“The Gaijin Cookbook” is a very different creature from its predecessor “Ivan Ramen,” both books by Ivan Orkin and Chris Ying. When “Ivan Ramen” came out, it was self evident that the recipes were from the noodle restaurant of the same name, and artisan ramen is a complex process. The Shio Ramen chapter itself is divided into making the eight components of the dish. “The Gaijin Cookbook” is practically the antagonist to the first book. It’s about cooking Japanese food at home for a weeknight or for a party.
The layout of the book is a bit odd. I’ve added quotes from the book about what each chapter is about. And each chapter had some recipes that were grouped together, and sometimes recipes that only related to the chapter and not to each other. So I’ve done my best to reflect that.
- The Recipes by Category
- Eat More Japanese – “… foundational recipes and flavors that taught [Ivan] to understand Japanese food”
- The Vanishing Japanese Diner
- Natto [Fermented Soybeans]
- Feeding Our Kids
- Open to Anything – “… fusion… recipes that have mingled… leading to new and delicious collaborations”
- (various recipes)
- Empathy – “nurturing through food”
- (various recipes, mostly rice and stews)
- Otaku [Geeking Out] – “more intensive recipes”
- (oden, dan dan noodles, gyoza)
- Good Times – “dishes that are conducive to sharing while you sip on an adult beverage”
- (various recipes)
- New Year’s – “symbolic snacks that will ensure prosperity in the coming year”
- (various recipes)
If this were a novel, I’d be ok with this layout. But as a cookbook, I find it a bit confusing if I’m looking for a recipe. It almost feels random instead of intentional. If there’s a specific recipe you’re looking for, it’s the index you’ll need to depend on.
But the recipes themselves look good. Here are some of the recipes I want to try:
- Seasoned Ground Chicken (Tori Soboro) – I want to compare this version to the soboro I already make today
- Mentaiko Spaghetti
- Miso Mushroom Chili
- Pork and Tofu Meatballs with Buttermilk Sauce
- Smoked Fish Donburi
- Okinawa-Style Soba with Pork Belly and Tatsuobushi
- Salmon and Miso Hot Pot
- Sweet Dashi-Poached Prawns
- Candied Sardines
- Sesame Furikake
- Katsuobushi Furikake
For my inaugural recipes, I made shimeji mushroom rice from the Empathy chapter, and the chicken meatballs (tsukune) from the Good Times chapter. Both were straightforward to make, and ingredients were easy to come by where I live.
For me, the meatballs were decent but not necessarily a recipe I will remake as written. It’s just a very ginger forward flavor even with the accompanying sauce. But I still like the general instructions, so I’m thinking about messing around with it, maybe using Chinese black bean paste as the flavoring agent. It’s just a personal preference, not a critique on the recipe.
That’s when I decided to make the mushroom rice. I wanted to see how a second recipe would work out, and I loved the results. It’s a light flavor, and the cooking instructions are spot on. I used haiga rice (haiga is a semi-polished short grain rice where the bran is removed but not the germ, and cooks like white rice), and skipped the bonito flakes. The recipe instructs you to soak the rice for at least 20 minutes, and up to 1 hour. I chose 30 minutes. For garnish, I just used scallions (no photo documentation, but I also used store-bought furikake as a garnish when I was eating leftovers). Next time, I’ll use the katsuobushi and see how it changes the flavor. I can see myself making this regularly going forward as it stores in the fridge well and is great for meal prep.
Another thing that I enjoyed about this book was the photography. The food photos are enticing. The portraits of Ivan scattered among the pages give insight to his personality. And because I’m a romantic at heart, the photos of Ivan and Mari are endearing.
If you don’t have a cookbook on everyday Japanese cooking or don’t have one you like, give “The Gaijin Cookbook” a try. I think it’s very home cooking friendly, and there’s a good diversity of recipes.
Disclaimer – I kindly received this book from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for this review. I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own. The book is released September 24, 2019.