Kimiko Barber writes that in 2013, Japanese cuisine "was added to the United Nation's cultural heritage list, only the second, after France's, to have been so honoured". Anyone with even a slight interest in Japanese cuisine might reasonably ask, "What took them so long?" Because if any culture could be described as being food obsessed, it would be the Japanese.
Barber writes, "One of the most striking aspects of Japanese cuisine is the emphasis on seasonality. Every food has shun, a point in time when a particular food is at its best. Shun can last for several weeks, even months, or it can be as fleeting as a few hours or days. Eating Japanese food that is in season not only ensures that Japanese tastes are in harmony with natural rhythms but also that they enjoy the freshest and most plentiful seasonal ingredients … The emphasis on seasonality is not limited to selecting and cooking fresh seasonal ingredients, but also extends to the presentation, with food served in appropriate tableware - pale pastel coloured dishes in spring, cool glass bowls in summer, rustic bamboo baskets in autumn and earthy pottery in winter. There is a Japanese phrase me de taberu, literally 'eat with your eyes'."
With all this to consider, it's not surprising that outsiders might think preparing a Japanese meal is hard work, but Barber tries to assure us that is not the case. "Despite its recognition as a healthy choice - Japan has one of the highest life expectancies in the world - the cuisine is often still perceived as difficult. My aim with this cookbook is to dispel any fears you may have and to show you just how easy it is to cook Japanese food at home. After all, millions of ordinary Japanese do it every day. As you'll discover, the culinary methods are not so very different and, if you have a reasonably well-equipped kitchen, you won't need any new equipment."
Barber makes a strong case for making dashi from scratch, writing, "It is not an overstatement to say that dashi is at the heart of Japanese cuisine, not because of the prominence of its own flavour, but because of the way it enhances and harmonises the flavours of other ingredients … Before the age of instant seasonings, almost every Japanese meal began with making fresh dashi from scratch. Today, most Japanese home cooks rely on instant dashi, packaged granules that dissolve in hot water … and you will probably turn to this instant method also. Although some are excellent, nothing compares with the subtle flavour and delicate aroma of freshly made dashi." She doesn't make us shave our own katsuobushi (cured and dried bonito), thank goodness (it's hard work, and requires a special tool with a very sharp blade), so the process of making dashi takes less than 15 minutes.
Her other recipes include mushrooms in sesame miso dressing; vinegared cucumbers; tuna on rice; warm winter vegetables and salmon salad with yuzu dressing; egg and chive porridge; mackerel in miso; deep-fried scallops in rice crackers; soy-marinated roast chicken; lamb chops with sansho pepper; noodle hotpot; and green tea ice cream.