Healthy Japanese Cooking, a new cookbook by London restaurateur Makiko Sano that released on September 1, 2015, is a joy to all the senses, which is exactly the purpose of this cookbook. Sano introduces us right away to the concept of “shoku-iku,” or conscious Japanese eating. I love Japanese food and there has always been something about the cuisine that took me beyond the taste, smell and look of the food. Sano expertly explains that full experience of cooking Japanese style.

Shoku-Iku Cooking Influences

Sano outlines the basic principles of shoku-iku that influence all of Japanese food culture:

  • Eat as wide a variety of foods as you can every day.
  • Choose locally grown and seasonal foods.
  • Establish a healthy rhythm to your daily meals, eating at regular times.
  • Choose to sit down, consciously enjoy and focus on your meals.
  • If you have a family, treat mealtime as something sacred that you all do together.
  • Think about what you have eaten through the day and make the next meal choice something different, to balance your food groups.
  • Don’t skip meals. It will lead to poor food choices later in the day.
  • Combine vegetables, fruits, milk, fish and beans in your daily diet. Avoid too much salt, sugar or fat.

Sano goes on to talk about the power of five in Japanese culture and cooking: five colors, five tastes, five sense, five food groups, five elements and five cooking methods. She starts out the recipes with a section on “foundation dishes” that include such basics as dashi, soup stock, dressings and even a section on how to roll sushi. I always assumed I couldn’t make sushi, but Sano gives great, easy-to-follow instructions.

HealthyJapaneseCooking - soup

I think my favorite recipe in the front of the book is an everyday soy sauce dressing. This is one I’ll make and keep on hand to use on a variety of dishes.

Everyday Soy Sauce Dressing

Makes enough for 4.

2 TBSP mirin
2 TBSP soy sauce, ideally light soy sauce
2 TBSP rice vinegar

  • Pour all the ingredients into a saucepan and heat to a simmer, then allow the pan to cool completely.
  • Covered and kept in the fridge, the dressing will last for 7 days.

Five Cooking Methods

The remainder of Healthy Japanese Cooking is divided into each of the five cooking methods: steaming (or microwaving); grilling; simmering; no-cook; and sushi. All of the recipes are straightforward and use items you can find at most grocery stores. Here are a few of the many great recipes I fell in love with in Makiko Sano’s Healthy Japanese Cooking.

HealthyJapaneseCooking - RiceBroth_22

Rice Noodles with Mushroom Broth. Photo courtesy Healthy Japanese Cooking

Rice Noodles with Mushroom Broth

Serves 2

1 tsp kelp flakes
Scant ½ cup (40g) rice noodles
4 shiitake mushrooms, finely sliced
1 inch (½ thumb) ginger root, grated
1 tsp light soy sauce
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp sesame oil
1 tsp white sesame seeds
1 scallion, sliced into julienne
Little minced chile (optional)

  • Pour 2½ cups (600 ml) water into a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  • Add the kelp flakes and rice noodles and simmer for 3 minutes, until the noodles soften.
  • Add the mushrooms, ginger, soy sauce, salt, and pepper, then turn the heat off and add the sesame oil, sesame seeds, and scallion.
  • Serve in bowls, adding some minced chile if you want a little spice.
HealthyJapaneseCooking - GrdenBreak_20

Full Japanese Garden Breakfast. Photo courtesy Healthy Japanese Cooking

Full Japanese Garden Breakfast

1 tsp canola oil
1 garlic clove, grated
Large handful of kale, chopped into 3/8″ (1 cm) slices
handful of baby spinach leaves
3 cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 shiitake mushrooms, finely sliced
3 white mushrooms, finely sliced
4 eggs
1 quantity Garden soy sauce dressing (see below)
Minced chile (optional)

  • Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, add the garlic and stir until fragrant.
  • Add the kale with any water from washing still clinging to its leaves, the spinach, tomatoes, and mushrooms and cook until almost tender.
  • Hollow out four spaces and drop an egg into each. Put the lid on and cook over low heat to steam for 3 to 4 minutes, depending on how you like your eggs (two eggs show in the photo).
  • Transfer to plates and serve with Garden soy sauce dressing, sprinkled with chile, if you want.
Garden Soy Sauce

Makes about 1¼ cups (300 ml)

1 apple, grated
1 carrot, grated
1 onion, grated
Generous 1/3 cup (100 ml) soy sauce
Generous 1/3 cup (100 ml) rice vinegar
6½ TBSP (80 g) honey or brown sugar

  • Simply mix all ingredients together and  it’s ready to serve.
HealthyJapaneseCooking - Avocado and Pear Quinoa

Avocado and Pear Quinoa Power Sushi. Photo courtesy Healthy Japanese Cooking

Avocado and Pear Quinoa Power Sushi

Serves 2 to 3

Scant 1¼ cups (200 g) quinoa
3 TBSP puréed or mashed mango (mashed with a fork)
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
Pinch of sea salt
1 medium pear
4 to 5 full sheets of dried nori seaweed
1 avocado, finely sliced

  • Place the quinoa into a sieve and rinse well under cold water. Pour the rinsed quinoa into a saucepan, dd 1 2/3 cups (400 ml) water and cook over medium heat.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 13 minutes until soft, stirring frequently. Drain well to remove any excess water.
  • Put the cooked quinoa in a bowl and let it cool to lukewarm for a few minutes.
  • Add the mango purée, vinegar, lemon juice, and sea salt to the quinoa while still warm and mix well. Transfer to a pan, spreading the quinoa thinly, and allow it to cool completely.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Finely slice the pear and broil the slices for 2 or 3 minutes on each side.
  • Put plastic wrap around a sushi rolling mat to prevent the quinoa from sticking. Place a nor sheet on the sushi rolling mat, long side towards you and rough side up, shiny side down. Spread 1/4 to 1/5 (depending on whether you are making 4 or 5 rolls) of the quinoa mix from the bottom to 2/3 of the way up the sheet.
  • Place 4 slices of avocado and 3 slices of lightly broiled pear along the middle of the quinoa. Roll the nori tightly up to the end. Leave it to sit for two to three minutes to allow the seaweed to soften.
  • Repeat to use up all the nor sheets, quinoa and filling.
  • Cut each roll into 6 pieces, then serve.

About Makiko Sano

Author Makiko Sano grew up in Tokyo, where she was immersed in cooking from a young age. her cooking inspiration comes from the females in her family: her mother, grandmother and her aunts, thei bustling Japanese kitches and food styles. Her family was all about preparing meals from scratch.

Makiko has lived in London for the past 20 years with her four children. Makiko’s restaurant, Suzu, specializes in Japanese tapas, including traditional sushi, sashimi and tempura as well as dishes that she has created herself. She decided to offer sushi classes because people kept on asking how to make it and she has now taught thousands of people.

As with Japanese food in general, most of the 70 brand-new recipes here are largely gluten- and dairy-free, many are vegan and some raw. And all the recipes are unbelievably simples, as that is the Sholku-Iku way. Follow Makiko Sano online on Twitter at @MakikoEats.

Healthy Japanese Cooking by Makiko Sano. Published by Quadrille and distributed by Chronical Books. Retail price $19.95. Available here from Amazon at $15.45. Released September 1, 2015.

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