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giant white radish. It is thought to aid digestion, especially of oily foods, which is why deep-fried foods are always accompanied by some shredded daikon.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Look for daikon that has tight skin and a fresh appearance. Avoid those that seem pithy or smell too strong, or are limp, with soft, withered skins.
HOW TO EAT: When simmered, daikon tastes good with many thick sauces. Daikon flesh is dense and demands long cooking, so it may need rather long parboiling even when sliced very thin. Frequently pickled-takuan: bright yellow, crunchy, and very pungent.
STORAGE: Keeps for about two weeks in a refrigerator.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: The daikon itself is a rich source of Vitamin C, while the leafy top is equally a good source of Vitamin A.
soup stock made if dried bonito (a member of the mackerel family), called katsuo in Japanese, and konbu, a kind of giant kelp . It is said that the flavor and quality of the dashi that season a dish determine its ultimate success or failure. Some Japanese restaurants make dashi using only bonito flakes, but traditional recipes also use konbu.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: The dried bonito fillet should have and ash-white coating of mold; the densest fillets are the best. Dashi is usually made with flakes shaved from the fillet, but commercially prepared and packaged bonito flakes are also available. The konbu should not be washed before adding to the soup. The standard proportions are 1 oz. kelp and 1 oz. bonito flakes to 1 qt. water. The dashi should be brought to a full boil, but the konbu should be removed before the water boils. Once the dashi has been brought to a full boil, the pot should be immediately removed from the heat. Once the bonito flakes have settled to the bottom, the soup should be strained and the bonito flakes removed. The konbu should be cut into two-inch slices, and then returned to the pot.
HOW TO EAT: There are various stages in the process at which one can make the decision to go instant: there is dashi in a jar, which is simply added to boiling water and no straining of bonito flakes is necessary, or you can buy bonito flakes to use with regular konbu, or you can buy instant konbu to use with store-bought bonito flakes.
STORAGE: The bonito fillet can be stored in a can in a cool, dark, dry place. The dashi may be stored in a sealed bottle in the refrigerator for up to three days. It may be frozen, but both flavor and aroma are lost; it is best when made fresh.
edamame edamame pod.jpg (5899 bytes)
fresh or frozen soy beans still in the pod
HOW IT’S MADE/GROWN: soybeans and soy products are an essential part of Japanese cuisine and a source of protein. The U.S. however, is the worlds largest producer and exporter of soybeans. They can be purchased frozen in bags from you local grocery store.
HOW TO EAT: drop frozen beans into boiling water, simmer for 3-5 minutes (not too long),
edamame.gif (12775 bytes)drain and salt. Edamame is eaten as a snack, often with beer, much like peanuts. Bite the pod and pop the beans out into you mouth. Discard the pod.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: An excellent source of cholesterol-free, low fat protein, consumption of soy and soy products have also been associated with low incidence of breast, prostate and other cancers.
An essential part of Japanese cuisine, fishing and fish farming are essential to the Japanese agricultural economy.
HOW TO EAT: Usually eaten raw (sashimi), or boiled in its entirety.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: A good source of low-cholesterol protein and iodine.
fish paste
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Pureed fish blended with a binding agent, molded into the desired shape, and then steamed. When cool, it is firm and approximately the same texture as bologna.
HOW TO EAT: Eaten sliced as is, or dipped in soy sauce.
KINDS: There are two principle kinds: (1) kamaboko-molded onto a rectangular piece of cypress wood before steaming. Frequently colored pink on the outside. (2) chikuwa-"bamboo wheels"; this type of fish paste is molded around a stainless steel rod, and is grilled to brown on the outside layer. As the name implies, it is usually molded around bamboo rods.
STORAGE: Fish paste can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week.
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burdock root
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Good quality roots are firm, have unblemished skin, and are straight. The best gobo do not have the hole in the center that forms when the roots get thick. The skin is the best part of the root, so scrub with a stiff brush to clean the root instead of scraping it. Gobo is also available canned.
HOW TO EAT: Gobo turns dark very quickly after being cut, so to avoid discoloration put it immediately into plain water, or water with a touch of vinegar in it. The flavor of the gobo itself is rather neutral, but it takes on other flavors it absorbs during cooking, so it is best simmered for a long time in several liquids, or sauteed in oil. Gobo fresh from the garden tastes best, so look for roots that are form and have no soft spots.
