(and announcing the next season!)
I’m a bit late posting this one – apologies to those who’ve been waiting to find out where our journey Cooking Off the Beaten Path has taken us! For me, part of that journey was a cross-country move that, like this season of cookbook club, has come to a delicious close.
Our previous books, took us on a taste adventure from Portugal to the Baltic, then to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Kurdistan in Taste of Persia. It’s been quite a journey! Our final book takes us to a very different world on another continent.
NOTE: For those of you who are eager to learn more about next season (starting May 10, 2022), you can click through HERE. I’ll share more at the end of this post as well.
The culture of Japan is magically unique. And farm culture in Japan is even more extraordinary. Yet, much of what makes it so is its simplicity, its lack of pretension, and its demand for absolute fastidiousness in upholding those ideals.
Author Nancy Singleton Hachisu is an American from Northern California who fell in love. First, with Japanese cuisine, then with a Japanese farmer. In the over three decades since, she’s developed international acclaim for her tireless dedication to educating the world about the farm food and farmer culture of Japan – Albeit from a perspective very different from that of a traditional Japanese farmer’s wife.
Nancy Hachisu is known and loved for being meticulous, direct, and holding strong opinions – which she shares with great passion in her writing and teaching. She is a true proponent of organic seasonal cooking and eating – no matter where you find yourself.
about the book
Japanese Farm Food was Hachisu’s first book, published in 2012. In approaching this book, I recommend taking the advice of author Patricia Wells as she wrote in the foreword:
“…cook from this book with abandon, but first, read it like a memoir, chapter by chapter, and you will share in the story of a modern-day family, a totally unique and extraordinary one.”Patricia Wells
Reading Japanese Farm Food, even the recipe instructions, feels like a personal conversation with Hachisu. In her Ramen at Home recipe, she used the word “smoosh” in one of the first steps. That simple spontaneous sounding word made me feel at ease with what I feared would be an inhospitable wander into the hallowed land of ramen making.
Similarly, one of the steps for the Simmered Gyoza recipe instructs the reader that, “stuffing the gyoza goes a lot quicker if you have help, so try to enlist family members.” That was one of the most helpful instructions I’ve ever received from a cookbook for grown-ups. In the end, instead of just delicious gyoza, I also had priceless memories of cooking with my nephew.
The stories, the photos, the impassioned descriptions of just-picked edamame pods… this is a book to savor. As Hachisu describes, the food is “bold, clear, and direct” (like her).
In the end, Japanese Farm Food left me with a deep appreciation for what goes into growing our food, the critical importance of preserving traditional foodways, and the priceless experience of multiple generations of family (blood or chosen) coming together to create a delicious and nourishing meal from simple, seasonal, pristine ingredients.
That’s the best souvenir of this culinary journey around the world, cooking off the beaten path.
the cooking part…
For each cookbook I create a menu featuring a selection of recipes – kinda like an assignment. This provides some structure for prep and for our conversations. They’re only suggestions, and many people experiment with whatever strikes their fancy. This round I also included some challenges for those who wanted to push their limits a bit. Here’s what we chose from for this book…
Small Bites Treviso with Pecan Miso and Sansho Leaves Japanese-Style Potato Salad Egg Custard Pots with Asparagus and Peas Gyoza Soup Country Soup with Vegetables choice of Shabu Shabu choice of ramen, udon, soba, or somen Main Course Miso Broiled Cod Spring Onion and Ginger Stuffed Steamed Snapper Sukiyaki Sweets Pound Cake (a sweet that was brought to Japan by Portuguese seafarers centuries ago – full circle for us!) Challenge Time! Make your own tofu! Make your own ramen noodles (or others) Work with the raw fish recipes
notes on what we cooked
Japanese-Style Potato Salad is a delicious alternative to your tried-and-true. So simple. So curiously un-Japanese feeling. What makes it Japanese? From what I gathered from the recipe, it’s that you smash the potatoes before mixing them in. Also, there’s the mayonnaise made with rice vinegar (or Kewpie brand if you’re cheating). Or maybe it’s the thinly sliced cucumber. Anyway, it’s a hit and my new preferred way to make potato salad (sorry grandma!).
Egg Custard Pots with Asparagus and Peas. Savory custard made with dashi and sake instead of dairy? Yes! Where have you been all my life? Asparagus and sweet peas aren’t in season? All good – use mushrooms and any delicate snappy vegetable. This recipe was a crowd favorite.
Simmered Gyoza are cooked in hot water instead of steamed and fried. I confess that I made the gyoza dumplings according to recipe but then I cooked them the way my family wanted them – steamed then fried. Of all the years I’ve cooked professionally, somehow I managed to never make Asian dumpling dough from scratch (despite teaching how to make dumplings when I was an America’s Test Kitchen host). This was a humbling experience that was made hilariously fun by recruiting my nephew to the assembly line (according to the recipe). Our gyoza were gigantic and there was more filling than we needed. My advice, make the recipe for sure. Double the dough. Roll the circles smaller than instructed. Get as many hands on deck for assembly as your kitchen will comfortably hold. Enjoy!
Miso Broiled Cod may be one of the most familiar of the fish recipes you’ll see here. It’s been a restaurant staple for a couple decades. That’s with good reason – it’s easy, delicious, and satisfying. Learn to make it at home and you’ll be happy you did.
Spring Onion and Ginger Stuffed Steamed Snapper. Steaming whole fish may be new to many of you. If so, definitely make this recipe. It’s a game changer. If you really can’t handle looking dinner in the eye, ask the fish monger to remove the head for you, but keep the rest whole – the bones are needed for structure and flavor. They come out easily after the fish is cooked.
Pound Cake. Those of us who made this recipe might have overworked the batter. The texture was a little bit tough. Maybe this isn’t the book to get a pound cake recipe from. But still, since our journey began with Portuguese Home Cooking, I felt inspired by the head note for this recipe:
“In the 16th century, Portuguese merchants and missionaries became the first Westerners to enter what was then feudal Japan…. the Portuguese did manage to introduce a number of foods that were adapted and assimilated into what is now traditional Japanese cuisine.”Nancy Singleton Hachisu
Castella, a type of pound cake, was one of those foods. Now we’ve come full circle.
without further ado…
The theme for our next season of cookbook club is Legendary Women Cookbook Authors, Part 1. Hang out with other great home cooks as you discuss cooking from books by Joan Nathan, Marcella Hazan, Grace Young, and Julia Child. And yes, we know the list of deserving authors is longer than four, which is why this is Part 1.
Registration is open! The first live Zoom meeting is Tuesday, May 10, 2022, at 7 PM Eastern. If you’re interested please register as soon as possible to assure your books are shipped in time for you to start cooking. Registration includes four live discussion meetings with guest interviews, four new cookbooks (if you already have any of these, you’ll get credit for alternates), and lots of one-on-one time with me (via email). Click HERE for more information and to register.
If you miss registration, or if you just prefer to follow along at your own pace, I will continue to write these follow up posts here on Wander Eat and Tell, so make sure to subscribe/follow for the latest!
If you would like to catch up with the past seasons’ books, you can get started HERE.
As always, I want to thank Kitchen Arts & Letters bookstore and the 92nd Street Y in NYC for creating these programs that provide great opportunities for furthering food and drink scholarship and enrichment.
Note: all the links in this post are here because they’re products or services I personally support. I do not receive any sort of payment for having them here. My compensation is in no way tied to your clicks, purchases, or registrations.