, but I remember that we all loved it. (This actually surprised me because I expected a few complaints, for some reason.) You can use any mushrooms for it (except portabella).

Thumbing through this cookbook again, I realize there are so many dishes I haven’t tried. I also realized that they have a recipe for hiyashi chukka (cold Chinese noodles), which we called “reimen” in Osaka. (That’s probably why I didn’t notice.) Reimen is my favourite summer dish and I occasionally do make it here in Canada, so I’m looking forward to trying Ono and Salat’s recipe.

I’m publicly committing to a new goal: to try every single recipe in this book. Wish me luck!

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