With her third cookbook, Hiroko's American Kitchen (Andrews McMeel, $25), Hiroko Shimbo aims to demystify Japanese cooking for American cooks using a new approach: Rather than focus in recreating Japanese dishes in the most authentic way possible, which she accomplished with her previous cookbooks, this time, Shimbo has found a way to work Japanese flavors into familiar Western favorites, such as butternut squash soup, fish and chips, fried chicken, and barbecue ribs.
To accomplish this, she focuses on six essential sauces that she has developed for the home cook using common store-bought ingredients and a few Japanese pantry staples. The White Sumiso Sauce is a good example of this: Rather than calling for yuzu juice, which is easy to find in Japan but rare in the United States, Shimbo calls for a mixture of equal parts lemon juice and grapefruit juice. It's a simple, straightforward approach that works, and the results are delicious. All of the recipes in the book revolve around sauces like this one. There are five other sauces, also equally easy to make: Kelp Stock, Dashi Stock, Spicy Miso Sauce, and the boldly named "Best Basting and Cooking Sauce" and "Super Sauce." All can be made in large batches and frozen for later use.
Along the way, Shimbo works in helpful tips about Japanese ingredients that first-timers might not be familiar with, such as miso, as well as techniques that will ensure success, such as the correct way to cook Japanese noodles, or, even better, "How to Cut a Stone-Hard Kabocha Squash." The answer to one of life's greatest questions indeed lies in this cookbook.
In all seriousness though, for anyone looking to dabble a bit in Japanese cooking rather than taking a deep plunge, Shimbo's cookbook seems like a good choice.
The trick to giving this twist on popular butternut squash soup a Japanese flair is the shiro miso, a medium-aged light brown miso.
Use this sauce as a base for marinades, salad dressings, and rubs.
A real crowd-pleaser, these ribs get their distinctive slightly sweet umami flavor from the White Sumiso Sauce.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.