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Sunday, June 29, 2003

THE ASIAN BOOKSHELF

Recipes that 'freak Japanese people out'

The BREAKAWAY JAPANESE KITCHEN: Inspired New Tastes, by Eric Gower, photos by Fumihiko Watanabe. Kodansha International, 2003, 112 pp., 2,900 yen (cloth).

"My favorite thing to do with edamame [green soy beans] is to puree a little with some olive oil and fresh shiso leaves, and to add fruit . . . then mix this sauce with the rest of the edamame, and eat it with smoked salmon." notes writer and chef Eric Gower in "The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen." Blending Italian olive oil with Japanese beans, shiso leaves and fruit, he promises, is not as weird as it initially sounds, and a flick through Gower's cookbook proves that he does indeed follow a passion for flavor rather than fancy style or presentation. Not once does he call his work fusion cuisine, or California-style, and thankfully there's not a single funny-named, rainbow-colored seaweed roll in sight.

Instead Gower's introduction is down-to-earth, and his numerous recipes are simple, quick and unpretentiously minimalist. He focuses on unusual flavors, some of his favorites being the use of fruits such as persimmon, grapefruit, cherry, orange, apple and even fig.

Each set of facing pages gives the aspiring cook a list of seasonal ingredients, all easy to find (in Japan at least), a full-color image of the dish, and instructions so simple, some only take up one paragraph. Recipes cover seafood, salads, tofu, pasta/udon noodles, meats, potatoes/rice and vegetable side dishes. They include plenty of true vegetarian dishes, something of a rarity in Japan.

Gower's book is a casual and undaunting book that proves Japanese ingredients are versatile. And if it "tends to freak Japanese people out," as he says, it's only "until they try it."



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