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Miso Hungry Podcast

Episode 15: Putting together your Japanese pantry, Part 2


Part two of our Japanese pantry episode in 3… 2… 1…

(If you missed Part 1, listen here.)

This week, we’re talking about all the other essential ingredients that should be in your Japanese pantry.

Because, you know… Japanese food does consist of more than just rice and shoyu.

So, what else is important?

  • White miso (shiromiso): There are different kinds of miso, but the white (actually a pale yellow-brown) kind is the most versatile.
    • We’ve been able to find miso at most chain supermarkets, in the refrigerated “foreign” section (near the wonton wrappers and tofu)
    • Miso can last up to a year, if stored correctly. Keep refrigerated, and as long as it’s not smelling weird or growing stuff, it’s probably fine to use.
    • miso soup
    • miso black cod
  • Bonito flakes (katsuo bushi): Not only is this used to make dashi stock, but it’s also used as a condiment in so many foods such as tofu, blanched spinach, and so on. (These are the little “dancing” flakes that you see on top of takoyaki or okonomiyaki)
  • Konbu/kombu seaweed: Essential for making good dashi stock, as are bonito flakes.
  • Sake: In a pinch a sweet sherry can be substituted, but many Japanese foods include sake as an ingredient.
  • Mirin: sweet fortified liquor made from rice, used exclusively in cooking.
  • Rice vinegar: Rice vinegar is mild and sweeter than white wine vinegar. You will also see something called sushi vinegar – this is just rice vinegar with added sugar and seasoning. Making sushi vinegar mix is so easy, and cheaper, that we don’t see a need for stocking sushi vinegar. In addition, you might find you prefer a different sugar to vinegar ratio in your seasoned vinegar.
  • Dried shiitake mushrooms: More intense in flavor than fresh, they are used a lot as a flavoring as well as an ingredient. (Rachael uses these for her vegetarian dashi
  • Sesame seeds: Both black and white. These are often used toasted and ground up, or whole as a condiment.
  • Dark sesame oil: This is used for flavoring many dishes, especially chuuka (Japanese Chinese-style) dishes.
  • Non-Japanese dry or bottled ingredients that are used a lot in Japanese cooking: salt, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mayonnaise, potato starch flour or cornstarch flour, white wheat flour.

Essential Fresh ingredients include:

  • Fresh ginger: Powdered ginger cannot be substituted.
  • Spring onions or green onions and leeks: Leeks are used more than onions, though onions are used in a lot of Japanese Western-style dishes or yohshoku.
  • White daikon radish: Used cooked as well as raw; in stews, soups, as garnish, etc. Grated daikon radish cuts down on the oiliness of things like tempura and grilled oily fish. In a pinch you can use red radishes instead, especially for salads, grating and so on.

Other ingredients that are good to have if you’re doing a lot of Japanese cooking, but not 100% essential:

  • Tofu and tofu products: aburaage (fried thin tofu), atsuage (tofu blocks that have been deep fried), kohya dofu (frozen and dried tofu, somewhat spongy), okara (by-product of making soymilk) and yuba (very thin sheets of dried tofu).
  • Wasabi paste or powder
  • Ground curry powder: Curry flavor is very popular in Japan.
  • Nori seaweed: The black dried sheets used to wrap sushi rolls, also used shredded as a topping. It’s even cooked to a paste to eat with rice.
  • Wakame seaweed: This is available either preserved in salt, or dried. The dried kind is easier to handle. Used in miso soup, salads, and as sashimi garnish.
  • Seven-ingredient red pepper powder (called shichimi togarashi or sometimes nanami togarashi): This is a coarsely ground red pepper condiment that’s used on a variety of dishes like udon noodles and cold tofu. It has ground up yuzu peel, sesame seeds, etc.
  • Various dried noodles: soba (buckwheat noodles), somen (thin white wheat noodles), udon, etc.
  • Japanese pepper (sanshou): Available usually in powdered form, though in Japan fresh sanshou is used too.
  • Dried anchovies (niboshi): This is used as an alternative to, or in addition to, the classic konbu seaweed and bonito flake combination for making dashi stock in some regions.
  • Ponzu: Basically a citrus juice – yuzu or sudachi plus lemon is usual. These days there are many products labeled as ponzu that are really “Ajipon”, a mixture of ponzu, soy sauce and flavorings.
  • Yuzu in various forms: Yuzu is a citrus fruit with a tangy juice and fragrant peel. You can find dried yuzu peel powder, or yuzu juice. It is possible to use lemon juice instead, though it will be different. (There are many other kinds of citrus used in Japanese cooking, such as sudachi, daidai, etc. but these varieties are rarely found outside of Japan.)
  • Various dried foods: hijiki, a dark seaweed; kanpyou, dried gourd strips often used in sushi rolls; kiriboshi daikon, dried shredded daikon radish.
  • Various dried beans: azuki, black beans (kuromame), and white beans (ingenmame) are the most commonly used.
  • Umeboshi, or pickled plums: Used in rice balls, in bento boxes, and as flavoring for various things.
  • Red miso (akamiso): This is a bit stronger in taste, and usually more salty, than white miso.
  • Short grain sticky (glutinous) rice (mochigome): Used for some sweet and savory dishes
  • Various fish-paste products such as chikuwa: Used in soups and oden (a sort of stew).
  • Shiso leaves: Shiso (perilla) is the most common herb used in Japanese cooking, about as useful as fresh basil is in Italian cooking. The green kind is used fresh, and the red kind is used for pickling.
  • Sesame chili oil (ra-yu): Dark toasted sesame oil infused with red chili. This can turn rancid fast so store after opening in the refrigerator.
  • Rice bran for pickling (nuka): Used to make nuka zuke – vegetables pickled in wet fermented rice bran.
  • Green tea leaves: Sencha is the standard green tea (shincha is new sencha). There are many other varieties, like kukicha (made from the stems), genmaicha (with toasted rice), hatomugicha (with toasted barley), etc.. Matcha, or powdered green tea, is not made that much in the home (you get it at tea ceremonies, prepared by a skilled person), but it’s often used now for cold drinks, ice cream, and as a flavoring in sweets and pastries.

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