Though Japan is renowned for both its cuisine and its food culture, relatively few of its dishes have made their way onto menus in the US, let alone onto the tables of home cooks. True, sushi, tempura, and teriyaki-glazed fish are familiar to more Americans than ever before. But Japanese food encompasses so much more than those restaurant staples, and it includes a number of simple meals that are a world apart from the fussy delicacy of sushi—think homey fried cutlets (katsu), satisfying rice bowls, and improvisation-friendly pancakes (okonomiyaki). Better yet, many of the recipes below don't require any special skill set, or even any particularly exotic ingredients, to make.
That said, it'll make your cooking projects a lot easier if you to pick up a range of basic ingredients at the outset. Our detailed guide to stocking a Japanese pantry will take you through essentials like miso paste, shoyu (soy sauce), mirin, and rice vinegar to help you get started. Read on for over two dozen of our favorite Japanese recipes.
If katsu looks familiar to you, that's probably because it's pretty similar to American-style fried cutlets. The main difference is that the protein—typically chicken or pork (the latter is called tonkatsu)—is always breaded in panko, and is served with savory-sweet tonkatsu sauce. I'd recommend making extra cutlets to reheat into katsudon (more on that in a bit).
This Japanese-Italian fusion invention is perfect drunk food—it's salty, fatty, carb-heavy, and easy enough to prepare when hunger of the drunk (or sober!) variety strikes at 2 a.m. The dish starts with spaghetti, butter, and soy sauce, but the real flavor comes from nori seaweed strips and mentaiko, spicy cured pollack roe.
What separates tempura from other fried foods is the incredibly delicate, light, lacy coating. Master tempura chefs spend decades perfecting the art, but you can make a respectable version at home by adding vodka and club soda to the batter and mixing it very lightly so that not all of the flour is coated in the wet ingredients.
Ohitashi is a light Japanese side dish of blanched, marinated greens. Our version, like most in the United States, is made with spinach—full-grown spinach, not the bland baby variety. We start by blanching the greens, then wring out the water and marinate them with mirin, light soy sauce, and dashi.
If the only ramen you've ever made at home came straight out of a package, you're in for a treat. This creamy, porky tonkotsu is a serious weekend project, but the rich, flavorful broth alone makes it worthwhile. Looking for even more? Check out our pork-topped miso ramen, refreshing cold ramen, Halloween-appropriate seafood ramen, and more recipes, right this way.
You don't need meat to make a satisfying bowl of ramen. Our vegan ramen broth is as satisfying as any other thanks to a combination of creamy sweet potatoes and both charred and fresh vegetables. Topping the noodles with roasted sweet potatoes and maitake mushrooms, simmered shiitakes, and charred eggplant lends it a savory flavor and hearty richness.
Ramen is great, but I actually prefer thick, chewy udon. This cooling dish pairs the noodles with a dashi broth fortified with kaeshi, a concentrated mixture of soy sauce and mirin. Top it off with your favorite garnishes, like grated fresh ginger, a soft-cooked egg, and scallions.
Powdered miso soup mixes might be tantalizingly easy to prepare, but the homemade stuff is game-changer. It's also not terribly labor-intensive. Start with water, kombu (a type of glutimate-rich seaweed), bonito flakes, and light and dark miso paste. Once your broth is ready, just stir in sliced scallions, silken tofu, and rehydrated wakame to garnish. This classic soup is only the start, though—try serving it with mixed vegetables, or swap out the bonito for some Manila clams.
This Japanese fast-food staple is a perfect weeknight dinner—it's virtually foolproof and takes just 20 minutes to prepare. All you have to do is simmer thinly shaved beef and slivered onion in a mixture of sake, soy sauce, dashi, and sugar. Serve it over white rice and, if you're feeling fancy, throw on some toppings like a poached egg or pickled ginger.
Like gyodon, oyakodon starts with onions simmered in a blend of dashi, soy sauce, sake, and sugar. Instead of beef, we add chicken thighs and then, once they're cooked through, we drizzle in lightly beaten eggs and cook until just set. It's this chicken-and-egg combo that gives the dish its name—oya and ko mean "parent" and "child," respectively.
