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'Everyday Harumi' Simplifies Japanese Cooking for Westerners

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Harumi Kurihara is almost unknown in America, but in Japan, she's a household name --- literally. Like: 52 shops in department stores. Like: 12 cafes and restaurants. Like: books and books.

Just don't think of her as "the Martha Stewart of Japan."

"Martha is an entrepreneur but I am a housewife, and I want to continue," she says. She started giving cooking classes because her husband and child loved the way she cooked, and even when she became a successful teacher, she still took her greatest pleasure from making family dinners. One thing led to another, and she began sending articles to magazines.

In 1992, she published her first cookbook, "Gochisosama Ga Kikitakute!," which means "I want to hear you say delicious!" Her publisher hated the title. 'It is too casual and inappropriate. It sounds like the title of an essay, not a book' was the complaint," Harumi has said. "But I did not compromise. The book sold over a million copies and remains in print. I feel vindicated."

Everyday Harumi, her most recent book, was created for Western home cooks. It capitalizes on our attraction for Japanese food --- its lightness, its scant use of meat, fat and dairy products, its smaller portions, its creative use of vegetables. Even better, it's not for purists. This is a cookbook for housewives, both literal and metaphorical. That is, it's for busy people who have little time to cook but who are too proud, cost-conscious and health-minded to order take-out.

It is, simply, the most useful and creative approach to Japanese cooking I have yet encountered. Harumi is to Japan what Marcella Hazan is to Italy and Patricia Wells is to France. Though new in our home, Harumi's book is already food-stained --- the ultimate compliment.

What you get are more than 70 user-friendly recipes, most of them simple to prepare. Yes, you have to do some shopping first, but you'll be buying oils, spices and condiments that will find their way into many dishes. And the recipes are, mostly, simple in the extreme. Barbecue sauce: 12 ingredients, a few minutes of preparation, brief cooking, and you're done.

Western influences? Chicken and celery salad, with mayonnaise in the dressing. Japanese hamburger (tsukune). Ginger pork with bok choy: 6 ingredients, 6 steps. Green beans with ground pork. Lots of fish. Mashed potatoes with a Japanese-style mushroom sauce. Japanese coleslaw. Sauteed leeks and mushrooms.

Simple family meals? Rice with soy-flavored pork and carrots. Fried rice with crabmeat. Stir-fried noodles with pork and cabbage. A surprising tofu "steak." Several varieties of miso soup.

Vegetables? You expect green beans with sesame dressing, but pumpkin with a sweet sesame glaze (4 ingredients, 4 steps) will surprise you. Ditto potatoes with a sweet soy dressing

Delicacies? Deep-fried scallops stuffed with mozzarella will make you forget your pledge never to eat fried food.

Desserts? None. Not one. How totally refreshing.

Recipes? Here you go....

Green Beans with Minced Pork

Harumi writes: "This dish is something of a tradition in my household. It is easy to prepare, only needing soy sauce for seasoning, and makes use of wonderful ingredients like ginger, garlic and Japanese leeks. It is a great dish that can be rustled up quickly if guests drop in unexpectedly. I usually serve it with white rice and if there are any leftovers, they don't last long in our house."

Serves 4

3 cups green beans
small leek (about 2 ounces)
1/2 ounce fresh ginger, peeled
2 fat cloves garlic
sunflower or vegetable oil-for frying
7 ounces ground pork
2-3 tablespoons soy sauce
Sliced fresh or dried red chilies to taste
sesame oil to taste

1. Prepare the green beans, lightly cook in boiling water, then rinse under cold running water.
2. Drain the beans, pat them dry, and cut diagonally into bite-sized pieces.
3. Finely chop the leek, ginger, and garlic.
4. Put a little oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the chopped leek, ginger, and garlic, allowing the flavors to infuse in the oil, then add the ground pork and stir-fry.
5. Add the green beans, then add soy sauce and red chili to taste.
6. Continue to cook until the beans have heated through. Add a little sesame oil to taste and serve with hot white rice.

Fried Rice with Crabmeat

Harumi writes: "Fried rice can be enjoyed all year round, I even cook it outdoors when we have a barbecue with friends and family. I like to add soy sauce flavored with garlic and ginger because I think it works well with the crabmeat and as I usually have some of the sauce ready-made in the fridge. If you have the time to make the sauce 2 weeks in advance it makes this recipe quicker and easier and also improves its flavor. The real trick of making good fried rice is to remember to keep tossing the ingredients in the wok to make sure that everything is well mixed and that the end result is light and free from lumps."

Serves 2-4

5 ounces cooked white crabmeat, without shell
1/4 onion, peeled
2 scallions
3 medium eggs
salt and pepper
4 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil-for frying
3 1/2 ounces ground beef
2 2/3 cups cooked Japanese sushi rice

For the garlic and ginger soy sauce:
6-9 fat cloves garlic
1 1/2 ounces fresh ginger
1 2/3 cups soy sauce

1. To make the garlic and ginger soy sauce: Slice the garlic and the ginger, add them to the soy sauce, put in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid, and refrigerate.
2. Loosen the crabmeat flakes, making sure there are no large chunks.
3. Finely chop the onion and scallions.
4. Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
5. Put a wok over high heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil. Pour in the egg mixture and fry quickly, stirring gently as it is cooking. When lightly cooked, put into a bowl and set aside.
6. Put a little more oil in the wok, add the beef, and cook, adding the onion (though not the scallion), once the beef has browned.
7. Add the rice and toss the ingredients together in the wok, adding a little more oil if necessary, until all the oil is used. Pour 3 tablespoons of the garlic and ginger soy sauce around the rim of the pan and toss all the ingredients together, ensuring that the sauce is evenly mixed in and that the rice doesn't stick.
8. Continue to toss for around 7-8 minutes, then add the crabmeat and cooked eggs, season to taste with salt and pepper, and toss the ingredients again for a further couple of minutes to heat the crabmeat through. Turn the heat off and add the scallion. Mix in thoroughly and serve piping hot.

[Cross-posted from]