Good Japanese Cookbook for a Relative Beginner?
Hi all, looking for a cookbook as a gift to my girlfriend. She likes Japanese (and Asian in general) food a lot and has been cooking it a good amount herself. While she certainly cooks a good bit, I would still consider her a relative beginner and so wouldn't want to get a cookbook that is too complex that it is discouraging. Any recommendations? It could be a Japanese cookbook or a more general Asian cookbook that features Japanese cuisine. I was thinking maybe WASHOKU by Elizabeth Andoh or JAPANESE COOKING: A SIMPLE ART by Shizuo Tsuji because they were COTM and had good Amazon reviews. However, I don't really know much about them besides that.
I also recommend Takahashi's book. It has loads of simple recipes and doesn't make such a big deal about preparation as many of the others do. My only criticism is the index, which sometimes uses the Japanese name of an ingredient and sometimes the English name. Between that and online searches for recipes or ingredients, I get by with preparing Japanese meals about 3 nites a week that the family enjoys. Yes, I can get all the ingredients down the street at my local supermarket and greengrocer, but the downside is that I usually can't read the labels on packaged foods!
I own 'Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art' by Shizuo Tsuji, and would recommend it as a first book (it was mine). Loads of staples and classic Japanese dishes, with an exhaustive set of detailed instructions covering most, if not all of the techniques you'll need for cooking Japanese food, and a huge amount of background.
Andoh's 'Washoku' is also excellent. If your girlfriend needs visual cues, buy this over Tsuji ('Simple Art' has some illustrations - think 'Mastering the Art of French Cuisine' style - but no photos). It's also slightly more modern and to me, the dishes feel slightly more Westernised.
I also own a copy of Nancy Singleton Hachisu's 'Japanese Farm Food' (bought after reading loads of rave reviews). The recipes in this are good, but I found the 'slow food'/'organic produce' advocacy that's in the book made it feel more like a manifesto than a cookbook (and I bought it as a cookbook).
I don't think you can go wrong with either book. I have both and like them both very much. They are well written and you will get good results. If you look at the Japanese COTM reviews you can see some recipe comparisons of the two books. However, Shuzuo Tsuji's book is my sentimental favorite. It is a comprehensive guide to traditional Japanese cooking that will give you an introduction to the basic cooking methods (i.e. steaming, simmering, deep frying and grilling).
If you are not interested in buying a book, Cooking with Dog is a very good resource (as justabunny mentions). I have not had a miss with any of the recipes I've tried thus far.
Lastly, Maki Itoh at her Just Hungry blog just started a Japanese Cooking 101 section that might be of interest.
I have Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art and highly recommend it.
If she is mostly a beginner, I'd also suggest "Japanese Family Style Recipes" by Hiroko Urakami. It is very easy for a beginner, the recipes are very clear and simple (and authentic), and there are photos of everything so you can see what you're about to make. Plus it's a smaller book which is focused on recipes that you're more likely to make as a beginner.
I would get both books.
This may be a bit late to be of use to you, but I'd just like to say that The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo has been immensely helpful to me. It explains all the basics, from food terms to kitchen tools, and for each ingredient there are a variety of basic recipes, plus variations if you get comfortable with the basics and want to try something new. And throughout there are interesting tidbits about Japanese cuisine and culture. It's a bit like an encyclopedia of Japanese home cooking, but it's not overwhelming--in fact, it's very accessible and easy to follow.
For simple but inventive flavours I like:
Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook
by Mark Robinson and Masashi Kuma
It's great for making a meal many small dishes.
I like both Elizabeth Andoh's "Washoku" and "Japanese Cooking for the American Table", by Karen Green. And I'm a fan of 'Cooking with Dog', too, but now every time I hear the new pope's name, I think of a poodle!