All products on this page have been selected by the editorial team, however Stylist may make commission on some products purchased through affiliate links in this article
Surprisingly straightforward to make at home, Japanese dishes are quick, fresh and almost always hob-based. Here’s where to start…
Often simple, frequently seasonal and always delicious, Japanese food is revered worldwide. Known as washoku, Japan’s traditional cuisine was even added to Unesco’s ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ list in 2013 in celebration of its rich food history.
Happily, many of the country’s mouth-watering dishes are easy to recreate at home, often allowing for a pared-back shopping list with surprisingly few specialist additions (however, if you are looking for a certain ingredient and can’t track it down in your local supermarket or east Asian grocers’, you can always order online – we recommend Sous Chef or Japan Centre). Plus, if your cooking style tends to be oven-averse, take comfort in the knowledge that many Japanese homes don’t have one – almost all meals are hob-based.
Flavour-wise, there’s one note you should know when creating Japanese dishes. Umami (aka the fifth taste) was first discovered by a Japanese chemist in the early 20th century, and has been used to describe the distinctive savoury flavour of soy sauce, miso and dashi – all cornerstones of Japanese cooking – ever since.
Fancy turning your hand to Japan’s unique cuisine? Below are five easy recipes to make at home. For a vegetarian option, the miso soup with grilled aubergine by Japan-born, London-based food stylist and cookbook author Aya Nishimura is a no-brainer. Aubergine halfmoons are charred to stripy perfection, then submerged in a rich broth.
Alternatively, if curry is more your thing, Nishimura’s recipe combines skin-on chicken with punchy storecupboard ingredients (think: soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce and honey) for a richly flavoursome mixture.
Got a penchant for chicken teriyaki? Start with the recipe by Japanese chef Atsuko Ikeda. She combines mirin and sake with lime juice to make a sticky yet zesty glaze, then smothers it over chicken thighs, finished with yuzu kosho chilli paste.
Finally, noodle fans should try Anderson’s yakisoba/yakiudon – a speedy, customisable dish you can whip up in minutes, with streaky bacon, crisp vegetables and tender noodles flash-fried, piled into bowls and topped with rich Japanese mayo. Hot tip: in Japan, noodle slurping is actively encouraged…
Miso soup with grilled aubergine and sesame
Aya Nishimura says: “The aubergine and sesame flavour combination is quite common in Middle-Eastern cooking. Japanese traditional cooking also features this delicious combination.”
Preparation: 5 minutes
Cooking: 20 minutes
- 170g aubergine, halved lengthways and cut into 5mm slices
- 750ml basic dashi stock (see recipe below or use powdered dashi)
- 20g rocket
- 4 tsp white sesame seeds
- 5 tsp tahini
- 60ml red miso
Gently toast the sesame seeds in a small frying pan over low heat, shaking the pan from time to time to prevent burning.
As soon as you hear the sesame seeds popping, take the pan off the heat and leave them to cool down.
Transfer the sesame seeds to a suribachi or mortar and coarsely grind them.
Heat a chargrill pan over high heat. Grill the aubergine for 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and set aside.
Heat the dashi in a saucepan over medium heat until almost boiling, then reduce the heat to low.
Mix the tahini and miso in a small bowl, then add a ladle of dashi stock.
Mix until the miso has dissolved, then pour the liquid back into the pan.
Heat again until just below boiling point – do not allow the soup to boil.
Arrange the grilled eggplant in a bowl and pour the soup over the top. Serve topped with the sesame seeds and rocket.
Basic dashi stock
Aya says: “This is the foundation for many Japanese recipes. Of course, you can easily buy good-quality dashi powder nowadays, and it’s instant. However, please try making dashi from scratch. It is actually very easy when you have all of the ingredients handy.
“There is also an option to make a second dashi stock to recycle the leftovers from the first dashi, which will be suitable for stronger-flavoured dishes, such as miso soup and stew.”
Makes about 800ml
Preparation: 5 minutes, plus soaking
Cooking: 15 minutes
- 10g kombu (dried kelp)
- 1 litre filtered water
- 10g katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) – large flakes are preferable for dashi
For the first dashi stock: soak the kombu in the filtered water, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 30 minutes or overnight in the fridge.
Pour the kombu and water into a saucepan set over medium-low heat and slowly bring it to just below boiling – this will take about 10 minutes.
Remove the kombu – keep it for the second dashi stock.
Bring the kombu stock to the boil. As soon as it has boiled, take it off the heat and add the katsuobushi. Return the pan to low heat and cook for 4 minutes.
