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.
Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) says
I have a large collection of bento boxes and love to serve meals in them. I’ve never thought about why, but I seem to naturally balance the contents in a way that’s similar to the principles you’ve explained here. Now I will be more mindful.
Lydia, I would love to get my hands on some bento boxes. I found the washoku and kansha Japanese cooking principles fascinating – it is interesting that you already naturally balance your food this way. I think it is natural and more appetizing when a plate includes foods of different colors and textures.
I love the clean fresh flavours of Japanese food. Great write up on an otherwise unknown and yet so deserving member of the 50 Game Changers.
Heather @girlichef says
I agree – I am completely intrigued by both of these books and would love to take some time to immerse myself in them. And go to her school, of course. Lovely bento and presentation you came up with in honor of Andoh this week!
I have always been intrigued by how beautifully and meticulously Japanese food is presented. Now that I know there is a method to it, it is even more interesting.
Alyce Morgan says
Not only gorgeous, but surely luscious! Beautiful photos, too, Jeanette. Thanks. (Blessed family.)
Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits says
Very nice write-up about Washoku. I prefer the food in a rice bowl, other wise it unfortunately reminds me of cafeteria food. I think I’ll be delving more into her books.
Thanks Alyce and Mireya, I had a lot of fun this week preparing all these dishes and presenting them for my family to enjoy. Mireya, I wish I had some real bento boxes – I think it would have made a prettier presentation than my “lunch trays.” Either way, served in a rice bowl, or bento style, these dishes were well worth the effort.
This was a fabulous post.I love the information and the recipe you shared with your readers. Your photos are also terrific. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary
Jill Mant~a SaucyCook says
Wow Jeanette, I am bowled over not only by the many beautiful dishes you have presented here, but I love the way you explain the 5 Principles of Washoku. These are principles that, like the food that graces your beautiful bento boxes, enrich our lives. Thank you for all of your efforts; I am leaving your blog having learned something….as usual!
Norma Chang says
Great presentation. I have bento box but never really thought about the number 5. Thanks for the explanations.
janet @ the taste space says
I really like this recipe! I have a hard time making so many side dishes, so I usually just eat it with tofu as a meal. 🙂
Thanks Mary, Jill, Norma and Janet – I learned so much this week (which is why I love this weekly event) and am looking forward to reading more on this topic. I find Washoku and Kansha cooking principles so interesting – it all makes perfect sense.
I feel like most things in life are way more fun when eaten out of a bento box 🙂 This sounds like such a tasty meal! I love the fresh flavors of Japanese food…and the abundant use of ginger.
This is a feast for the eye and symphony for the ear! Beautiful food from a beautiful lady!
Wow…this looks like it took a lot of time! It also looks beautifully delicious! Great job! Have a wonderful weekend!
Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen says
What an interesting concept of washoku and the five senses, one I’d never heard of before.
Joanne, Nazarina, Kathy and Sylvie – so glad you all are enjoying this as much as I did. It is such a fascinating way to think about what we eat, and it all makes complete sense.
Martha@ Simple Nourished Living says
What a colorful, informative post. Thanks for providing such great information about the Washoku and Kansha cooking principles. It definitely makes me “hungry” for more knowledge about such healthy balancing culinary concepts.
Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. says
hope you had a great trip! Looks amazing!
Russell at Chasing Delicious says
I love those trays – what a cute way to serve a meal. And this is a wonderful recipe!
I’ve got to pull these trays out more often – it is fun to eat from them. I’d also like to get my hands on some cute bento boxes.
Kiran @ KiranTarun.com says
Beautiful bento dishes, Jeanette! And did I ever tell you how much I love enoki mushrooms? Delish 😀
Oh I got the cookbook but haven’t cooked a single recipe out of it yet. I should. This dish looks delicious! Thanks for posting it’s an encouragement!
The bento boxes you prepared for your husband and the kids are perfect. I’ve admired Japanese cooking for the balance they bring to every meal…their culture and food have long intrigued me. They respect every aspect of life and that shows in their food, their hospitality and life. Love how you presented this week’s honoree.
France @ Beyond The Peel says
Those mushrooms look so yummy. I have a bunch of mushrooms I’m looking forward to cooking up and this sauce sounds fun and different. The 5 principles could translate to any meal and any culture. They are fabulous things to keep in mind.
I’ve always admired how beautifully presented Japanese food is, and the care and precision that goes into preparing it. I recently had the opportunity to see Chef Hiroko Shimbo in action at a cooking class. I have to say I had a whole new appreciation for Japanese cooking.
juniakk @ mis pensamientos says
jeanette, the color palate of food does make it look sooo appetizing and healthy. i love her food philosophy. that lunch bento looks so food! btw, i haven’t tried tamari yet, but how is the flavor different from regular soy sauce?
Junia, tamari is made with 100% soy beans whereas regular soy sauce often contains wheat. I’m not an expert on soy sauce, but I would say tamarai has a cleaner smoother taste.
Magic of Spice says
What a fascinating post! I love the 5 steps, or outlined view of food in balance…fantastic!
Awesome seeing you in NYC Jeanette. Love the look of this bento!
I am fascinated by this style of cooking. Returns cooking to an art form instead of farm cooking most Americans are used to.
Ithe bento boxes are cute. The plates remind me of aluminum TV trays from when I was a kid. It would help with portion control too. How do they hold up to freezing? Are they leak proof too?
The plates I used were ceramic. I haven’t tried putting them int he freezer.
I realize this was 7 years ago, but am I missing something? The actual recipe cuts off after step one. I mean, I think I could sort of work out the rest, the title says braised, but it’s pretty funny as is to imagine someone helplessly stopping after they julienne some carrots.
Hi Lia – the instructions must have gotten cut off when I switched recipe formats. I’ve added back the instructions. Thanks for letting me know.