My Japanese Table: A Lifetime of Cooking with Friends and Family, written by Debra Samuels, highlights a mixture of authentic and unique Japanese recipes with the home cook in mind. Classics such as Nabe Yaki Udon (Udon Noodles with Everything), Niku Jyaga (Sweet Soy Beef and Vegetables), Gyoza (Japanese Pot Stickers), Maki-zushi (Classic Sushi Rolls), and Oyako Donburi (Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl) are featured alongside more adapted dishes with Japanese flavors such as Sweet Shiso Ice Dessert, Lobster Rolls with Wasabi Mayonnaise, Refreshing Tofu Salad, Scallops with Citrus Miso Sauce, and Fresh Tuna Rice Bowl with Cucumber, Avocado, and Spicy Mayonnaise.
Debra Samuels is a food/travel writer and cooking instructor. She first visited Japan at the age of 20 with her husband for a semester abroad. She returned in the late 1970s with her husband and 5 month old son to live in Tokyo for 2 1/2 years, then off and on over the next several years. She now lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, is a regular contributor to The Boston Globe, and has taught cooking classes for over two decades. She also co-authored The Korean Table. I reviewed the paperback version of My Japanese Table, but it is also available in hardcover.
Chapters are divided based on course: Basic Recipes, Sushi, Snacks and Appetizers, Soups and Salads, Rice and Noodles, Meat and Poultry, Fish and Seafood, Vegetable and Tofu Dishes, Bento, and Desserts and Drinks.
Samuels has spent much of her life in Japan and brings together stories from her experiences and how they shaped her love for cooking. Many of the recipes come from a special memory or friend. In this book, she focuses on homestyle cooking that can be accomplished even by novice cooks. Those new to Japanese cooking and flavors will benefit from the ingredient and utensil guide, easy-to-follow instructions, and step-by-step photos for the more difficult techniques. The basic flavors and elements that make up Japanese cuisine are explained with background information and the influences from other cultures. There are also special chapters devoted to sushi and bento boxes.
Measurements are provided in US Customary and Metric. The name of each dish is listed in English and Japanese (Romanji) when available. Headnotes are at the beginning of each with background information and serving tips.
The photography is by Heath Robbins with styling by Catrine Kelty. Most of the recipes are accompanied by a quarter to full page photo, generally of the finished dish. There are also step-by-step photos for the Sushi, Stuffed Rice Balls, and Mochi Dumplings with Strawberries and Red Bean Paste. Photos are also included of Debra’s time in Japan.
This cookbook is best for those new to Japanese cuisine and ingredients. The instructions are easy to follow and many of the recipes have been adapted for the Western kitchen. A few of the ingredients will require a trip to the Japanese food market or purchasing online (particularly the sushi-grade fish, wasabi, seaweed, pickled red ginger, tofu, napa cabbage, gyoza wrappers, shiso, daikon, miso, umeboshi, and bonito). While some of the recipes take some time, many of the dishes are on the easy side and even perfect for weeknight cooking.
Tempura is the Japanese style of frying food covered in a batter until crisp. It is a popular cooking technique for a variety of seafood and vegetables. In my pickier days, shrimp tempura rolls and other sushi styles with cooked fillings were all that I would try. I have been meaning to make Shrimp Tempura at home, but was intimidated by getting the batter just right and how to keep the shrimp straight enough to be used as a filling for the sushi.
I used large shrimp with the shell still on. After removing the shells and veins (save the shells in a bag and freeze for future use- they are great in stock), I cut two lines in the belly and inserted a skewer straight through the shrimp to help keep it straight. This also made it easy for dipping in the batter and transferring to the hot oil.
I mixed the flour into the egg mixture using a pair of chopsticks until just combined. Leaving lumps behind is a good thing here. They will help create a lightness to the coating. Definitely don’t overmix.
Be sure to remove the pieces of batter that accumulate in the oil during frying before they become too dark. These fried pieces (tenkasu) can be saved for future uses such as sprinkling on noodles or other dishes.
I love Debra’s tip for when you are frying other vegetables along with the shrimp. Save the shrimp for last to keep them from adding a seafood flavor to the oil when the vegetables or other ingredients are fried.
Tempura is traditionally served with grated daikon and tentsuyu (tempura dipping sauce). While Debra does include a tempura dipping sauce in the book, she recommends another common way for serving- lemon wedges and a sprinkling of sea salt (plus matcha salt).
I also made Gyudon (Sweet Soy Beef and Onion Rice Bowl), Shoko’s Summer Sesame Chicken Salad, Sweet Potato Tempura Fritters, and Matcha Chocolate Coffee Cake.
Gyudon is a great weeknight meal. Thinly sliced beef is lightly marinated, then stir-fried in a sweet and savory sauce before topping with eggs. The mixture is served over a bed of rice. Claire was a huge fan of this one. The thinly sliced beef was particularly easy for her to eat.
Shoko’s Summer Sesame Chicken Salad was Chad’s favorite. Poached and cooled ginger chicken is shredded and placed over a bed of smashed cucumbers, tomato wedges, and green onions. It is drizzled with a lemony soy vinaigrette. Definitely a delightful, light salad for beating the summer heat.
I made the Sweet Potato Tempura Fritters (and shiitake mushrooms, onions, and a green bell pepper) to accompany the Shrimp Tempura. I just happened to come across Japanese sweet potatoes at the store this week, so mine were lighter than the more common bright orange American variety. The crisp tempura batter gave way to a creamy interior. I paired the tempura with matcha salt, but Samuels also includes a recipe for a Tempura Dipping Sauce.
I just love the colors of this Matcha Chocolate Coffee Cake. A basic vanilla cake batter is divided into three with 1/3rd being combined with melted chocolate and another 1/3rd combined with matcha. The three colors are divided among mini loaf pans and baked until lightly golden. The small size from the mini loaf pans (they can also be made in 1 large pan) makes them perfect for entertaining and pairing with tea/coffee.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Tuttle Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All comments and opinions are my own.
Jumbo Shrimp Tempura
Adapted from My Japanese Table
12 jumbo shrimp
3 cups (750 ml) canola or other non-flavored oil
3/4 cup (200 ml) ice water
1 egg yolk
2/3 cup (100 g) cake flour or all purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt for sprinkling
1 teaspoon matcha (powdered green tea)
1 tablespoon sea salt or kosher salt
Soak 12 bamboo skewers in water for 30 minutes.
While keeping the tail intact, remove the head, shell, and vein from the shrimp. Rinse and dry, then make two horizontal cuts along the belly of each shrimp to help keep them flat.
Insert each soaked skewer into the shrimp and straight through the body.
Pour the oil in a large saucepan or wok over medium heat to 360 degrees F (180 C).
In a large bowl, beat together the water and egg yolk until frothy. Whisk in the flour and cornstarch until combined, but not completely smooth.
Dip a skewered shrimp into the batter to coat completely, then place in the heated oil. Repeat with other skewers, being careful not to crowd the pan- about 3-4 at a time. Fry until golden, about 3 minutes, then turn with tongs and cook for another 2 minutes. Transfer to a towel-lined plate or rack. Repeat with remaining shrimp.
In a small bowl, mix together the matcha and sea salt.
Serve the fried shrimp immediately with matcha salt, salt, and lemon wedges.