The best reference cookbooks aimed at home cooks hit a balance between thoroughness, approachability, fundamentals, and adventure. Hiroko Shimbo's The Japanese Kitchen is in league with the best. It's not flashy (no photos of this gorgeous cuisine), but it rewards with its content: tips, ingredients, tools, illustrations, and recipes, spiced with charming personal notes. This book is aimed at the American cook: Basil can stand in for shiso. But serious explorers can learn how to handle a mountain yam and ramen basics.
Traditional Japanese dishes such as miso soup, yakitori, and sushi are broken down to their foundations. And the pages contain many healthy recipes.
GIVE THIS TO: Lovers of the pure flavor and beauty of Japanese food. —R.B.