Yakitori can be made with almost any part of the chicken, but juicy thigh meat is the easiest option. This simple dish features skewers of diced chicken thigh alternated with scallion and basted with homemade teriyaki sauce. A yakitori dinner is more fun with a variety of skewers, so also consider making some chicken meatballs, sweet-and-sour chicken, shishito peppers, and king oyster mushrooms for a full spread.
Our version of karaage fuses Japanese and American traditions—we soak the chicken in a buttermilk marinade flavored with ginger, scallions, soy sauce, and sesame oil before double-dredging in potato starch and frying. The light potato starch fries up incredibly crispy and has the side benefit of keeping the dish gluten-free.
This old-school Japanese breakfast is about as simple as recipes get—all you have to do is stir raw egg, soy sauce, salt, and your choice of MSG, mirin,and/or Hondashi into a bowl of warm white rice. As you whip the egg into the rice with your chopsticks the dish takes on a light, frothy texture somewhere between a meringue and a custard. A final dash of furikake seasoning adds a sweet, salty, nutty, umami bomb of flavor.
Okonomiyaki literally translates to "as you like it," so it should come as no surprise that there are basically an infinite number of variations on the dish. Think of our version—made with shredded cabbage, scallions, pickled ginger, and grated Japanese mountain yam—as a starting point that you can improvise on as you see fit. Whatever you use, don't forget to top with okonomiyaki sauce and tangy Kewpie mayo before digging in.
Making omurice with a French omelette makes for an impressive presentation, but if you're only concerned with taste, then a simple unrolled omelette works just as well. In this recipe, we serve the omelette on top of pork fried rice tossed with okonomiyaki sauce—the same technique works with chicken thigh and ketchup.
Unlike its American cousin, Japanese potato salad is made with lightly mashed spuds and tons of add-ins (here we go with sliced carrots, red onion, cucumber, chopped scallions, and hard-boiled eggs). The colorful salad gets an acidic kick from a dressing made with hot mustard, Kewpie mayo, and rice wine vinegar.
Ikura don is a Japanese rice bowl topped with brilliant orange pearls of salmon roe. For this easy recipe, we quickly marinate the already-cured roe in soy sauce and other seasonings to infuse it with more flavor, then load it onto freshly cooked rice.
Onsen tamago, a softly cooked egg in flavorful soy broth, is a popular breakfast item in Japan. Traditionally, it's made by cooking the eggs in hot geothermal spa water, but it's just as easy to make it at home. All you need are a pot and a digital thermometer for a rich, delicate, sweet and savory start to your day.
Japanese gyoza are similar to Chinese potstickers, but the minced cabbage and pork filling is typically more garlicky, and is folded into a thinner wrapper. The wrappers are so thin, in fact, that making them at home is just going to give you a headache—I'd recommend sticking with store-bought. Crimping the dumplings closed may be a little tricky at first, but I promise, it gets easier as you go.
Homemade teriyaki sauce should be a staple in your house—it lasts for ages in the fridge and can be the base for all sorts of quick dinners. Here we use it to glaze seared salmon fillets, which we serve on steamed rice with cucumber, scallions, and avocado.
Dinner doesn't get much easier than this. We start by marinating black cod in a mix of miso, sake, mirin, soy sauce, oil, and sugar for anywhere from 15 minutes to a day, then broil it for about 10 minutes, until it's caramelized and moist. The hard part is finding the fish—you might have to order it online. The same basic method works beautifully with salmon, as well (you can even do the whole thing in the toaster oven!).
These nutty custards are made with soba-cha, roasted buckwheat that is typically used to make tea. We steep the buckwheat into cream, then use that cream to make eggy custards. Tempering the egg yolks and fine-straining the custard base ensures that the dessert is super silky and smooth.
If you've ever wanted the rich flavor of a cheesecake in a less heavy form, this is the dessert for you. The key is folding meringue into the batter and cooking in a water bath, which makes a cake that is light and airy but just as comforting as a traditional cheesecake.
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