When people think of Japanese food, sushi is typically top of mind. And although making a proper sushi roll requires a certain level of skill, it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Neither does cooking other traditional Japanese dishes, of which there are many.
“Home cooking in Japan is actually quite simple,” says Amy Kaneko, author of Let’s Cook Japanese Food! (Weldon Owen, 2017). “And the point of my book was to encourage people to make Japanese food at home.”
Kaneko, an American who married into a Japanese family, learned typical home recipes from her mother- and sister-in-law. Her mission is to demystify Japanese cuisine, using techniques and ingredients familiar to Americans.
The Plant-Based Pioneer in Petaluma
Learn more about Miyoko’s Creamery, a phenomenally vegan company on the cutting edge of the plant-based revolution.
BY VICKI MARTINEZ
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Plant-based products proliferate the aisle today. But Miyoko’s is a leading brand, on the cutting edge of the plant-based revolution. Using a combination of old-world creamery techniques and forward-thinking food science, Miyoko’s has “cracked the code to crafting authentic cheese and butter.”
When chef, restauranteur, cookbook author, entrepreneur, Miyoko Schinner adopted a fully vegan lifestyle, she soon found that meal choices and ingredients for vegan recipes were lacking. That set her down a path that would end with a nearly 48,000-square foot, state-of-the-art facility, revolutionizing the dairy industry by making cheese and butter … without cows.
Miyoko Schinner transitions from vegetarian to full vegan
Schinner opens Now and Zen, a vegan restaurant in San Francisco (sold in 2003)
The first cheese-making facility, Miyoko's Kitchen, begins producing artisan vegan cheeses for retail sale. Miyoko’s Kitchen was capable of mass-producing 40-pound batches a day.
Due to an exponential increase in product demand, the company expands, opening a 29,000-square-foot facility. Rebranded as Miyoko’s Creamery, the company develops a cutting-edge process using traditional dairy-making techniques, 21st-century food science, and a proprietary method to craft cheese and butter on a large scale. The Petaluma plant churns out over 30,000 tubs and packages of cheese, butter, and other vegan dairy products daily.
Miyoko’s Creamery introduces its line of European style cultured vegan butters.
The international organization, UN Women, chooses Schinner as one of the dynamic female icons featured in their “The Future of Women” project, calling her a "Vegan Revolutionary.”
Miyoko’s Creamery attains Certified B Corp status
Miyoko’s Creamery has received more awards than any other vegan creamery in the country. As they’re fond of saying: “Miyoko's has won more awards than you can shake a cheese stick at.”
Although Japanese food incorporates influences from Chinese cuisine, it is distinctive—the fact that Japan is an island lent to the development of the country’s unique cooking style. Staple items in a Japanese kitchen include white rice, miso (a paste made from fermented soybeans used to make soup, sauce or marinades), fish and vegetables.
“The Japanese taste profile is to maintain the original flavor of the core ingredients and take it to a different level,” Kaneko says. Traditionally a Buddhist country, Japan for centuries had laws prohibiting the consumption of meat except for fish—a trend that changed only in 1854. Today, more meat dishes are served, but fish, eggs and tofu are the dominant proteins.
In the home, a Japanese meal is not served family-style. Rather, it is presented in smaller bowls and dishes to separate and showcase individual flavors. Ingredients are selected from what is available and fresh seasonally. Red meat, dairy, oils and fats are used sparingly, and fried foods are typically either tempura (vegetables dipped in a batter made from egg whites and cornstarch) or karaage (bite-sized pieces of meat and fish floured in a wheat batter and fried).
“Every meal will have elements of vinegar, salty and sweet—a range of flavors to choose from,” Kaneko says. “Most of the dishes are healthy and relatively low in calories, compared to the Western diet.”
Many Japanese dishes use ingredients and techniques home cooks will recognize. For example, “everyone can make fried rice,” Kaneko says. “It’s a great way to repurpose leftover vegetables into a meal.” Favorite meals at Kaneko’s home include omurice, tomato and chicken-fried rice stuffed in an omelet, and gyoza, pan-fried dumplings stuffed with vegetables, seafood or pork.
Other ingredients Kaneko favors? Soba (buckwheat noodles), which are popular in Japan and ultra-healthy. But they’re easy to overcook; she says to be sure to follow package instructions, and then plunge noodles into cold water before serving with a dipping sauce. Miso paste is another favorite; mix some with a bit of sugar and sake and marinate fish in the mixture overnight before cooking it under a broiler. For a go-to dressing on everything from green beans to broccoli, Kaneko combines ground sesame seeds, sugar, soy sauce and water.
Through her experience and learning from family, Kaneko has discovered—and shares in her cookbook—that Japanese recipes are versatile to accommodate whatever ingredients are on hand. And when one understands the philosophy of letting the natural flavors of ingredients shine through, cooking Japanese cuisine at home is accessible for all.