Love Japan

Recipes from our Japanese American Kitchen [A Cookbook]


May 16, 2023 | ISBN 9781984860521


May 16, 2023 | ISBN 9781984860538

About the Book

Discover comforting homestyle Japanese American cuisine with 100 unique, simple, and tasty recipes from the owners of the innovative Brooklyn restaurant Shalom Japan


Steaming sukiyaki. Pillowy, soft shokupan. Springy ramen noodles. These famed Japanese dishes, as well as modern interpretations and evolutions, are all part of Love Japan, a collection of beloved family recipes from the married owners of Brooklyn’s Shalom Japan. 

Like many of us, chefs Sawako Okochi and Aaron Israel lead busy lives and often find themselves short on time in the kitchen. Their secret to getting nourishing, delicious food on the table for their family? The Japanese-inspired dishes that Sawako grew up eating. While not rigid in tradition, these recipes are all rooted in the Japanese flavors and techniques taught to Sawako by her mother, with influences from Aaron’s Jewish heritage as well as the menu at Shalom Japan.   

Through years of practice in their own home and in their Brooklyn restaurant, Sawako and Aaron have distilled these recipes for maximum flavor and minimum fuss, including Japanese staples and inventive, delicious fusions like:

• Karaage (Japanese Fried Chicken)
• Smashed Cucumber and Wakame Salad
• Roasted Cauliflower with Miso and Panko Butter
• Hiroshima-Style Okonomiyaki with Ramen Noodles
• Home-Style Matzoh Ball Ramen
• Omurice (Omelet Fried Rice)
• Slice-and-Bake Matcha Cookies

Through Love Japan's user-friendly recipes and gorgeous photography, Sawako and Aaron demonstrate that Japanese cooking can be everyday cooking—even (or especially) if you’re short on time, space, or energy. These satisfying dishes will open up a world of possibilities in your cooking routine.
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Love Japan

Gohan Desuyo! (Time to Eat!)

At its core, this cookbook is a love story about how two chefs from different worlds fell for each other, and for each other’s cuisines. We met in 2011 in New York City on a setup at a Chinese restaurant, which was soon followed by a procession of late-night dinners out, leisurely home-cooked breakfasts, and rooftop beers during the odd hours that chefs keep. Eventually we fell in love, moved in together, and decided to go all in and open our own restaurant, Shalom Japan, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s a quirky, improbable project, a Japanese-Jewish restaurant that melds the foods of our roots, which for one of us is in Hiroshima, Japan, and for the other in a Jewish American household on Long Island. To some, the concept may seem like a novelty, but for us, it’s a reflection of the life we built together, one in which matzoh ball ramen and lox rice bowls are as commonplace as spaghetti and meatballs are in other families.

As important as the restaurant is to our lives and livelihood, this book isn’t about that. It’s about the food that we cook and eat in our Japanese American kitchen. When we started to build our life together, it became clear how much we were influenced by Sawa’s mother’s home cooking, which is as flavorful as it is nutritious, heavy on vegetables and fermented foods, with lots and lots of variety. (She’d always tell Sawa to eat thirty ingredients a day so she could get nutrition from varied sources.) We wanted to provide the same nourishment for our family, and to yours. Whether or not you have a Japanese parent (or in-law), we still want you to be able to experience the unique pleasure of digging into a heaping platter of golden karaage (fried chicken) or crispy, juicy harumaki (Japanese spring rolls). Love Japan is our way of sharing these meals that we cherish the most with you.

Our life together hasn’t been a straight path. Balancing restaurant life and family life hasn’t been easy. Along the way, we’ve faced enough challenges to fill a whole other book, and, like everyone else, endured a pandemic. There have also been bright spots, like the birth of our two beautiful children. But through it all, sitting down together at the table has kept us grounded. There’s no better day off for us than one spent hanging out at home as a family and cooking together, like we did when we first met. It’s different now, with the kids and more responsibilities, but the pleasure and joy of feeding each other still remain.

