What happens when a California girl goes to Japan on a post-college, yearlong sushi sabbatical? If you're Nancy Singleton Hachisu, author of the gorgeous new cookbook Japanese Farm Food, you meet an organic egg farmer, fall in love and move to an incredible property in northern Saitama Prefecture.
Her hefty (400 pages!) new book extolls the virtues of the Japanese produce the couple grow on their property and follows Hachisu as she transforms it, along with other traditional Japanese ingredients, into hybrid dishes with that distinctive American cook's experimental flair.
The book, incidentally, also includes great profiles of their circle of colleagues, family and friends. People like Junko and Toshiharu Saku, whom the author calls “real farmers [and], like many farm couples, they don't get out much to socialize because they are too busy running the farm.” Just our cup of tea.
Get more on the cookbook, and Hachisu's easy sesame-miso salad dressing, after the jump.
Hachisu says that her husband, like many of their friends, is also definitely a “real” farmer. “Day in and day out, he jumps out of bed before 6 a.m. and doesn't finish work until after 7 p.m. And he whistles when he cooks dinner, even after a 13-hour workday.”
Hachisu, who grew up in the Bay Area, not so much. “While I do thrive on the simplicity of our life … I'm not especially good at [being a farmer],” she says. “In the end I'll slack off when I don't feel like doing the work. I'm selfish like that. Well, I'm a town girl. What else is there to say?” (The pictures of her plucking a chicken in another chapter notwithstanding.)
Regardless, she's a city girl who knows a lot about everyday Japanese “farm” cooking. Maybe Hachisu's simple yet citified perspective is why the recipes are so compelling — most use only a handful of ingredients. They're the sort of citrus-and-vinegar-marinated halibut and poteto sarada (Japanese-style potato salad with Japanese-style mayonnaise; photo above) dishes we'd like to see on our dinner table tonight. Or maybe the broccoli with tofu and yuzu, daikon simmered with mustard and konbu, or new potato tempura and miso-broiled cod.
Between recipes, Hachisu tells stories about her earliest Japanese food memories, like eating sukiyaki as a young girl in Palo Alto. Later, in Japan, there were the year-end parties, called bonenkai, marked by bowls of shabu-shabu (recipe p. 97), learning to make her husband's favorite road-food snack (eggs pickled in soy sauce, p. 41), and the bowls of curry rice with potatoes and pork belly (p. 289), her youngest son's favorite dish for “breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
But what really makes this such a great book for Japanese home-cooking novices is Hachisu's gentle, schoolteacher-like encouragement that we give those salty salmon rice balls a try (she teaches an after-school English program for children).
As you make the sesame-miso vinaigrette recipe below, you can almost sense Hachisu standing behind you in her brightly colored spectacles, those perky, painted rectangular reading glasses that every retired elementary school teacher seems to own. She anticipates your questions — literally answering them in parenthesis within the recipes — and encourages you to immerse yourself in Japanese home cooking the same way she has over the years. With, of course, a few bites of American-style sesame brittle (p. 344) and white peach ice cream (p. 340) for dessert.
Makes: “Enough for 1 main-dish salad,” per Hachisu. Ingredient ratio for sesame: miso : rice vinegar : rapeseed oil is 2:1:2:4.
2 tablespoons unhulled sesame seeds
1 tablespoon brown rice miso
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
4 tablespoons rapeseed (canola) oil
1. Measure the sesame seeds into a small frying pan and roast over medium-high heat while lifting and shaking the pan to avoid burning the seeds. (They burn easily!) When the seeds start to pop, remove from the heat.
2. Slide the seeds into a Japanese grinding bowl (suribachi) or mortar and pestle and grind roughly (reserve a teaspoon or so of the smashed seeds to sprinkle on the salad after dressing). Mash in the miso to form a thick paste and add the vinegar to lighten (and brighten) the miso-sesame mixture. Whisk in the rapeseed oil slowly until emulsified. (Be sure to whisk again right before dressing your salad.)
3. Strew the dressed salad with the reserved roughly ground seeds.
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