Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a classic of world cuisine, 4 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Japanese Vegetarian Cookery (Hardcover)
This book first opened my eyes to Japanese cooking- yes there is a world beyond the Robo sushi bar. I much prefer Japanese cooking to chinese- it's more precise, each dish is a little piece of perfection married up to make a whole. This is a fully vegetarian (and let's face it pretty much vegan) book- no deceased fish intrude. No glossy pics, just line drawings. Ms Downer takes you through various preparation methods for each possible vegetable followed up by soy bean derivatives such as tofu, tempeh and miso. It's generally Buddhist temple cuisine (but ohhhhh so delicious). Happily you can find most of the basics in the specialist sections of Sainsburys and Waitrose these days. Generally the ingredients are simple combinations of seaweed stock, honey, mirin (sweetened wine), sesame seeds and miso paste.

"A Japanese meal has no main course preceded by an hors d'oeuvre and followed by a dessert, and consists not of a heaped plateful of food as in the West, but of tiny portions of various foods, each on its own plate."

Generally you as the cook rush out all at once a soup, a rice dish and another 1 to 7 dishes. There is ritual in eating- its fun trust me- and I had lots of joy assembling a collection of bowls and plates - which is always in fives as the word "go" is lucky. Strangely western marketed Japanese sets are all in fours- eek- "shi" -the Japanese word for four is also the word for death. You shouldn't stick your chopsticks upright in the middle of your rice bowl either as it looks like the incense sticks burned at funerals (honestly folks, I pointedly walk under ladders-I just find the culture buzz FUN!)

So- my favourite dishes from this book so far are (apart from discovering the delightful chewy gooiness of REAL rice cakes- mochi- not those wagon wheel polystyrene things.)
Vegetable pickles- you serve them with every meal- it's just salted veg left overnight which you then rinse and flavour with rice vinegar- but so good (crunchy like pickled red cabbage).
Pumpkin tempura- battered Japanese veg is so yummy- why don't we have chipshops which do this as take aways?
Grilled tofu with sweet miso- bunged under the grill, you spread on egg/miso and extras topping - ooh it really is delicious.
Mock eel- which is a buddhist tofu mix spread ontop of a type of seaweed- nori- all fried up- the nori acts like the eels skin. Now I am not an advocate of fake dead things, but this is truly yum.
rice balls- leftover rice rolled up and dipped in sesame seeds.
stuffed mochi rice cakes in toasted nori were also delicious

Oh, if you need inspiration on cooking- watch Tampopo [DVD] [1986] [US Import]- one single mum's struggle to run an outstanding noodle bar with help from a mysterious trucker who rolls into town.
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