When we start the day, there’s usually toasted Rakkenji shokupan (naturally fermented milk bread) on the table. Our Sunday brunch is a Japanese breakfast, with miso soup and rice, delicate tamagoyaki (dashi rolled omelet) and a host of vegetable dishes, such as gomaae broccoli (broccoli with sesame sauce) and spinach ohitashi (spinach with soy sauce and bonito flakes). Lunch might involve onigiri (rice balls) and Japanese sandos (sandwiches), both perfect for eating on the go. Dinner may take the form of a simple noodle dish like yakisoba, roasted kabocha squash smothered in mirinsweetened ground pork, or a hotpot feast, a relaxed, interactive way to cook at the table. It’s not all strictly Japanese. There are pizza nights and pho and lots and lots of pasta. The next day, we usually repurpose the leftovers into bento boxes for our kids’ lunches.

We’ve seen Japanese food come a long way in this country—it’s no longer viewed as just sushi and teriyaki. But many Americans still regard it as the domain of chefs and experts, and we seek to change that. These are dishes you can definitely make yourself, as most of them are simple enough to cook for your family or friends on a weeknight. Japanese home cooking is comforting, humble, and achievable by anyone. The purchase of just a few pantry items can easily make it part of your standard repertoire. We’re not rigid about tradition, but the recipes are very much rooted in Japanese flavors, ingredients, and cooking techniques. Our book is a primer for home cooks who are eager to integrate Japanese flavors into their everyday meals. If you are already fluent in Japanese ingredients, we also use them in unexpected and delicious ways that may surprise you.

When we cook at the restaurant, we like to create something for people that they wouldn’t make at home. At home, we’re looking for the opposite—something that we can make over and over again, that is achievable, simple, and satisfying, and that we can potentially execute while holding an infant. As two working chefs, we used to have dinner around 9 or 9:30 p.m. Now we’re on the clock, and get food on the table by 6 or 7. Our son is seven years old and eats most everything, while our two-year-old daughter is hopefully following in his footsteps. By a certain time, we have to give them baths and put them to bed, and dinner has to fit into a certain parameter. More often than not, it’s about making rice, a protein, and then convincing our daughter to try a carrot. Our cooking has become a lot more practical, but it’s still important that pleasure has a place at the table.

As much as we look to Japan for inspiration, the cooking in our home is also influenced by what’s around us. Seasonal eating is central to both Japanese cuisine and ours. We pack up our kids and a week’s worth of compost and go shopping every Saturday, choosing produce from the great vendors that come to our neighborhood farmers’ market at McCarren Park in Brooklyn. Depending on where you are, you can find some of the best Japanese ingredients locally. Our favorite vegetables come from Bodhitree Farm, which grows an amazing array of Asian specialty produce.

Between spring and early winter, we get a majority of the vegetables we eat at home from them, whether it’s shishito peppers, nasu (eggplant), daikon radishes, or satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potatoes). Hauling back a refrigerator’s worth every week with two kids is a lot of work, but totally worth it.

In this book we wrestled, and wrestled some more, with the details of each recipe, recognizing that everyone’s home kitchen is a little different. We’ve included many cues, through sight, smell, touch, or taste, to guide you through them. Of course, cooking is an imperfect science, and requires you to use your senses, experience, and knowledge of your own equipment. Not everyone has the same set of pots; no two ovens or burners function identically. And we know how subjective taste can be. What is too much salt for some, is not enough for others. So when you are trying out these recipes, keep in mind what you like and the equipment you’re using, but most of all, trust your instincts. Nothing would make us happier than seeing you use our recipes as a jumping-off point—like Sawa did with her mother’s so many years ago—and eventually making them your own.

About the Author

Sawako Okochi
Decorative Carat

About the Author

Aaron Israel
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About the Author

Gabriella Gershenson
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