Japanese Cooking – History, Health Benefits and Recipes
Japanese cooking (Japanese cuisine, also known as “Washoku” 和食 (和食 – 和 meaning ‘Japan’ or ‘harmony,’ 食 meaning ‘food’ or ‘to eat’), has become increasingly popular worldwide for its healthy and delicious dishes. Washoku is a combination of traditional Japanese cooking techniques and modern influences and it refers to the classic Japanese cuisine that focuses on the harmony of ingredients that are both visually appealing and nutritious. In this blog post, we’ll briefly explore the history of Japanese cooking, its health benefits and share four easy-to-make Japanese recipes.
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History of Japanese Cooking
Japanese cuisine dates back to the Jomon period, around 10,000 BC. During this time, people lived as hunter-gatherers and used fire to cook their food. The introduction of rice cultivation during the Yayoi period (300 BC – 300 AD) marked a significant change in Japanese cuisine. Rice became a staple food, and people began using soybeans to make miso and soy sauce.
During the Heian period (794-1185), Japanese aristocrats began hosting elaborate banquets, where food was not only served but presented as an art form. This era also saw the introduction of Buddhist vegetarianism, which influenced the development of meat-free dishes such as shojin ryori.
The Edo period (1603-1868) was a time of peace and prosperity in Japan, and it marked the development of modern Japanese cuisine. During this period, sushi and tempura were invented, and the use of chopsticks became widespread.
Today, Japanese cuisine is a fusion of traditional and modern cooking techniques. It is heavily influenced by regional ingredients, such as seafood in coastal regions and vegetables in mountainous areas.
Health Benefits of Japanese Cooking
Japanese cuisine is known for its health benefits. Many dishes are low in calories and high in nutrients, making them an excellent choice for those looking to maintain a healthy diet. Here are some of the health benefits of Japanese cooking:
- High in Nutrients: Japanese dishes are often made with nutrient-rich ingredients such as seafood, tofu, and vegetables. These ingredients are high in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are beneficial for overall health.
- Low in Calories: Japanese cuisine is known for its low-calorie dishes. Many Japanese dishes are steamed or grilled, which helps to preserve the nutrients in the food while keeping the calories low.
- Heart-Healthy: Japanese cuisine is also known for its heart-healthy dishes. The use of fish and soy products, such as tofu and miso, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
- Boosts Immunity: The use of fermented foods, such as miso and pickles, is common in Japanese cuisine. These foods contain beneficial bacteria that help to boost the immune system.
- Fresh, seasonal ingredients: Japanese cooking is known for its use of fresh, seasonal ingredients. This means that the dishes are not only healthier, but they also taste better.
- Low in processed foods and unhealthy fats: Japanese cooking is also low in processed foods and unhealthy fats. This makes it a good choice for people who are looking to improve their overall health and well-being.
- Beautiful and intricate dishes: Japanese dishes are often works of art, and they can be a joy to both eat and look at. This is one of the reasons why Japanese cuisine is so popular with foodies all over the world.
- A great way to learn about Japanese culture: When you cook Japanese dishes, you are not only learning about the ingredients and cooking methods, but you are also learning about the history and traditions of Japan. This can be a great way to connect with your heritage or to learn about another culture.
3 Easy-to-Make Japanese Recipes
Now that we’ve briefly covered the history and health benefits of Japanese cuisine, let’s get to the fun part – cooking! Here are four easy-to-make Japanese recipes that you can try at home:
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
- 1/4 cup sake (Japanese rice wine)
- 1 tbsp grated ginger
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp water
- Sesame seeds, for garnish
- In a small saucepan, combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, mirin, sake, ginger, and garlic. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5-7 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened.
- Heat a grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then grill for 4-5 minutes per side, or until cooked through.
- In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the sauce and stir until thickened. 4. Brush the chicken with the teriyaki sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve hot.
Simple Yaki Udon (recipe adapted from conniecooks.co)
- 16 0z. udon noodles (frozen or fresh)
- 2½ -3 cups stir fry vegetables, chopped (I used shiitake mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, bok choy, red pepper)
- 2 green onions – cut 2” pieces
- ½ lb ground pork, beef or chicken
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp oil
- 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp rice wine vinegar
- 1-2 green onions, thinly sliced
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and set aside.
