People tend to think it takes time to cook Japanese food. The answer is yes and no. Just like any other food in the world, you could spend all day to prepare everything from scratch, but we don’t have such luxury every day.
The trick is ingredients preparation. There are many things you can do once a week or so to help you cook lunch or dinner easily.
Particularly if you are like me, who loves CSA distributions from summer to fall, you will get a large amount of vegetables once a week. Wash, dry and pack the vegetables individually right after geeting them saves your time and money.
Also when you don’t have time, go ahead and use granulated dashi, such as hondashi. We all know that freshly made dashi from scratch tastes better, but please don’t be discouraged to prepare Japanese food at home, just because you can’t make dashi.
By the same token, get whatever the ingredients you can afford. Organic is great, but conventionally grown food are nutritional as well. The important thing is to cook at home, because in that way you can eat and live healthier.
Here are some of the preparation examples you can do to save your time.
- Carrots – Several carrots can be washed, peeled and shredded with a mandoline at a time. Keep the shredded carrots in a sealed ziploc bag to last over a week. You can use this in salad, stir fry with other vegetables or noodles.
- Leafy vegetables – Lettuce, baby spinach, and other leafy vegetables can be washed, dried beforehand. It’s important to dry well after washing before storing in the fridge to keep the leaves crisp and last longer. Larger spinach can be boiled in salted water, chilled in icy water right after that, squeeze the excess water off, and freeze in a tightly sealed bag or container. Thawed boiled spinach is delicious to eat with katsuobushi and soy sauce.
- Scallions – It’s one of the must ingredients in Japanese food. You want this in miso soup, noodle soup, natto, mugitoro rice, okonomiyaki and many other food. Scallions are highly perishable if you keep them in the fridge, but you can chop them up, and freeze in a tightly sealed ziploc bag. The chopped scallions will thaw quickly.
- Ginger root – Sometimes you don’t have a choice to buy only a huge piece of ginger, even if you need just a tiny bit. The leftover should be plastic wrapped tightly and keep in a fridge. But use it as soon as possible. It deteriorates pretty quickly.
- Nagaimo – Unpeeled nagaimo can be tightly plastic wrapped and stored in a fridge up to 10 days or so. If you need to store longer, you need to peel, grate, and freeze. Follow the instruction from my previous posting about nagaimo.
- Tomato – Tomatoes shouldn’t be kept in a refrigerator in any circumstances, because the cold temperature destroys the flavor. If you are busy, buy cherry or grape tomatoes to avoid cutting them up.
- Rice – It takes time to cook rice for every meal, even if you use a rice cooker. When I cook rice I cook larger amount, and freeze the rest. Divide the hot cooked rice for one portion each (it’s important to do this while the rice is still hot to preserve the flavor), tightly plastic wrap individually, and freeze. When you are ready to eat, microwave about 1 minute per individually wrapped rice to slightly thaw. Remove the plastic wrap, transfer the rice in a rice bowl, then microwave 1 more minutes. You wouldn’t even notice it’s actually leftover.
- Fish, beef, pork, and chicken – Animal protein are highly perishable without being cooked, you can preserve longer when you marinade them in soy sauce or miso. But if you leave the protein too long in the marinade the food will be too salty.