STORAGE: Gobo can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic, for up to two weeks.
dried gourd shavings. Bottle-calabash pith is shaved and dried in long ribbon like strips. These buff-colored dried gourd strips have two primary uses: first, as something decorative to tie to or to fasten around food gifts, and second, as something edible, namely in such foods as makizushi (rolled sushi-see below).
HOW IT'S MADE/ GROWN: Kanpyo is available in 1-oz packets, which is sufficient for several recipes. To prepare kanpyo for use, wash strips of kanpyo, and knead them in an ample amount of salt. This breaks down the fibers and increases their absorbency. Wash in water, and then boil until soft. Drain.
Good quality kanpyo is flat, white, and slightly spongy. Avoid kanpyo that is yellowish, wrinkled, stiff, and dry.
HOW TO EAT: The most common use of kanpyo is as part of the filling of makizushi.
STORAGE: Kanpyo may be stored in a sealed container for up to a year.
a dense, gelatinous substance with a bland flavor. Most Japanese would be unable to identify this root as such; it is never brought to the market raw. Quite a bit of processing is required to bring konnyaku to a palatable state. The main ingredient of the root is mannan. Powdered and encapsulated konnyaku is sold as a diet aid in the U.S. under the name 'glucomannan'. Konnyaku varies in color from dark brown to hazy grey, and comes in the form of a slab or cake, or in the form of noodles.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Konnyaku is made from the root of Amorphophallus konjac.
HOW TO EAT: Konnyaku has a neutral flavor, and is not porous enough to easily absorb flavors from foods it is cooked with. Before using, konnyaku should be parboiled. This clarifies the flavor, and makes the jelly firmer. After parboiling, the cakes may be sliced or torn into bite sized pieces. Torn, rough edges increase the surface area for flavors to penetrate. As noodles, it is one of the main ingredients of sukiyaki.
STORAGE: Both cake and noodle-shaped konnyaku keep about two weeks in a bowl of water in the refrigerator if the water is changed daily.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: If you are dieting, it is a good thing to add to your menu because it has no calories. Japanese people like to eat it for its consistency, which they find pleasing. It is said to have a laxative effect, and clean out the intestines. It is often advised as a food for diabetics in Japan because it fills the stomach and cuts the appetite.
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heavily sweetened wine, like a thin golden-colored syrup, used only in cooking to add a mild sweetness and to glaze grilled foods when used in a basting sauce. Use sugar as a substitute: 1 tsp sugar for 1 Tbsp mirin.
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fermented soybean paste.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Miso is made by crushing boiled soybeans and adding wheat, barley or rice, and injecting the mixture with a yeastlike mold. There are three basic kinds of miso: (1) light miso, which is made using rice mould and accounts for 70% of all miso consumed in Japan; (2) red miso, which is made using a barley mould and accounts for 20% of miso consumption; and (3) dark miso which is made using a bean mould and accounts for 10% of miso consumption. Dark miso tends to be physically denser than light miso as well as darker in color and stronger in flavor. The period of fermentation varies from less than a month for the light yellow sweet type to up to three years for dark miso. Most Japanese people buy miso in the supermarket, but until twenty or thirty years ago, every family used to make their own.
HOW TO EAT: Every Japanese consumes a few spoonfuls a day in one form or another: as a dressing for vegetables, a pickling medium, spread on grilled foods, or in the form of miso soup.
STORAGE: Will keep up to a year refrigerated.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: A source of protein, enzymes, and lactic acid bacteria.
rice cake.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Mochi is made from glutinous rice that has been steamed and then pounded. It is sold in sheets and either sound or square pieces. It is primarily a winter food; it is the traditional food of New Year's.
HOW TO EAT: The usual way of eating mochi is simply to grill it and eat it with a flavor complement such as soy sauce or toasted nori. It will expand and puff up, somewhat like a marshmallow, and also like the latter will burn if the heat is too hot. If mochi gets very hard, dry, and full of cracks, it can be broken into small pieces and deep-fried, when it will puff up in irregular shapes. Salted, these make a good snack or nibble.
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whitish-yellow mushrooms.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: These mushrooms have 5-inch long stems topped by tiny round caps. They are mild-flavored, have a pleasant crispness and aroma. When enokidake get old, the caps discolor, the stems sag, and the package smells like something fermenting.
HOW TO EAT: Cut off the spongy base about one and a half inches from the bottom and rinse the mushrooms in a colander before using. Enokidake are used in soups and one-pot dishes, and are excellent in salads or in stir-fried dishes.
