Say what? Some lesser known Japanese ingredients explained...
Kombu – a member of the kelp seaweed family, kombu is a popular Japanese ingredient used to add umami flavour to dishes, such as broths, miso soups, stews and more. It has a mildly salty and sweet flavour and is often found in dried format. Available in Asian stores, it should be kept in an air tight container away from sunlight and moisture.
Bonito flakes – also known as katsuobushi, bonito flakes are dried, fermented and smoked shipjack tuna. The real deal is smoked and ripened with a special kind of mould. Shaved katsuobushi is mixed with kombu to form the basis of dashi broths. It has a distinct umami flavour and savoury, smoky taste.
Daikon – also known as mooli, daikon is a long, white crunchy winter vegetable from the radish family. It’s very popular in Asian cooking. It has a light, peppery flavour and can be eaten raw as well as cooked.
Yuzu – yuzu is a citrus plant that resembles a small grapefruit, and its tart flavour profile isn’t too far off it either. It can be either yellow or green, depending on ripeness. It’s rarely eaten as a fruit in its own right, but rather it’s treated similarly to a lemon with its aroma c zest commonly used in Japanese cuisine as a seasoning, and also as a basis for ponzu sauce.
Mirin – mirin is a type of rice wine commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It’s similar to sake, but with more sugar and a lower alcohol content. It forms the basis of teriyaki sauce, lending it its sweet, slightly tangy flavour. You can substitute with rice vinegar and some sugar if needs must.
Sansho pepper – these little unripened seedpods are worth seeking out. Related to Sichuan peppercorns imparting a citrus flavour, these green pods produce a strange, tingling and numbing sensation in in the mouth. The result being an intensity of umami flavor elsewhere in the mouth.
Ume – dried ume or umeboshi are pickled ume fruits popular in Japan. Although often referred to as pickled plums, they are actually more closely related to apricot. They can be sour and salty or sweet, if pickled with honey.
Shiso – shiso is a plant belonging to the mint family, which has teardrop-shaped leaves with serrated edges and a spicy, sweet flavour that lends itself to sushi and fried foods, as well as in soups, stir-fries. Or try ground up and tossed with soba noodles.
Wakame – wakame is an edible seaweed grown in Japan. Its mildly sweet flavour is often used in soups and salads, particularly miso soup. The green leaves should be cut into small pieces before cooking as they expand.
Ponzu – ponzu is a tart, citrus- based sauce commonly used in Japanese cuisine that can be made easily from scratch or purchased in a bottle. It’s often used as a dressing or a dipping sauce.
Silken tofu – also called soft or Japanese-style tofu, silken tofu has a softer consistency that falls apart more easily than regular tofu. They are made from the same ingredients but are processed slightly different.
Hakusai – also known as napa, or nappa cabbage, this is the Japanese name for a variety of Chinese cabbage widely used in Asian cuisine. It literally translates to ‘white vegetable’. In the western world, it’s known as Chinese leaf.
Kinako powder – also known as soybean flour, this means ‘yellow flour’ in Japanese and is strongly associated with the cuisine. It is made from dried, milled and roasted soy bean flour and is tan in colour with a powdery texture and toasty, nutty flavour.
Takashi Miyazaki recommends his three favourite places for sourcing Japanese ingredients:
- Mr Bell’s, The English Market, Cork city
- Asia Market on Dublin’s Drury Street and Ballymount
- www.japancentre.com – online resource, based in London.
Click here for to get started on your Japanese cooking adventure