Japanese food made easy: Your new go-to dinner party cookbook
On the hunt for the ultimate dinner party spread? Aya Nishimura, the Japanese-born food stylist, has got you covered.

If you love Japanese food but feel intimidated by the difficult techniques and hard-to-source ingredients, you are who Aya Nishimura, the Japanese-born food stylist and home economist, had in mind when creating Japanese Food Made Easy. Within the beautifully styled pages of her new cookbook, Nishimura proves that all you need for delicious Japanese food at home are well-selected ingredients and some straightforward methods. Nishimura covers all bases, with healthy and fresh recipes for favourites including ramen, gyoza, teriyaki, tonkatsu and sushi. Expect back-to-basic methods such as how to make steamed rice properly and recipes worthy of a showy dinner party.

Images and text from Japanese Food Made Easy by Aya Nishimura, photography by Lisa Linder. Murdoch Books RRP $39.99

Japanese food made easy cookbook

Beef Tataki (Seared Beef Fillet)

This is a super-easy, delicious meal for entertaining. The key is using the tail of a beef fillet, which is thinner (and much cheaper), so it will cook very quickly. This recipe will also work well with sirloin steak.

Serves: 4

  • 400g good-quality beef fillet tail
  • Sea salt & ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp mirin
  • 2 tbsp sake
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup clementine juice or orange juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed with the back of a knife but left whole
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced & kept in cold water
  • 2 cups watercress, washed
  • 200g daikon radish, finely grated (optional)
  1. Take the beef out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature. Season with sea salt and pepper.
  2. To make the sauce, gently heat the mirin and sake in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the soy sauce, vinegar, clementine juice and crushed garlic.
  3. Heat a frying pan over medium–high heat. Sear the beef for about 1–2 mins on all sides. Remove from the heat and leave the beef to rest for at least 10 mins.
  4. Drain the onion and combine with the watercress on a serving plate. Cut the beef into 5mm (¼in) thick slices and add to the salad.
  5. Serve with the sauce drizzled over the top. Drain any excess liquid from the grated daikon, and add it to the salad just before serving.

Tip: You could make a larger batch of sauce and keep it in a clean screw-top jar for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

Homemade Atsuage (Fried Tofu)

Although you can buy atsuage (chunky fried tofu) in some supermarkets and health-food stores, I have found that the atsuage from Asian grocery stores is of better quality.

Serves: 2–4

  • 640g firm tofu (also called momen tofu), cut into 8 large cubes
  • 3 cups sunflower oil, for deep-frying
  • 200g cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2.5cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 large pinches sea salt
  1. Wrap the tofu in a clean, thick, cotton tea towel and place it on a baking tray for some of the excess liquid to drain away.
  2. Heat the sunflower oil in a deep saucepan over medium–high heat until it reaches 180°C.
  3. While the oil is heating, prepare the sauce. Mix the tomatoes, ginger, olive oil, soy sauce and salt together in a small bowl.
  4. Deep-fry 2–3 tofu cubes at a time for 3 mins until golden brown. Turn every few mins to get an even golden colour on each side. Using a slotted spoon, carefully lift out the tofu and drain on paper towel.
  5. Serve the tofu hot with the tomato and ginger sauce (grated daikon radish and soy sauce also works very well).

Japanese-Style Curry

The Japanese are experts at inventing their own versions of foreign dishes. They have a slight obsession with curry, so naturally they have created a Japanese version.

Serves: 4

  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, grated
  • 30g fresh ginger, peeled & grated
  • 4 skinless chicken thigh fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • ¼ cup plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 3 tbsp mild curry powder
  • 200g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1.2L good-quality chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp tomato sauce (ketchup)
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1½ tsp honey
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 small apples, peeled & grated
  • 2 carrots, coarsely grated
  • Sea salt
  • 300g Japanese rice, steamed
  • To serve: 1 tsp sea salt cornichons, tiny pickled onions & a soft-boiled egg
  1. Heat the oil in a large, deep saucepan over low heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until it turns a deep golden colour and begins to caramelise.
  2. Increase the heat to medium and stir-fry the vegetables until the onion is golden.
  3. Reduce the heat, add the chicken and fry for 3 mins. Add the butter and flour and stir for 2 mins. Add the curry powder, then increase the heat and cook until aromatic. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for 5 mins.
  4. Add 1 cup of the stock and mix well. Pour in the rest of the stock, then add the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, honey, soy sauce, apple and carrot. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat. Simmer for 30 mins, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Add the salt, to taste.
  5. Scoop the rice into bowls and spoon the curry on top. Serve with the cornichons, pickled onions and a soft-boiled egg, if using.

