Life Extension Magazine®
Number of Japanese vegetables for cooking three healthy recipes

Issue: Oct 2018

Japan the Cookbook

From Japan the Cookbook, a comprehensive and collective effort from various Japanese artisans and cooks, we present three healthy recipes from this ancient cuisine.

By Garry Messick.

Author Nancy Singleton Hachisu says that when she decided to write a comprehensive cookbook of Japanese cuisine, she didn’t know what she was getting herself into. The project ended up requiring three years of intensive work and involved input from chefs and ordinary people from regions throughout the island nation.

What you need to know

Japan the Cookbook took a long, grueling three years to complete, as it received input from various top Japanese artisans and cooks. Learn from the experts.

But the results were so gratifying, Hachisu says she would have taken up the project even if she had known the amount of hard work that lay ahead. She describes the final product as “impressive in its contribution,” due to the collective effort from various Japanese artisans and cooks, as well as the photographers and the publisher, in creating a cookbook that is as rich in content as it is beautifully bound and illustrated.

“I feel less like the author and more like the conduit, for sharing this moment in time of Japanese food,” says Hachisu.

Although originally from the U.S., Hachisu traveled to Japan in 1988 intending to learn Japanese for a year and then return home for graduate school. Instead, she ended up falling for and marrying a Japanese organic farmer and has lived with him in his farmhouse for the last 30 years, along with their three sons. She has taught home cooking to Japanese housewives, is the author of several internationally acclaimed cookbooks, and is well-known and respected in Japan as an authority on the nation’s cuisine.

Many Japanese dishes are based on healthy ingredients, including a large variety of vegetables. Below, we’ve reprinted three delicious examples of this from Japan the Cookbook.

—Garry Messick

Simmered Shiitake and Sweet Potato

Simmered Shiitake and Sweet Potato  
  • Preparation time: 45 minutes
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Serves: 6
  • 6 donko (thick-capped dried shiitake)
  • Boiling water
  • 5 ¼ oz. (150 g) head bok choy, pulled in half lengthwise
  • 1 lb. 5 oz. (600 g) sweet potatoes, well-scrubbed but not peeled
  • Generous 2 cups (17 fl. oz./500 ml) chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely slivered cha tsai (mustard stems)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian or curly parsley

This dish has an interesting and delicious combination of flavors.

Sweet potatoes are a good foil for earthy shiitake, while the chicken stock gives the dish depth and the pickled cha tsai (mustard stems) lend pop.

Soak the shiitake in 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) boiling water for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, slice the torn bok choy in half crosswise where the leaves meet the stems. Cut the sweet potato into ¾-inch (2 cm) pieces.

Reserving the soaking liquid, drain the shiitake, pare off the stems and discard. Slice the caps into ¼-inch (6 mm) pieces. In a medium pot, combine the chicken stock and the soaking liquid. Slide in the shiitake, bok choy stems, and sweet potatoes with the salt and cha tsai. Bring to a lively simmer over medium high heat and cook until the sweet potatoes have softened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the bok choy leaves and cook until they are wilted, 1–2 more minutes. Spoon into a pretty serving bowl and garnish with chopped parsley.

Asparagus with Sesame-Vinegar Dressing

Asparagus with Sesame-Vinegar Dressing  
  • Preparation time: 25 minutes
  • Cooking time: 10 minutes
  • Serves: 6
  • 1 lb. 5 oz. (600 g) asparagus
  • 1 tablespoon canola (rapeseed) oil
  • teaspoons gold sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
  • 2 teaspoons white sesame seeds
  • 3 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 pinch of flaky sea salt

A trio of sesame seeds brightens up asparagus with its subtle flavor and pretty combination of colors.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Snap the bottoms off of the asparagus where they naturally want to break. Blanch until crisp-tender, 2–5 minutes depending on the thickness. Refresh under cold, running water. Pat dry in a clean tea towel. Cut on the diagonal into ¾-inch (2 cm) pieces.

In a small frying pan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the sesame seeds when you can feel some heat rising from the pan. Cook, stirring until you can smell the aroma of sesame, about 1 minute. Scrape into a small bowl to cool.

Toss the asparagus pieces with the cooled sesame seeds, vinegar, mirin, soy sauce, and salt. Serve at room temperature, or cold the next day as a salad or vegetable side dish.

Sardines with Carrot-Tomato Sauce

Japan the Cookbook
Item #34143
  • Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus 30 minutes salting time
  • Cooking time: 25 minutes
  • Serves: 6
  • 3 large fresh sardines (1 lb./450 g)
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons (45 g) unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 piman or small green peppers, diced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 3 small garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 2⁄3 cup (5 fl. oz./150 ml) chicken stock
  • ½ lemon
  • 1 small handful coarsely chopped parsley (Italian or curly)

Italian in feel, this dish remains Japanese in conception. It is delicious with Japanese rice or baguette toasts.

Slice the heads off of the sardines and cut down the belly with a sharp knife. Pull out the guts, vertebrae, and tail and discard. You will have 6 fillets. Rinse under cold running water and pat dry. Lay out on a dinner plate and, holding your hand 12 inches (30 cm) above the fish (to ensure a light even coating), salt on all sides with the salt. Let sit for 30 minutes, refrigerated.

Heat a large, heavy frying pan over medium heat and drop in the butter when you can feel the heat rising from the surface of the pan. Swirl the butter around the pan briefly, then immediately lay the fillets in the pan, skin-side down. Adjust the heat to medium-low and cook until golden brown and the flesh has cooked through, 1½ minutes on each side. Remove the fillets to a clean serving platter to rest.

Add the onion, piman, tomatoes, carrot, and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Stir the chicken stock into the vegetables, bring the liquid to a quick boil, adjust the heat to medium-high to maintain a lively simmer, and cook until the carrots are soft and the excess liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Spoon the carrot-tomato sauce on top of each sautéed sardine, squeeze the lemon over, and strew with parsley before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature.

To order Japan the Cookbook, call 1-800-544-4440.

Reprinted from Japan the Cookbook (Phaidon 2018) by Nancy Singleton Hachisu
Photos: Jennifer May