Japanese Dopers - share your cooking secrets

I’ve been a fan of Japanese cooking for years, but until recently it was mostly platonic relationship. The thing is, it was almost impossible to get a lot of ingredients here and unfortunately in Japanese cooking there is a lot of quite unique ones, that are not easy to replace. Sure, there are some Japanese restaurants here, but I’m not one of those who think that sushi is teh bestest nom evar, and besides, I prefer to cook than to eat.

But lo and behold! My persistence in looking for suppliers was ultimately rewarded and recently I found grocery with international foodstuffs that has a really remarkable Japanese section. I got almost everything I need - only stuff I couldn’t get is katsuobushi, but since I have dashi stock, I can live with that for now. So, I’m here, ready to spread my wings, or rather, culinary talents.

First home-made miso soup was a success, as well as udon. Now I’m ready for something more challenging. Or maybe something easy, but with a twist. Or, oh well, I’d try anything. So, dear fellow Japanese Dopers (or Japanese-cooking Dopers), please share your secrets, tips and recipes. I’m not a greenhorn and know my way around the kitchen and know a lot about theory of Japanese cooking, but any practical advice will be heartily appreciated.

Not japanese, but when mrAru was still stationed in Norfolk VA, there was a japanese grocery store that sold the cutest little tofu kit - a small wooden box with a lid that was also part of a press, a bag of ground soy beans to make the milk out of, and a small vial of the seaweed? extract used to catalyze the thickening of the soy protein… you follow the directions and you have homemade tofu=)

Homemade dashi is easy, fish flakes and kelp, water and a sauce pan=) they make a liquid dashi, and a powder for making dashi but it really is very easy to make. You can use the same bonita flakes as seasoning on rice, or you can even toss teh flakes and shreds of seaweed in the water for cooking rice=)

Making your own red bean paste from adzuki beans is easy, and tastes better than the canned stuff. You can make either smooth or lumpy depending on how much you process the cooked beans. if you force them through a china cap or seive you get smooth, if you just mas them it is lumpy=)

Tempura! Who doesn’t love deep fried food. Cook up a bunch of rice and keep warm. Gather up a bunch of friable vegetables such as: beans, carrots, zucchini, yams, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, eggplant, onions, button mushrooms (or any other type), winter squash such as acorn squash, and broccoli. Also, shrimp and calamari or fish!


1 egg
1 1/4 c. iced water
1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
Oil for deep frying


1 3/4 c. dashi stock (fish bouillon)
1/3 c. soy sauce
1/3 c. mirin
Sugar (1 to 3 tbsp.) to taste

In chilled bowl, mix egg and iced water. Add flour to egg mixture. Fold loosely to keep batter lumpy.

Heat oil in wok or deep fryer to 340 degrees. Pat dry all ingredients with paper towel. Dip vegetables in batter. Deep fry until golden. Drain vegetables briefly on paper towel covered tray.

Serve with dipping sauce and rice.

If you want to make good Japanese food, you really need to pay a lot of attention to the details. Making dashi is a lot like making tea, you’re infusing the ingredients and water temperature is very important. Before you use the kombu kelp, you need to wipe it with a humid cloth or paper towel. This is to get rid of some of the sea salt that would make your dashi too salty. Put your kelp in cold water. (About a four inch strip for two cups of water.) Turn on the heat and when the water looks like it’s about to simmer, remove the kelp. If you boil kombu, it will give your dashi a bitter taste. Boil the water over high heat and scoop out any foam that might form on the surface. Remove the pan from the heat and throw in about a fistfull of bonito flakes (katsuo-bushi). Once the flakes settle down at the bottom of the pan, pour the dashi through a sheet of paper towel to filter and you’re done.

You can also do a vegetarian dashi. Here, in Japan, it’s essentially temple food but it’s excellent nevertheless. Instead of bonito flakes, you use dried shiitake mushrooms. These are used a lot in Chinese cooking so they’re fairly easy to find at Asian grocery stores. Remove any visible dirt from the dried mushrooms and put them in cool water for at least 2 hours, ideally more. When the mushrooms have become soft, add in the kombu and proceed as for the regular dashi. Remove both mushrooms and kelp before simmering, but keep the mushrooms as you’ll be able to eat them (but off the foot, it’s too hard to eat.) If you have access to other kinds of dried mushrooms, you can also make variations. I once tried it with very good dried morrells; not very authentic but very, very tasty.

Here, you can but dashi bags, which are just like tea bags. They’re extremely convenient for daily cooking. At home we use dashi almost every day, and we appreciate them greatly. They taste much, much better than the instant stuff.

For tempura, I always use the vegan temple recipe for the batter, which has no eggs in it. Simply mix about equal proportions of flour and icy water. Using carbonated water will help making your tempura more crispy. It’s very important to leave lumps in your batter. Only mix it very lightly. Test that your oil is at the right temperature by throwing in a drop of batter, if it rises to the surface, it’s hot enough.


You couldn’t get shaved fish!

Well, technically I found one importer, but their prices are deep on the “insane” end of scale. So no katsuobushi yet.

But vegetarian dashi sound like a good idea. I’ll try it tomorrow.

Thanks guys, keep’em coming.

Simple buckwheat soba with real soy. Maybe some typical Japanese pickles, Daikon maybe.

A simple lunch.