Book review: Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook

03 May 2023 by
Book review: Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook

This might be the most beautiful cookbook released so far this year.

With a cover in salmon and black, minimalist design and page after page of elegant photography, you could buy it as a statement piece for the home. But even without its stunning design, Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook would be a thing of beauty – the recipes within are works of art in their own right.

A layperson might look at this cookbook and think: "there's hardly a single recipe in here I can make from supermarket ingredients", but that's what makes it a winner for chefs. We've all seen how chawanmushi – a savoury egg custard – has appeared on fine dining menus across the country in recent years, and author Nancy Singleton Hachisu provides a plethora of dishes like this to inspire many a chef, all meat-free. Take, for example, her version of chawanmushi – it's eggless and uses nigari (the liquid left after salt has been precipitated from seawater) to set a soy milk custard.

The recipes are split into sections according to the cooking technique or defining flavour notes, such as dressed, vinagered, pickled and preserved, or deep-fried. Potato shinjo in soy milk dashi appears in the latter – a deep-fried dumpling ball in a hearty broth – and there's a guide to building the perfect miso soup. At the end there is a small selection of delicate sweet dishes, such as kabocha and edamame squares.

There are hints of American sensibilities – such as soba pound cake or corn rice – as Singleton Hachisu herself is a Californian, married to a Japanese farmer and living in Japan. She previously published Japan: The Cookbook in 2018, and clearly holds a deep respect for the culture, writing in this edition about the history of vegetarianism in the cuisine.

There are plenty of innovations to be borrowed. The Shirataki noodle squares see little bites of familiarity in an unusual gelatinous form, while the yuzu with sesame miso is a novel way with citrus. The only let down perhaps is the potato chip salad – a little out of place among the refined palate of the rest of the book.

Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook By Nancy Singleton Hachisu (Phaidon, £39.95)

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