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In this series, food writer, wine lover and cookbook obsessive Kristin Donnelly test-drives the most fun and inspiring new books that come across her desk.
The Book: Japanese Soul Cooking, by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat
Best for: Japanese expats; anyone who studied abroad in Japan or lived there otherwise; Japanophiles; Asian food geeks; cooks who love to fry things.
Recipe highlights: Shoyu Ramen; Soup Gyoza with Chicken; Miso Curry; Classic Tonkatsu; Nagoya Tebasaki (marinated fried chicken wings); Vegetable Tempura; Okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes); Oyakodon (chicken-and-egg rice bowl); Mori Soba (cold soba noodles with dipping sauce); Mentaiko Spaghetti
Sometime between Christmas and New Year's Eve, in the middle of a six-course meal, my husband said to me, "In January, I want to eat only Japanese food."
What he meant was the austere raw fish and plain tofu side of things, maybe with a few fermented pickles. But Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat's super-fun book, Japanese Soul Cooking, reminds us that there's so much more, including plenty of ways to retox, not detox.
For example, the book covers at least four methods for frying, including hard-to-get-right tempura and the beloved tonkatsu—a panko-crusted deep-fried pork cutlet that's Japan's answer to schnitzel. These chapters demystify the techniques masterfully, with plenty of how-to photos and descriptions. While I'm not the world's most avid fryer, I'm thrilled to learn more about why tempura crust is so beautifully lacy (the flour is not fully mixed into the wet ingredients creating pockets that fry differently).
I'll actually use this book more often when I want to make comfort food dishes from outside my comfort zone. Things like donburi (rice bowls) with one of those incredible Japanese omelets chock-full of stuff, or gyoza—the delicate, crescent-shaped dumplings that are both fried and steamed.
My clean-food-craving husband is actually in luck. There is a full chapter on dishes made with soba, those earthy buckwheat noodles that showcase the epitome of Japanese restraint. And the ramen recipe, which they break down into very approachable pieces, is absolutely restorative, if not low calorie.
But health food is not really the focus of this book, and that's OK. With umami-bomb dishes like Pasta with Miso Meat Sauce, the chapter on wafu (Japanese-style) pasta proves that the Japanese should win the award for the world's best hangover food. And let's not forget my favorite recipe in the chapter, if not the book: spaghetti tossed with mentaiko (chile-and-salt-preserved pollack roe), soy sauce, butter, lemon juice and nori. This mid-century invention is pasta perfection, capable of curing everything from the effects of a bender to a broken heart.
Kristin Donnelly is a former Food & Wine editor and cofounder of Stewart & Claire, an all-natural line of lip balms made in Brooklyn.