Line a fine strainer with paper towel and place it over a large bowl. Pour the stock through the strainer. Your first dashi stock is now ready.
For the second dashi stock (optional): combine the kombu and katsuobushi in a saucepan with 500ml water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add 10g fresh katsuobushi. Turn off the heat and leave for 5 minutes, then drain through a strainer lined with paper towel.
Discard the katsuobushi and kombu. The dashi can be kept in the fridge for 3 days or can be frozen and used within 1 month.
Aya says: “The Japanese are experts at inventing their own versions of foreign dishes. They have a slight obsession with curry, so naturally they have created a Japanese version.”
Preparation: 30 minutes
Cooking: 50 minutes
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 5 garlic cloves, grated
- 30g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 4 skinless chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 small apples, peeled and grated
- 2 carrots, coarsely grated
- 1 quantity of steamed rice (see recipe below)
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 35g plain flour
- 3 tbsp mild curry powder
- 200g tinned chopped tomatoes
- 1.2 litres good-quality chicken stock
- 2 tbsp ketchup
- 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 ½ tsp honey
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp sea salt
- cornichons, tiny pickled onions and a soft-boiled egg, to serve, optional
Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan over low heat.
Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until it turns a deep golden colour and begins to caramelise.
Increase the heat to medium and stir-fry the mixture until the onion is golden.
Reduce the heat, add the chicken and fry for 3 minutes.
Add the butter and flour and stir for 2 minutes.
Add the curry powder, then increase the heat and cook until aromatic.
Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.
Add 250ml of the stock and mix well. Pour in the rest of the stock, then add the ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, honey, soy sauce, apple and carrot.
Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Add the salt, to taste.
Scoop the rice into bowls and spoon the curry on top. Serve with the cornichons, pickled onions and a soft-boiled egg, if using.
Aya says: “The general rule of rice to water ratio is 15% more water than rice by weight. There are so many varieties of Japanese rice available – some types are expensive but worth a try.
“For example, newly harvested rice has a truly sublime flavour, and if you ever find sinmai, which means ‘new rice’, please try it – you will be surprised at how amazing it is!”
Preparation: 5 minutes, plus 30–60 minutes draining
Cooking: 15 minutes
- 300g Japanese rice
Place the rice in a fine strainer and set over a bowl filled with cold water. Gently stir and wash the rice with your hands.
As soon as the water turns milky, lift the strainer and drain the water. Repeat this process three to four times until the water is less milky.
Leave the rice in the strainer to drain for 30–60 minutes. The rice should turn clear to white during this process.
Place the drained rice in a heavy-based saucepan (ideally cast-iron) with 350ml water. Cover the pan with a heavy, tight-fitting lid.
Bring the rice to the boil over high heat. As soon as you can hear the water boiling vigorously and can see liquid bubbling up from the pan, reduce the heat and cook for 11 minutes. While cooking the rice, do not lift the lid – this is a strict rule!
Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
Open the lid and gently fluff the rice with a rice paddle.
Adapted from Japanese Food Made Easy by Aya Nishimura (£14.99, Murdoch Books), out now
Tori no lime teriyaki don (chicken teriyaki with lime on quinoa rice)
Atsuko Ikeda says: “Teriyaki is so popular now – you don’t even have to go to a Japanese restaurant to have it. Supermarkets and grocery stores sell ready-made bottles of the sweet, soy-based glaze that you can use to marinate your chicken, salmon or whatever takes your fancy.
“But nothing beats the taste of a homemade teriyaki sauce. It is very easy to make, I like to add lime for an extra fragrant twist. After trying this recipe, you might never purchase ready-made teriyaki sauce again!”
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 leeks, chopped into 2cm lengths
- 500g boneless skin-on chicken thigh fillets, diced into bite-sized pieces
- 4 tbsp katakuriko (potato starch) or cornflour
For the teriyaki sauce with lime:
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 3 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp soft light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp sake
- 1 tbsp lime juice and grated zest from ½ lime
- 800g cooked Japanese rice and quinoa, to serve
- toasted white and black sesame seeds
- yuzu kosho chilli paste, to serve (optional)
In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, sake, lime juice and zest to make the teriyaki sauce, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
Add ½ tbsp of the vegetable oil to a frying pan over a medium heat.
Add the leeks and fry until lightly browned on each side. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
Place the chicken pieces in a bowl and lightly toss with the katakuriko (potato starch) or cornflour to evenly coat all over.
Add the remaining ½ tbsp vegetable oil to the same frying pan and fry the chicken, skin-side down, for 2 minutes until browned.