STORAGE: Fresh enokidake keeps in a sealed plastic package for about a week in the refrigerator. They are available canned, but fresh is much better.
shiitake   shitake.gif (8712 bytes)    cshiitakemushroom.jpg (5543 bytes)
dark brown mushrooms with smooth velvety caps.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: They are best when the cap is thick, the flesh firm, and the cap edges are curled under. Shiitake are available fresh or dried and packaged whole, sliced, in pieces, or crumbs, in a variety of sizes. A one ounce package holds eight to ten shiitake. Shiitake are grown commercially in large quantities by inoculating cut logs of the shii tree with spores. Dried mushrooms must be soaked in warm water for an hour or so, and the hard parts of the stem discarded after soaking.
HOW TO EAT: Shiitake may be used any of the same ways as western mushrooms, even raw in salads.
STORAGE: Shiitake keep almost indefinitely in an airtight container.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Shiitake and other Japanese mushrooms are currently being studied by the NCI for naturally occurring compounds that appear to inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Rice and noodles are never served together. Noodles are not part of Japanese formal cuisine, but more noodles are probably consumed in Japan daily than any other dish. The original Japanese fast food. You can tell when the noodles are done: "noodles are done when a piece thrown against a wall sticks and does not fall off." All types of noodles are eaten al dente.
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buckwheat noodles
HOW TO EAT: Associated with Eastern Japan. Eaten hot or cold; a typical summer food. Chasoba-green tea-flavored noodles.
STORAGE: May be stored in a dry place for up to a year.
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wheat noodles of Western Japan. Subvariety: kishimen.HOW TO EAT: Eaten hot, usually in broth.
STORAGE: May be stored in a dry place for a up to a year.
somenvery thin wheat noodles; about half the size of spagettini. somennoodles.jpg (5446 bytes)
HOW TO EAT: Usually eaten iced as a summer food.
STORAGE: May be stored in a dry place for up to a year.
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rice ball. This is the traditional Japanese equivalent of a sandwich.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Onigiri is made with warm rice. Hands should be kept moistened with salty water to season the rice slightly and to keep it from sticking to the hands instead of forming a ball. It takes practice to make: you must press the rice enough to make sure it stays together, but not enough to squash it, which will make it harden. Typical fillings are grilled fish, pickles, and katuo (see dashi above) flakes moistened in soy sauce. The outside may be covered in toasted sesame seeds or nori .
HOW TO EAT: Onigiri is eaten with the fingers.
STORAGE: Onigiri will not keep longer than two days, refrigerated.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: This depends on the filling.
short grain, sticky rice.
HOW IT'S MADE/ GROWN: Grown in rice paddies; one or two crops per year.
HOW TO EAT: Rice is always eaten steamed in Japan. Soy sauce or other flavorings are NEVER added to rice. Sometimes a few flakes of seaweed may be sprinkled on top.
STORAGE: May be stored in a dry place for up to a year.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Rice used to be the main source of protein in Japan. It is still the main source of carbohydrate.
sake  sake_bottle.jpg (2706 bytes)
rice liquor
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Made by the action of a yeastlike mold on rice. Sake acts to tenderize and enhance the flavor of foods. Note the pronunciation - it is not 'saki' but 'sake'.
HOW TO EAT: Usually drunk warm. A small amount of sake, about one-half cup, is placed in a container (such as a jar, although special containers, called tokkuri are sold for this purpose in Japan) in a pan of warm water. The water is heated till shortly before the boiling point, and then the sake is poured into small cups.
STORAGE: Sake may be stored indefinitely.
The nutritional values of all three seaweeds are about the same. These seaweeds contain an incredible variety of necessary trace minerals: iodine, chlorine, copper, zinc, potassium, iron, sodium, and manganese. In fact, the average Japanese diet contains enough iodine from seaweed so that thyroid or goiter problems rarely occur in Japan.
konbu  kombu.jpg (18508 bytes)
kelp, or sea tangle.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Konbu is mainly harvested from off Hokkaido. It grows as a deep olive brown leaf, from two and one-half to twelve inches wide, and may reach a length of many yards. The konbu leaves are dried in the sun, cut, folded, and packaged. Two-thirds of one ounce is the standard measure to season stock or broth for four servings, so one package is ample for several meals. There are a number of different grades of konbu; the more expensive grades are usually better quality.
