Japan Kitchen: How to make a 3-course Japanese dinner

Photos by Lucy Seligman
Photos by Lucy Seligman

Japan Kitchen: How to make a 3-course Japanese dinner

by Lucy Seligman
Special to Stripes Okinawa

I convinced my Mother to let me go to Japan by myself when I was 15 because I told her, “Mom,I can use chopsticks and love Japanese food!” What a brave woman! And who knew that it would change and enrich my life in so many ways ever since. I have been in love with Japan ever since that fateful first visit, and can’t wait to return, hopefully in 2022, with my daughter for another visit.

I cook Japanese food weekly and most often, daily, especially when I am testing recipes for abook or my blog, Thanks for the Meal. The question I am most asked is, “What can I cook if Iam in a rush, don’t especially like raw fish, am not a super-skilled home cook and want to wowmy family or friends?” My newest book, Easy Japanese Recipes for the Home Cook, was writtenas a resultof these questions.

Here’s a sampling from that latest cookbook, so you too can create an easy 3-course Japanese dinner that’s sure to wow friends and family.


Japanese hotsd’oeuvres are fun and quick to make. They take the form of small, taster-sizedservings, attractively served and a delight to behold and consume. They can be prepared in advance and served cold or at room temperature, or thrown together quickly as your guestsarrive, using whatever you have on hand.

Fried Wonton Salad

  • Square Wonton wraps (aka skins), cut into triangles
  • Seedless cucumbers (such as Japanese, Persian, hothouse, or European),thinly sliced
  • Salt as needed
  • Neutral oil for frying
  • Peeled fresh ginger, cut into thin matchsticks


  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon light-colored soy sauce, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • Toasted white sesame seeds (readily available at Asian markets or online)

Fry wontonsuntil golden-brown. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle cucumbers lightly with salt.Let sit until you are ready to use. Rinse lightly to remove excess salt prior to adding to dish, anddrain.Combine all dressing ingredients and stir to combine.

Combine ginger and cucumber slices.

Then add in the wonton wraps and dressing as needed to make a salad. Gently mix. Sprinklewith toasted white sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

Tip: Keep any left-over dressing refrigerated and use again with your favorite salad mixture.

Grilled Japanese Eggplant with Grated Ginger

  • 8 small Japanese eggplants, washed and dried with stems trimmed


  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated peeled ginger with juice
  • Katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings)
  • Soy sauce to taste

Grill eggplants overhigh heat, turning frequently, for about 10-15 minutes. The skin willwrinkle and become charred.

Peel and discard skin only. It will look like a grilled potato after peeling the skin.

Place 2 grilled eggplants on a dish, with both stems facing in the samedirection. Drizzlegenerously with soy sauce and place a small mound of grated ginger in the center. Sprinkle withdried bonito shavings and serve.

Main Course-Nabemono

One pot or hot pot cooking, is one of Japanese most versatile and crowd-pleasing styles ofseasonal cookery. Simple to make, and easy on your budget. It is served at the table witheveryone helping to cook, just like fondue. It is fun, and very easy to make. The followingrecipe, for Ishikari-nabe, from Hokkaido, has salmon as its main ingredient, but also uses milkand butter, and even potato if desired—all local ingredients to the region. Ishikari is both anarea name and name of this regional recipe.The use ofsansho (ground Japanese pepper) packsa subtle spicy wallop to the dish and the aroma is delectable!


Serves 4

  • 2lb. fresh salmon with bones and skin, cut into 1/2-in. slices
  • 1lb. Chinese cabbage,cut crosswise into 2-in. strips
  • 7-8 oz. chrysanthemum leaves (shungiku), stems trimmed and cut into 2-in. lengths
  • 6 oz. daikon radish, peeled and cut into half-moon slices
  • 5 oz. fresh shiitake mushrooms, wiped and stemmed (and halved if large)
  • 6 oz. negi (spring onion), cut diagonally into 2-in. lengths
  • 1 0-12 oz.shirataki (devil’s tongue noodles), parboiled and cut in half
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch half moons, optional
  • 4 cups dashi (fish stock)
  • 1 tablespoon white miso paste, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon red miso paste, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sake
  • 1 teaspoon mirin (sweet sake)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 blocks momen tofu, drained and cut into cubes
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 mochi (pounded rice cakes), toasted, or 10 oz. udon noodles, cooked al dente


  • Sansho (ground Japanese pepper)

Prepare the vegetables and shirataki as directed. Bring the dashi stock to a boil and flavor itwith the two types of miso, soy sauce, sake, and mirin. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.

Add the milk and immediately bring the nabe or pot to the table and start cooking the vegetables and shirataki. Add the salmon and tofu a few minutes later, as they don’t need aslong to cook.

When the first batch is cooked, add some butter to the centerof the pot and let everyone help themselves to the fish, tofu and vegetables as well as the broth, thenadd a second batch to cook.

The pepper should be passed separately. When everyone has had enough fish and vegetables,add the toasted mochi or udon to the pot and heat through, then serve with the remaining broth.

How to make homemade Dashi Stock:

Take a 6-inch piece of kelp (kombu), wipe lightly with a damp cloth and put into a pot with 6cups water.

Bring it just to a boil and remove kelp. Add a generous 3/4 cup of dried bonito shavings (katsuobushi) and boil for one minute.

Turn off heat and after 2 minutes, strain.

I love Japanese desserts and am always trying out new recipes. We are big fans ofdango (Japanese dumplings) at our house, so this is always popular and often requested.

Dessert-Shiratama Dango with Silken Tofu
I lovechewy, soft, pliable and smooth dango (Japanese dumplings). This dango uses only 2main ingredients. Easy, quick to make, and always a crowd pleaser! Keep the ingredients onhand in your pantry to whip up a bunch for family or friends. I like to have fun having a variety of toppings to offer guests.

Tip: These taste best freshly made.

  • ½ cup Silken Tofu (Kinugoshi)
  • ½ cup Shiratamako coarsely ground flour (made from glutinous rice flour (mochigome), also called sweet rice flour or may replace with Mochiko (also a glutinous rice flour, more commonly found in the US)
  • 3/4 tablespoon white sugar

Bring water to a boil in a pan. Into a bowl, place tofu, flour and sugar. Mix together with arubber spatula until it combines. If needed, knead with your hand. If it is too watery, add in more flour. If it is too hard, add in more tofu (or some cold water). When the flour is mixed well and all the lumps have dissolved, form into small balls. I like to indent the middle of the dumpling with my thumb, which helps with cooking the dango evenly.

Carefully place the dumplings into the gently boiling water. After the dumplings start to float up to the surface, continue boiling for a few more minutes.

Then carefully scoop the dumplings out with a slotted spoon and put them into ice water to cool down.Serve them with your favorite toppings.

Some Topping Suggestions:

  • Anko (red bean paste, either smooth or chunky)
  • Kinako (soybean flour), mixed with brown sugar to taste and a dash of salt
  • Crushed black sesame seeds
  • Matcha powder
  • Kuromitsu (black sugar syrup)
  • Ice Cream, such as vanilla, black sesame, matcha or red bean flavors
  • Blueberry jam & ice cream 

Bio: As a food blogger, Lucycontinues her Japanese journey on ThanksfortheMeal.net. Lucy’scookbooks The Wonderful World of Osechi: Japanese New Year’s Recipes and Easy Japanese Recipes for the Home Cook are available now through Amazon or by visitingbit.ly/lucysbooks

As her extension of her love of Japan, she also works as a Zen Life Coach through LucySeligman.com, offering opportunities to explore how the mind, body and spirit can be nourished to help you live your dream life.

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