Remove the pan from the heat briefly and remove the excess chicken fat by tilting the pan to the side and carefully soaking up the fat with 1–2 paper towels (taking care not to actually touch the surface of the hot pan with your hand).
Turn the chicken pieces over and cook for 2 minutes on the other side.
Add the leeks back into the pan, then pour over the teriyaki sauce, stirring to coat the chicken and leeks evenly. Simmer for 4–5 minutes over a medium-high heat until the sauce has thickened.
Divide the cooked rice and quinoa between serving bowls, then add the teriyaki chicken.
Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve with yuzu kosho chilli paste, if you want some extra heat.
From Atsuko’s Japanese Kitchen: Home-Cooked Comfort Food Made Simple by Atsuko Ikeda (£18.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Salmon tataki with ponzu and green chillies
Tim Anderson says: “I love the silky texture and fresh, sweet flavour of raw salmon, but of course I also love the dense, meaty flavour of grilled salmon – this delivers the best of both worlds, with tangy ponzu and hot green chillies to offset the richness of the fish.”
- sesame oil, for greasing
- 200g salmon, pin-boned and skinned – if you can, get just the loin rather than the whole fillet
- 100ml ponzu (see recipe below)
- 1 green chilli, very thinly sliced
- 2 tsp toasted sesame seeds
- a few drops of chilli oil, to serve
Lightly grease a baking tray with sesame oil and place the salmon on it. Grill under a very high heat until it begins to brown.
Move the salmon around as needed to ensure an even colour. Turn over and repeat on the other side.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then slice the salmon thinly and arrange on small plates.
Pour over the ponzu and top with the green chilli and sesame seeds. Drizzle a tiny bit of chilli oil over the top.
Tim says: “Ponzu is one of my favourite Japanese seasonings, combining the moreish umami of soy sauce with the fresh zing of citrus. It’s great with fish, gyoza, tempura and all kinds of veg – and it’s especially nice combined with butter, which rounds out the ponzu’s acidity and gives it a touch of rich sweetness.”
Small batch makes about 90ml
Big batch makes about 280ml
For a small batch:
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp lemon/lime juice (you can use either or a combination of both)
- 1 tsp caster or granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vinegar
For a big batch:
- 200ml soy sauce
- 4 tbsp lemon/lime juice (you can use either, or a combination of both)
- 1 tbsp caster or granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp vinegar
Combine all the ingredients and stir to dissolve the sugar. Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 month.
Tim says: “Yakisoba and yakiudon are both stir-fried noodle dishes; yakiudon uses udon, of course, but yakisoba, confusingly, does not use soba. This is because soba is an antiquated catch-all Japanese word for noodles, since for many centuries, soba was effectively the ‘default’ noodle.
“Yakisoba actually uses Chinese-style egg noodles or ramen; soba’s brittle nature makes them unsuitable for stir-frying. Whether you go with egg noodles or udon is completely up to you – it all depends on preference.”
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 rashers of streaky bacon, cut into small chunks, or 60g lardons
- 2 onions, sliced about 5mm thick
- 1 carrot, cut in half lengthways and then thinly sliced on the bias
- ¼ cabbage, cut into 1cm strips
- 300g bean sprouts
- 200g shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- ½ tsp dashi powder
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 4 tbsp tonkatsu sauce or Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp sake
- 4 portions of cooked egg noodles, ramen or udon
- 40–50g red pickled ginger
- toasted sesame seeds
- 1 sheet of nori, shredded with scissors
- 50g crispy fried onions (optional)
- 60g Japanese mayonnaise (optional)
- small handful of katsuobushi (optional)
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or big frying pan over a high heat, then add the bacon or lardons.
Stir-fry until lightly browned, then add the onions and carrot. Fry for a few minutes, until the onions are beginning to colour, then add the cabbage, bean sprouts and mushrooms.
Fry for another few minutes until the bean sprouts soften and shrink, then add the sesame oil, dashi powder, pepper, soy sauce, tonkatsu or Worcestershire sauce, mirin and sake.
Let the liquid reduce to a thin syrup, then add the noodles, ginger and sesame seeds.
Cook for a few more minutes to let the noodles soak up the sauce, then portion into bowls and top with the nori, and the fried onions, mayo and katsuobushi, if using.
From Japaneasy: Classic & Modern Japanese Recipes To Cook At Home by Tim Anderson (£22, Hardie Grant), out now
Photography: Laura Edwards; Lisa Linder; Yuki Sugiura