Favorite Cookbooks: Harris Salat

Favorite Cookbooks: Harris Salat Recipe

I met Harris Salat on an Oldways trip to Puglia, Italy in 2006. He's a straight-up New Yorker, and the east coast yin, to my west coast yang. Which, come to think of it, might be why we get along so well.

I suspect many of you have read articles written by Harris, he writes for some of the big guns -- The New York Times, Saveur, Gourmet until recently, and Salon. One of his beats is Japanese cuisine. He travels there regularly and has trained in Japanese restaurant kitchens in New York and Tokyo. On top of his freelance writing, he also co-authored both Takashi's Noodles and Japanese Hot Pots. You can see him in that photo up above, to the right of Chef Tadashi Ono and Chef Hisao Nakahigashi of Kyoto (center). I'm excited he has agreed to share a few of his favorite cookbooks with us.

HARRIS'S COOKING STYLE:

I love clean, simple cooking, one that relies on the natural flavor of ingredients, doesn't stray too far from a food's natural state, and is anything but fussy. Hmm, sounds familiar--oh yeah, that's what Japanese cuisine is all about, the subject of my writing for the past several years. I was so surprised by this chow when I first traveled to Japan a decade ago. Up to then, all I knew was sushi and ramen. But on that trip, I discovered in the cooking an intense seasonality, an incredible variety of dishes and a delightful spontaneity. From rarified to down-home, I found the food was more about subtraction then addition, that is, more about getting to the intrinsic sense of something rather than building it up with fats, herbs and spices. I loved that in the cuisine, and was hooked. Since that first foray to Japan, I've been working to perfect my Japanese cooking. But I appreciate other ingredient-driven cuisines, too, especially Southern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, and prepare them, too. Here are some of the cookbooks that have influenced me:

- A Return to Cooking, by Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman. Sadly the hardback is out of print, this beautiful cookbook was designed by the incredibly talented Cliff Morgan, a dear friend who tragically passed away a few years ago. I remember Cliff, a fabulous cook, telling me how much he learned from this book, and when I picked it up, I understood what he meant. With disquisitions into things like poaching, shallots and ambient heat, it taught me fundamental concepts that helped me understand how to really cook, not just follow recipes. (update 11/12: There is a recently released paperback of A Return to Cooking available.

- The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rogers is another hefty culinary education. Judy taught me a ton about how to buy ingredients, tasting, finding flavor and salting. I think about her words on "salting early" whenever I cook Japanese cuisine, which, like Judy's Mediterranean food, often relies on the incredible curing power of the only rock humans regularly digest. Her recipes are amazing, too.

- I can't remember where I found Moro: The Cookbook, considering it was never released in America (the companion Casa Moro was, you can now find both online). It's the cookbook of a restaurant in London called Moro that takes inspiration from the Muslim Mediterranean (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria) and Moorish-influenced Spanish cooking. I really enjoy cooking from this book, full of simple, beautiful recipes, especially for vegetables, with dishes like eggplant and red pepper salad, beet soup with black cumin and broad bean and dill pilaf. My copy is delightfully stained and water-logged from so much service in the kitchen.

- The Book of Jewish Food covers the Jewish diaspora of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East but in its heart of hearts it's a book about Sephardic cooking--food of the Jews outside Europe (the author, Claudia Roden was born in Cairo). I dig the flavors Roden introduces in this book, dishes infused with pomegranate, sumac, tamarind and saffron, and her forays into the distinct food culture of various Jewish communities is fascinating.

- So what about Japanese cuisine? For me, my schooling in Japanese food has been mostly hands-on, but I often turn to Elizabeth Andoh's Washoku. Elizabeth is an incredible authority on Japanese food who has taught me so much. Her book is an accessible reference that demystifies Japanese ingredients and techniques and introduces lots of great home cooking recipes. I also found a book published in England called Dashi and Umami that really helped me understand underlying principles of Japanese cooking, especially its reliance on umami, or a sense of savoriness. And finally, I discovered Traditional Japanese Recipe Book with English Translation this spring in a bookstore in Tokyo and it rocks! The translation can be shaky at times but book offers a trove of classic dishes and also gets into practical theory, too, offering insights into knives and knife skills, stocks, Japanese seasonings, how to use salt and much more. Try to get your hands on it, if you can.