The best konbu has smooth flat leaves that are very dark brownish-black in color, and fairly thick. When you look at the edge of the leaf, you should be able to distinguish several "skin" layers. Wrinkled, thin, green konbu is of poor quality. Konbu is frequently dusted with a fine white bloom; this is a kind of mold that should be there, much like the mold of blue cheese. This is why konbu should never be washed or rinsed, but merely wiped with a damp cloth. Some Japanese cooks advise lightly scoring the konbu with a sharp knife so that the glutamic acid (a natural flavor intensifier present in the konbu leaf) is easily released during simmering.
HOW TO EAT: In addition to being one of the main ingredients of dashi, konbu may also be deep-fried or sauteed.
STORAGE: Keep out of sunlight and in a tightly sealed container.
nori      nori pack.gif (9182 bytes)       
laver. The dried sheet form is known as asakusa nori.yakinori.jpg (7068 bytes)
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: It was discovered in the seventh century that this brown alga would grow against bamboo stakes planted in Tokyo Bay. The laver was gathered, washed, and laid to dry by hand. The processing today is highly mechanized to produce the billions of sheets of nori that the Japanese consume every year. The standard size sheet is eight inches by six and seven-eighths inches. Nori can also be bought in three-inch pre-toasted strips.
HOW TO EAT: Nori should be toasted: toasting brings out the flavor and the fragrance. Pass one side only over a (gas) flame a few times till it becomes crisp. Nori is used to wrap sushi, rice balls, or rice crackers. It may be crumbled, or cut into very thin strips to be used as a garnish. It is also possible to buy nori already crumbled into small pieces in a container for shaking onto hot rice, much as we shake salt and pepper on our mashed potatoes.
STORAGE: Keep out of sunlight and in a tightly sealed container.
wakame   wakame.jpg (4193 bytes)
lobe-leafed member of the brown algae family, prized for it's flavor and texture. It is sold abroad in dried form, and is available fresh in the early spring to summer.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Dried wakame must be softened by soaking in tepid water for about twenty minutes. The spine is very tough, and should be removed after softening if not already removed in the original processing.
HOW TO EAT: Wakame is used widely in soups; it should not be simmered longer than a minute, or it will lose important nutrients. It is a good salad ingredient, and goes well with a light, vinegary dressing; it is pleasant in texture with a fresh vegetable crispness.
STORAGE: Keep out of sunlight and in a tightly sealed container.
shoga   cgingerroot.jpg (6829 bytes)
ginger root.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Shoga is a rhizome, a root. The knobs of the rootpickledginger2.jpg (4295 bytes) should be firm, the skin unwrinkled, and it should be an even tan color all over. Shoga with wrinkled or puckered and discolored skin is too old.
HOW TO EAT: Once you have chosen ginger root that is firm and tight, pare away only the skin of the amount you will need, and do this just before using. Shoga that has been pared does not keep. Sometimes, ginger root will mold more quickly than you would expect, especially on a cut end. The moldy section can simply be cut away. To peel the shoga, simply scrape with a blade of a sharp paring knife. If you wish simply to extract the juice from the ginger root, which is the case in most recipes, you can cut the peeled ginger root into small pieces, and put through a garlic press. The juice will come through, leaving behind fiber which can then be discarded.Sweet, pink pickled shoga is often served with sashimi or sushi.
STORAGE: shoga keeps well refrigerated in plastic wrap.  
One thing that all types of sushi has in common is that they are made with vinegared rice. The rice is cooked with less water than usual, and the rice is mixed with vinegar while it cools.
norimaki, makizushi norimaki.gif (32470 bytes)
these are both types of rolled sushi.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Narrow strips of seafood or crisp strips of vegetable or pickles or kanpyo are arranged on a layer of vinegared rice, which has been spread on a sheet of toasted nori, and the whole is rolled in a special mat. The roll is cut into rounds for serving. A popular new roll is "California roll", which is crab and avocado, sometimes with mayonnaise, made into makizushi. This began in California, but is now served in Japan.
HOW TO EAT: Each slice of roll is picked up with fingers or chopsticks and dipped into soy sauce.
STORAGE: Too good to keep around for long!
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: This depends on the contents of the roll.     
pressed sushi.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Vinegared rice is packed into a mold and covered with marinated or boiled fish, seaweed, or egg. When unmolded, the resulting loaf is cut into bite-sized slices.
HOW TO EAT: same as makizushi.
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"scattered" sushi.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: This is the most commonly home-made kind of sushi. It requires neither the manual dexterity of nigirizushi, nor the special mold required for oshizushi. Chirashizushi usually consists of seafood and vegetables in or on vinegared rice; the whole is topped with shredded omelette and chopped mushrooms.