Matcha Ice Cream Sandwich

This refreshing, subtly bitter green tea ice cream would be perfect for the end of any Japanese meal. If you’re using an ice cream maker and the bowl needs to be chilled, you can prepare this a day in advance.

Makes: 6

  • 6 organic egg yolks
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 280mL thick (double) cream
  • 2¼ cups full-cream milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, split lengthways & scraped to remove seeds
  • 2 tbsp matcha powder
  • 12 digestive biscuits
  1. Mix the egg yolks and sugar in a large bowl.
  2. Combine the cream, milk, vanilla seeds and vanilla pod in a saucepan. Cook over medium–low heat until just below boiling point. Remove from the heat. Pour just one ladleful of the liquid into the egg mixture, mix well and then add the rest of the milk. Mix completely to dissolve the sugar.
  3. Rinse the saucepan and pour the egg and milk mixture back into the pan. Cook over medium–low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  4. Remove the vanilla pod and scrape the custard into a bowl. Sift the matcha powder over the custard and carefully stir to remove all of the lumps. Cover with plastic wrap until cooled.
  5. Pour the cooled custard into an ice cream maker and churn according to the machine’s instructions. Alternatively, pour the custard into a container to freeze for 2–3 hrs. Whisk the custard, then return to the freezer and repeat this process for the next 2–3 hrs, until frozen.
  6. To serve, scoop about 90g of the ice cream and sandwich it between two digestive biscuits. You can freeze the sandwiches again to serve later if you wish.

Sake-Steamed Clams

This is a wonderful dish that can be made with very little effort if you are short on time. However, it’s important to prepare the clams properly to remove all grit and sand.

Serves: 4

  • 1kg clams
  • 30g sea salt
  • 30g fresh ginger, peeled & cut into thin matchsticks
  • 8 spring onions, cut into 5cm pieces & sliced into long thin strips
  • 150mL sake
  1. To remove the grit from the clams, mix 4 cups of cold water with the sea salt in a large bowl and stir until the salt has dissolved.
  2. Place the clams in a large deep tray and pour the salted water over the clams until they are almost covered. Cover the tray with a tea towel and leave it in a dark, cool place for 1 hr (or in the fridge overnight).
  3. Drain the clams in a colander and wash them in cold running water. Check the clams — they should be tightly closed.
  4. Discard any half-opened clams or any that don’t close when tapped.
  5. Combine the clams, ginger, spring onion and sake in a large saucepan or wok and cover the pan with a lid. Cook the clams over medium–high heat for 5–10 mins. Remove the lid and check the clams. If all of the clams are wide open, the dish is ready. Discard any unopened shells.

Shiratama Mochi Balls with Brown Sugar & Ginger Syrup

This silky shiratama mochi is made with glutinous rice flour, which can be found in any large supermarket, Asian grocery store or online. It’s a quick and easy dessert to prepare and you can even freeze it when it is uncooked and boil it later when you need it.

Serves: 4

  • 80g dark brown sugar
  • 15g fresh ginger, peeled & thinly sliced
  • 100g glutinous rice flour
  • 2 tbsp kinako (soybean powder) or salted peanut powder (blitz salted peanuts in a mini food processor), to serve
  • Vanilla ice cream & fresh fruit such as sliced oranges, to serve
  1. To make the syrup, put the sugar, 200mL water and the ginger in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until it has a thick and syrupy consistency. Set aside.
  2. To make the mochi balls, sift the glutinous rice flour into a bowl. Add 30mL water at first and mix with your hands. Add another 70mL water, a little at a time, until the mixture comes together into a dough and is not sticking to your fingers or the bowl. You may not need all of the water. If you add too much, add a little more flour to achieve the right consistency.
  3. Cut the dough in half and roll into two 2½cm thick logs. Cut each log into 12 equal discs so that you have 24 slices. Roll each disc into a ball, then flatten it to about 1½cm thick and make a dent in the middle with your index finger. Prepare a large bowl with plenty of iced water.
  4. Bring a saucepan with plenty of water to the boil over high heat. Drop the mochi balls in all at once, stirring gently to prevent them from sticking to the base of the pan. Once the balls float back to the surface, cook for another min.
  5. Scoop out the balls with a slotted spoon and drop into iced water. When the mochi have cooled, divide them among four bowls. Spoon the syrup over the top and serve with the kinako or peanut powder, ice cream and fresh fruit.