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Friends, on the other hand, often made noodle dishes, pickled vegetables, or grilled meats, simply prepared, full of flavor, and informally served. But of course we were all in our 20s and were living on grants or teaching assistantships.
In 1988, Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a Californian, moved to Japan "for the food but stayed for love." She met a Japanese farmer, accepted his marriage proposal, and now lives on an organic farm in a traditional Japanese farmhouse with him and their children. In Japanese Farm Food, Hachisu shares the story of her acclimation to her unexpected life, from discovering artisanal charcoal to watching shishimai (the lion dance), from her trips to the fishmonger to walking her fields, and from picking vegetables to working in the kitchen. Tucked between the recipes and the stunning photographs of Japan, the markets, the fields, and the food, Hachisu invites us to stop a moment to share some of these experiences with her.
Japanese Farm Food, however, is more than a memoir; it is also a very accessible cookbook. But the cookbook part is a little deceptive. By that I mean, my first reaction was to love the book for the information, photos, and narrative, but I paid little attention to the recipes. It was only on the second look that I realized just how many dishes call to me.
If you are unfamiliar with Japanese food and ingredients, you'll want to spend some time reading the early chapters, which cover the pantry, kitchen tools, and cooking techniques. Then turn to the back of the book, where you'll find a glossary, charts, resources, and more. Although Hachisu calls for some exotic-sounding items, like dried seaweed and chili-infused sesame oil, don't be put off. Even in my small town I can find most of these items at the supermarket and the rest at the health-food store. As always, my weak link is the seafood; we just don't have access.
The chapters are arranged in a logical way from appetizers and soups to noodles, vegetables, and meats, ending with sweets. My favorite sections are those concentrating on noodles and rice, the vegetables, and meat. On the other hand the ice creams, cordials, and dipping sauces look pretty good too.
Many of the recipes are very simple to make and call for just a few ingredients. For example, Zucchini Coins with Roasted Sesame, Turnip Greens with Soy Sauce, and Foil-Wrapped Broiled Salmon with Butter all have short ingredient lists and easy directions. Most of the dishes are foods for everyday meals, such as simple soups and grilled meats. However, let me be clear that I'd serve anything in Japanese Farm Food to company; the food is visually appealing and full of flavor.
For each recipe, Hachisu provides a personal story, the history of the recipe, or maybe a note about the ingredients. When appropriate, she offers variations, tips, storage information, and serving ideas.
I recommend Nancy Singleton Hachisu's Japanese Farm Food to a large range of cooks and readers. The narrative text will appeal to anyone who likes memoir, travel writing, and/or food writing. Cooks interested in Japanese cooking, simple cooking, Asian flavors, and organic and farm-fresh foods won't want to miss this book. Finally, vegetarians will find many dishes perfect for their diet and others that can be easily tweaked without losing flavor. Vegans should look through the book before they buy; I'm less confident about how useful this book will be for them.
For more about the author, follow her on Twitter or visit her website, where you can see some lovely photographs and check out her tour schedule. You can also find some recipes.
There are quite a number of recipes from the book I'd like to try, but I think this simple stir-fry might be near the top of my list.
Stir-Fried Celery and Red Pepper with Soy Sauce
- 2½ tablespoons best-quality rapeseed or light sesame oil
- 3 small dried red peppers, torn in half
- 5 cups (2250 cc) 1¾-inch (4-cm) julienned celery
- 2½ tablespoons organic soy sauce
Published by Andrews McMeel, 2012
Source: review (see review policy)
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