- If frozen, boil the frozen udon noodles for around 1½ to 2 minutes. Rinse and drain your noodles under cold water. Drizzle on a little bit of oil to keep them from sticking.
- Heat your pan (or wok) over medium-high heat and add the oil. Add in the ground meat and stir fry until almost cooked. Add the minced garlic and the vegetables and stir fry until meat is fully cooked and the vegetables are soft. Next add in the noodles, sauce and cut scallions. Continue stir-frying for about 4 minutes, mixing well.
- Garnish with thinly sliced green onions and sesame seeds
Chicken Karaage with Sweet Chili Sauce (from justonecookbook.com)
This is one of my favorite Japanese dishes. This recipe is from justonecookbook.com. It’s a little more complex, but well worth it.
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs (roughly 4 pieces)
- 2 Tbsp sake
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 knob ginger
- 1 cup potato starch or cornstarch (more or less)
- 3 cups neutral-flavored oil (vegetable, rice bran, canola, etc.) (for deep frying)
- 2 green onions/scallions
- ¼ cup cilantro (coriander)
- ½ cup Thai sweet chili sauce (8 Tbsp) (I love Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce -available at Weee!)
- 2 Tbsp water
1. Remove and discard extra fat and skin, and cut each skin-on chicken thigh into 5 to 6 pieces, about 1 ½ inch (4 cm) pieces.
2. Peel the ginger skin and grate it. Cut the green onion/scallions and cilantro into small pieces.
3. In a medium bowl, combine sake, soy sauce and grated ginger, and add the chicken pieces to marinate. Keep in the fridge for 30 minutes. Tip: You may have noticed already but in Japanese cooking, common marinade time is between 20 and 30 minutes to preserve the ingredient’s original taste.
4. In the tray or bowl, prepare cornstarch/potato starch. In a medium pot, heat the oil to 340ºF (170ºC). Use a thermometer or wooden chopsticks to see if the oil is ready. Tip: You put a chopstick in the oil and when you see the bubbles around it, it’s ready!
5. When the oil is hot, drain the chicken well from the marinade and coat each piece with the corn/potato starch. Make sure the chicken is all covered by the starch so when you put the chicken into the oil, it won’t splatter.
6. Slowly place 4-6 chicken into the wok (Work with a few pieces at a time, so the oil temperature won’t drop quickly). Deep fry the chicken for 90 seconds, or until the chicken is light golin den color. Transfer the chicken to a wire rack or paper towel to drain excess oil. Let the chicken cook with remaining heat while you work on the rest of the chicken.
7. Once the chicken is all deep fried for the first round, use a fine mesh sieve to pick up crumbs to keep the oil clean. If you don’t do this step, the crumbs get darker and then the oil gets darker. Increase the heat and bring the oil to 350ºF (180ºC). Deep fry the chicken for the second time for 45 seconds or until crispy and golden brown.
8. Transfer the chicken to a wire rack to drain excess oil.
9. In a frying pan, combine the sauce ingredients.
10. Add green onion and cilantro, and mix over medium heat.
11. When the sauce is bubbling, add the chicken and quickly coat well with the sauce. Don’t leave in the pan for more than 15 seconds. Transfer to a serving plate.
- 4 cups dashi (Japanese fish broth)
- 1/4 cup miso paste
- 1/2 cup diced tofu
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
- 1 sheet nori seaweed, cut into small pieces
- In a medium pot, bring the dashi to a boil. Reduce the heat to low.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the miso paste with a ladleful of the hot dashi until smooth.
- Add the miso mixture, tofu, and green onions to the pot. Stir gently to combine.
- Remove the pot from the heat and add the nori seaweed. Serve hot.
Japanese cuisine has a rich history and is renowned for its health benefits. Its emphasis on fresh, nutrient-rich ingredients and simple cooking techniques make it a great choice for anyone looking to eat healthier. The four easy-to-make recipes above are just a small sample of the delicious dishes that Japanese cuisine has to offer. Give them a try, and you’ll see why Japanese cooking has become so popular around the world!