21 Aug 2010

A book for reluctant chefs

Trawling through the shelves of cookery books at my local bookstore today, I found this: 

The World's Easiest, Most Impressive and Delicious Japanese Foods

I'm off to Andalusia in a few weeks time and will be flying on to England after that so I read it - in part as whimsical translation, in part as wishful thinking - as something along the lines of 'dead easy, impressive and delicious Japanese foods you can reproduce the world over'. Now that would be a great recipe book to have. It probably goes without saying, but I'm a big fan of the cuisine in my adopted country. I love eating food that is so in tune with the seasons: natural ingredients at the peak of freshness and meticulous preparation are what make Japanese cuisine an art, and I miss the crisp, fresh flavors when I've been away for a while. This is - despite not being quite the cookbook I found I was after, nonetheless a valuable recipe book and one that has an interesting premise. 

It's written by Masahiro Kasahara, a young, up-and-coming chef at 'Sanpi Ryoron', which is a renowned Japanese restaurant in Ebisu, itself a highly fashionable part of this mad metropolis. 
With this book, he promises recipes that: (1) can be made from ingredients that are readily available in your local supermarket, (2) require no elaborate preparation, (3) where possible, can be made without using a steamer, oven or grill, (4) take little time to put together, and (5) can be made for as few as two and will still be delicious. That's quite a promise!
Apparently, he was prompted into writing by comments from female friends who know more about exotic, foreign food cultures than their native cuisine and cite its ostensible difficulty as the reason for rarely, if ever cooking Japanese food at home. It's a common enough lament; there is a tendency, especially among younger generations, to equate Japanese food with Kaiseki-ryori, a series of artistically presented morsels that were originally served during the tea ceremony and that have been elevated to the level of haute cuisine. There's a similar misconception beyond these shores in that many non-Japanese tend to equate Japanese cuisine with sushi and teriyaki (or J-style curry and yakisoba, if you're my brother). 
As Kasahara points out, however, you pay for complexity and perfection when eating in a restaurant, and there are real pleasures to be had from cooking simple, homemade fare; though while the recipes he presents may be unpretentious they're far from rustic. It is a book for beginners and Kasahara's suggestion is that readers start by making the dishes that appeal to them most and progress from there. That he feels he has to fight to win Japanese women over to Japanese food is kind of ironic when you think how popular this cuisine is becoming in other parts of the world! 
I bought the book on a whim, won over by the understated jacket photo and the title, but the recipes are beautifully presented and Kasahara offers plenty of helpful hints and tips that are sure to inspire even the most reluctant of cooks. What's more, there are even a few recipes that I reckon I'll be able to recreate in far-off lands, even in spite of the necessary limitations that imposes on ingredient availability. Nice pictures, too; I bet the photographer didn't have an inquisitive cat to contend with when he was shooting for this!

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