HOW TO EAT: Eaten as is, with chopsticks.
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bean curd   tofufirm.jpg (3503 bytes)
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: tofu is made from dry soybeans which are soaked in water to soften, and then crushed and boiled. The boiled mass of beans is then separated into pulp (okara) and soymilk. A coagulant is added to the soymilk to separate it into curds and whey. The warm curds are poured into molds and left to take shape. They are soaked in cold water to firm them up and later, once they are out of the mold, they are kept in cold water to keep them fresh.
It is also possible to buy "instant" tofu, which comes with its own reusable plastic mold, which shapes the cake into the standard Japanese size cake. Although instant tofu is more expensive than fresh, the flavor is quite good, and it is a boon to tofu-lovers who live in areas where fresh tofu is unavailable. The package of instant tofu consists of one packet of powdered soymilk and one packet of coagulant. The two packets are dissolved together in water over low heat, poured into the mold to set, and then refrigerated.
TYPES OF TOFU: There are three kinds of fresh tofu:
(1)cotton (momen) tofu: tofu from the curds of which water has been drained.    Comparatively coarser and more robust than "silk" tofu.
(2)silk (kinu-goshi) tofu: The curds have not been drained. It is far too delicate to be pressed. This type of tofu is often used in soups, or especially during the summer, eaten uncooked, topped with scallions, bonito flakes and soy sauce.
(3) yaki- dofu: Lightly broiled bean curd; it is easy to recognize by the browned surface.    This type of tofu has a very fine texture.
HOW TO EAT: When used in a salad, or as an ingredient in a stir fried dish, tofu should first be pressed: wrap the block of tofu in kitchen towels and place two dinner plates on top; let rest for thirty minutes to an hour. This will squeeze the excess water out of the tofu and into the towel. Depending on the tofu the towel may have to be changed. Another alternative is to put the block of tofu on a cutting board up on one end, so the excess water drains into the sink.
STORAGE: tofu must be kept refrigerated, and in sufficient volume of water to cover it. This water must be changed daily. Tofu cannot be frozen without changing texture. (see koyadofu.)
NUTRITIONAL VALUE: Ideal for dieting: low ratio of calories to protein. Six ounces of tofu have one hundred calories, but is six percent protein. Low in carbohydrates, and no cholesterol. Soy consumption has also been associated with extremely low incidence of breast and prostate cancers.
aburage      aburage tofu.jpg (4108 bytes)
deep fried tofu
frozen tofu
It has been said that "Rice and pickles are to the Japanese what bread and cheese are to the English, and French bread and wine are to the French."
HOW IT'S MADE: Salt, rice bran mash (with miso), dry rice bran, vinegar are used to pickle a variety of vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, daikon radish, radish greens, cucumber, and eggplant. It is also possible to pickle western vegetables such as cauliflower, celery, and pimiento. The only fruit that is pickled is the plum; this very common pickle was originally considered to be a kind of stomach medicine.
HOW TO EAT: At meals, with a little soy sauce. Frequently served first in a restaurant, almost like an appetizer. Usually free, so you can always ask for more.
STORAGE: The length of time that a pickle can be kept depends on the type of pickle it is. In general, Japanese pickles do not keep as long as Western pickles; they last a few weeks once they are opened, as opposed to a few months or, in some cases, years.
wasabi  wasabepaste.jpg (3321 bytes) wasabi_sb_big.jpg (2053 bytes)
powdered horseradish.
HOW IT'S MADE/GROWN: Wasabi comes from a plant. It is available either in powdered form, or it can be purchased already mixed in tubes, which must be refrigerated after opening. Powdered wasabi is prepared by mixing a few DROPS of hot water with the green powder in a sake cup or shot glass until a thick paste is formed. Turn the glass upside down for about ten minutes to allow the "bite" and flavor to mature. It is difficult to judge how much water to use, which is why tubes are so popular. Once water has been added, the only way to add more solid is to add more wasabi powder which leads to waste.
HOW TO EAT: The biting yet fresh cleansing taste of wasabi accompanies most raw fish dishes. Scant half-teaspoonful mounds of wasabi garnish sashimi plates and are mixed to taste with the soy sauce-based dipping sauce that accompanies the dish. Likewise, smears of this spice are placed beneath the bite-sized pieces of raw fish that cover sushi.
STORAGE: Does not keep.
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