Today, I am sharing a recipe that embodies the principles of the Japanese Washoku and Kansha cooking approaches. I’ve always admired how beautifully presented Japanese food is when I eat out. All the foods are precisely arranged on the plate and each dish is interesting and unique. Little did I know that there was actually a method and philosophy behind this carefully designed plate.
According to Elizabeth Andoh, in her book Washoku, washoku is all about achieving nutritional balance and aesthetic harmony at mealtime. By applying the following five principles, a meal is prepared with a balance of color, flavor, and cooking methods, that appeals to the five senses, and “compels us to appreciate both human endeavor and the natural forces that provide for us.”
- Five colors – provide a colorful range of food – include something red, yellow, green, black (purple or brown foods such as eggplant, shitake mushrooms, nori) and white. Think “eat the colors of the rainbow.”
- Five tastes – balance flavors in the food to pleasantly stimulate our plates – salty, sour, sweet, bitter and spicy
- Five ways – prepare food using a variety of methods – simmer, grill, steam, raw, fry
- Five senses – taste, sight, sound, smell and texture
- Five outlooks – “respect the efforts of all those who contributed their toil to cultivating and preparing our food, do good deeds worthy of receiving such nourishment, come to the table without ire, eat for spiritual as well as temporal well-being, and be serious in our struggle to attain enlightenment”
Elizabeth Andoh points out that these five principles are shared in other Asian cultures. I hadn’t really thought about it, but whenever I’ve attended a Chinese banquet, the array of dishes served follow the washoku principles. Often, there is a steamed fish (white), roast chicken (brown), sauteed vegetables (green), shrimp (red), and stir-fried egg noodles (yellow).
I would love to delve deeper into two of Elizabeth Andoh’s cookbooks, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen and Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions, to explore this concept in cooking further as I find the interplay and balance of foods so fascinating. By following the washoku and kansha principles, one will be naturally lead to produce a simple, nutritionally balanced meal, thoughtfully prepared. I haven’t had a chance to explore kansha cooking as much as washoku cooking yet, but it sounds like it follows washoku principles, with an emphasis on avoiding waste (using all parts of a vegetable, including stems and leaves, for example), conserving energy, and sourcing food responsibly, respectfully and safely.
Today’s fast food culture, which has resulted in an increase in disease and illnesses, runs counter to the washoku principles in almost every respect. If we are mindful about preparing our meals, carefully preparing them to provide a balance of color and flavor, while cooking them using healthy methods, just think about what the implications are to our health and well-being.
Today, a group of bloggers is celebrating Elizabeth Andoh, one of the Top 50 Women Game Changers In Food. Elizabeth Andoh is the leading English-language expert on Japanese cuisine. She was born and raised in the United States, but has lived in Japan for over 40 years. She went to Japan for her postgraduate studies, and ended up attending the Yanahihara Kinsaryu School of Classical Japanese Cuisine in Tokyo. Elizabeth Andoh is a cookbook author and author of numerous magazine and newspaper articles (New York Times Travel Section). She was also Gourmet magazine’s Japanese correspondent for decades.
Elizabeth Andoh started A Taste of Culture, a culinary arts program, in Japan in the 1970’s, which features tasting session, market tours, hands-on cooking classes and culinary workshops for foreign residents. I would love to enroll in one of her classes.
Inspired by Elizabeth Andoh’s explanation of washoku, I made two bento boxes the other day (which my husband and I enjoyed for lunch), one with Miso Salmon (red, salty, grilled) garnished with lemon (yellow, sour), Pickled Spicy Cucumbers (green, bitter and sour, spicy, raw), Sautéed Carrots with Enoki Mushrooms and Ginger (red and white, spicy, fry), and Soy Braised Shitake Mushrooms (black, sweet and salty, simmer).
The second bento box I made for my children at dinnertime featured Yakitori Chicken (black, sweet and salty, grilled), Japanese Clear Broth (white and green, simmer), Spinach salad (green, salty, sweet and sour, simmer), Hijiki Seaweed with Carrots (black and red, sweet and salty, fry) sprinkled with sesame seeds (bitter), Cherry Tomatoes (red, sour, raw), and Fried Rice (yellow, salty, fry).
Another fun way to serve this washoku styled meal is in a rice bowl. Simply place a scoop of cooked brown rice in a bowl. Then arrange all the toppings in a pattern on top of the rice. Either way, this is a beautiful way to present a healthy meal.
If you’re interested in learning more, Elizabeth Andoh hosts online workshops for both Washoku Cooking and Kansha Cooking.
Braised Gingery Enoki Mushrooms and Carrots Recipe
- 2 small carrots
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 ounce knob ginger finely minced
- 7 ounces enoki mushrooms rinsed, bottoms cut off, separated
- 1 teaspoon organic sugar
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds optional
Cut carrot into 1-inch lengths. Using a peeler or mandolin, cut thin slices. Stack slices and cut into thin julienned lengths.
Heat sesame oil. Saute ginger, carrots and mushrooms for a few minutes. Add sugar, sake and soy sauce. Cook until carrots are just tender. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.