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Dec 28, 2013 12:30 AM

Good Japanese recipes for novice cook?

I am young (21) and still relatively inexperienced in the kitchen. I have gotten fairly good at things that may seem fancy to a non-CH but really only involve simple ingredients: think smitten kitchen's ratatouille on crusty bread, with chevre and a poached egg. Chicken piccata with the deglazed pan sauce. A perfectly cooked steak. This week while I have some free time before the next semester starts, I'll probably try my hand at baking a simple yeast bread of some kind from scratch.

Things with more complicated recipes and ingredient lists scare me a little more. My attempts at Indian food haven't been spectacular. But there's a new guy who likes Japanese and I'd like to know if there are any recipes that seem doable for someone of my skill level that could still wow him. I should say that a stir-fry is not beyond the realm of possibility but is there anything else?


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  1. Many of the Japanese cuisine dishes are about embracing the simplistic of life (as well as ingredients), but perfecting them.

    If you want something very simple and difficult to mess up, then I would probably say Teriyaki chicken. You can just get a Teriyaki sauce and apply the sauce while you baking the chicken parts, or you can pan fry the chicken. Not very difficult especially if you buy the sauce.

    What I think would be nicer is a nice simple serving of soba noodle.

    What you will need are really three main ingredients. Soba noodle, some green onion (add roasted green seaweed if you have some), and the soba dipping sauce. The dipping sauce is the involving part, and it isn't that tough

    I assume you know how to boil water to cook soba and to chop up green onion. Remember to cool the soba noodle before serving though :) The real key is the dipping sauce. Commercial dipping sauces are ok, but not great. To make your own soba dipping sauce, you need to first make dashi.

    Dashi ingredients:
    8 in (20 cm) length of dried kombu kelp
    3 cups of katsuobushi bonito flakes
    3 cups of water

    First, bring the water to boil, then turn down the heat and add the kombu kelp and let it simmers for 20 min. Then, add katsuobushi to the mix and let it sits for 1.5-2 min. Now, filter and keep the liquid. The liquid is the Dashi.

    Next, get 1 cup of Dashi, add 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar and 2 tablespoons of Japanese soy sauce. This is your Soba Dipping Sauce.

    Here is a youtube of a slightly different soba recipe:

    Edited: it seems that the youtube dipping sauce is a bit easier, so go with that for your first trial.

    Edited again: I have no idea how much this friend of yours is involved in Japanese cuisine. Many people in the US only know about sushi, and then teriyaki meat and then maybe ramen noodle (real ramen, not instant noodle). Soba noodle is not really mystical and it is a popular dish, but I would talk to him to see if he has heard of soba. If he has never heard of soba, then maybe you should not make it. Afterall, you said that you want to impress him.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      One more recommendation: Cabbage and beef salad. (see photo for reference).

      You need cabbage (finely sliced, but not diced)
      Finely sliced beef (buy shabu-shabu beef from Asian supermarkets), and lightly cooked the cook in boiling water.
      And the dipping sauce as mentioned earlier.

      This is a better dish for meat lover.

    2. Karokke. Japanese croquettes are easy and tasty

      1. Here are three excellent websites for Japanese recipes and home cooking. Don't be scared off by ingredient lists, though you might have to purchase some pantry items that are not generally used in western cooking. I especially like the blog Japanese Food Addict whose motto is "Japanese home cooking for the rest of the world". But these are all good and reliable.

        Personally, I wouldn't rely on a primarily western food site for non-western recipes. For example, I wouldn't expect to find reliable recipe suggestions for foods I grew up with in the Midwest on a Japanese food website. Just sayin. (though I know all countries/ethnicities/etc are represented among the posters here, the HC board is primarily western-food focused.)

        1. There's a lot of Japanese cuisine for home cooking that's quite easy to do, and tasty.

          You will need soy sauce, cooking sake (rice wine), mirin (sweetened rice wine), rice vinegar, miso (a fermented soy product), and dashi (a fish broth) as basic ingredients. Some dried seaweed (not the kind used for sushi) and dried shitake can also be useful.

          Some good dishes for novices

          - stewed pork belly, cooked in a soy based broth with ginger and green onions, for hours.

          - stewed beef and daikon. Daikon (Chinese radish) is very good cooked with meat.

          - beef bowl with rice. Sauteed onions with thinly sliced beef, and some soy/mirin/sugar seasoning, with an egg mixed in and just barely set at the end.

          - braised squash with soy/mirin/dashi

          - ginger chicken

          - kimchi pork

          - okonomoyaki - sort of a cross between a pancake and an omlette, typically topped with cooked pork and cabbage

          - a layered thinly sliced pork and cabbage dish (no idea what it's called)

          - cream stew

          - omelette rice - a thick omelette filled with tomato rice. My husband thought this was a Western dish, not realizing that it's really Japanese.

          - pork based hamburger patties in gravy or tomato sauce.

          1. There are many web sites to help you. Some of my favorites are and (both by Maki Itoh). Maki put together a Japanese Cooking 101 that might be helpful. Additionally, YouTube’s Cooking with Dog (every recipe I’ve tried has been great), (now in English, this site includes recipes from Japanese home cooks- very approachable) and, just to name a few.

            Not knowing your preferences, here are just a few ideas:

            Shiozake- salted salmon- very simple, but delicious

            Saikyo yaki – fish marinaded with miso, sugar and mirin.
            Buttery black cod is delicious with this, but you can use other fish depending on what’s accessible to you.

            Chirashizushi- Scattered Sushi – can use a variety of ingredients. Here’s a version with shrimp

            Inarizushi -aburaage-fried tofu skins (seasoned with dashi, sugar, sake, mirin and soy sauce) filled with sushi rice

            Chicken Teriyaki- skin-on boneless chicken thigh cooked to crisp the skin and finished with a sauce of soy, sake, mirin and sugar. (Teriyaki with salmon, yellowtail or saba is also excellent- I prefer it to chicken, but my husband doesn’t


            Gyoza- dumplings filled with pork, garlic, soy sauce, ginger, garlic chives (or green onions), sesame oil

            Sukiyaki- beef hot pot

            Donburi (rice bowls). My husband likes gyudon (made with thinly sliced beef), but oyakodon (chicken and egg) might be another idea. So many other kinds of rice bowls.

            Miso soup- can be made with a variety of ingredients.

            Spinach with Sesame sauce (horensou no gomaae). You can use other vegetables with the sauce (i.e. green beans)

            Kinpira gobo (burdock roots and carrots or just carrots if you can’t find burdock roots) are stir-fried and briefly simmered in soy, sugar, and mirin.

            I could go on and on, but hopefully you’ll find some ideas to inspire you. Let us know what you make.