More Harris:

- Harris's Books: Japanese Hot Pots with Chef Tadashi Ono of Matsuri restaurant in New York, and Takashi's Noodles with Chef Takashi Yagihashi of Chicago.

- Harris's blog: The Japanese Food Report

- Japanese Food Report on Facebook, and Harris on Twitter. If you follow him on Twitter, he'll notify you when/where he is teaching his next workshop, publishing new articles, etc .

Lead photo by Tokyo-based photographer Jun Takagi.

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Comments

  • Heidi, thanks to your blog I've unintentionally and painlessly transitioned to a vegetarian lifestyle, as have my friends. Your recipes are truly inspiring and I get excited about each new one that I try. Please keep it up! And thank you! Marissa

    Marissa
  • How the brain cheats: I was expecting something called "Harry's Salad". :)

    Rose Mary
  • Ah, to have again the sort of income that allows one to go to the bookstore and pick up wonderful books like you've reviewed here. Alas! Sometimes the choice is books or food, but not both. Ouch! Thank goodness it does not cost to come to your wonderful site to enjoy the recipes you share freely. HS: I love going to my local libraries as well - still inspiring, but easier on the pocketbook!

    RiverWhispers
  • Heidi, where did you go in Puglia? I took some women to The Awaiting Table cookery school there last year and will return with another group in April. Just wondering what you did/saw when you were there beyond Lecce which is where we will be. THX!

    Cooking with Michele
  • Heidi, this is so funny, when this e-mail came through of your new post, I was literally reading an Orangette post about Casa Moro (a butternut squash chickpea salad--it's absolutely divine--you would love it). I think I must look into it. I look forward to looking into all these other recommendations too. Thank you to Harris, and Heidi, you're the best as always!

    Laurel
  • I just want to let you know how much I love your blog! My sister ,Shoshana, introduced me to your site. Her husband is vegan and she refers to your recipes all the time. Your photos and anecdotes make me very happy and very hungry!

    Elyse Eisenberg
  • Another great list of cookbooks that are completely new to me! I don't know that my bookcase can handle this.

    Cookin' Canuck
  • Thanks for introducing me to someone new and interesting to read!

    Simply Life
  • My interest in actually learning to cook Japanese food was sparked by my friend Mel, and a book she gave me last Christmas called Harumi's Japanese Home Cooking. I think it is quite good for a beginner. I love the eggplant dishes in particular. The freshness of Japanese cuisine makes is very appealing to me. And it helps that I am also very drawn to the Japanese aesthetic. Thank you for the excellent suggestions here... Michaela

    The Gardener's Eden
  • Hi Heidi - I'm a long time reader and have always enjoyed your fresh take on food and have experimented with many of your recipes! Great work here. Wondering if you could help me find a cook book - that has vegetarian recipes from around the world, talks a little bit about the country/culture the recipe is from- Any suggestions? Once in a while I cook with my daughter and we have recently started this around the world cooking, I seem to have a lot of recipes but not much information about the countries/culture. Thanks You!

    gayu
  • I know hardly anything about japanese food-in northern england where I live there are very few japanese restaurants even (apart from Yo Sushi) so I haven't even tried it much, never mind cooked it. But Harris has named my favourite books (Moro, Claudia Roden) so I feel I can trust him to recommend good japanese books in return-I shall have a look at these 2 titles.

    Sian
  • Sounds like a very interesting author. I like his cooking style, thanks for the tip.

    tobias cooks!
  • noodles and hot pots? harris salat is my type of guy.

    KMS
  • Japanese cuisine is the one thing where I wish I hadn't made the decision to be vegetarian although I have since found this wonderful book "Zen cookery" which is a cookbook my Japanese Buddhist monchs. Great post and OMG I love the Moro cookbook!

    Mel
  • Your description of Japanese cooking being more about subtraction than addition truly resonates with me. Japanese cuisine has an aspect pf purity, simplicity and sophistication that I find difficult to describe, but I think that sums it up well.

    Christine @ Fresh Local and Best
  • Heidi, I love your website! It exposes me to so many new cookbooks and cooking styles!

    Estela @ Weekly Bite
  • Heidi- Thanks so much for this trove of information--I don't know how you have the time and energy to do so much cooking, research and relationship building. Thank you for sharing your generous work!

    isabel
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