One of my goals for 2019 is to add more simplicity to my life: in my closet (hello, donation pile), in my friendships (goodbye, toxic friendships), in my schedule (learning how to say ‘no’), and in my kitchen (quality over quantity). That being said, I wanted the first cookbook review of 2019 to reflect that, and honestly, I couldn’t have found a better title.
CIBI by Meg and Zenta Tanaka is a book filled with heart. Inside, you’ll find more than eighty seasonal home-style Japanese-inspired recipes that are great to share with friends and family.
Now, when I say “simple,” I’m not oversimplifying complicated, hard-to-find ingredients and unrealistic prep times. No, this book is actually filled with simple recipes that not only taste good, but are also very healthy.
It’s so easy when you’re rushing throughout the day to reach for unhealthy snacks and fast food. If you’re at all inclined to give healthy eating a go, I’d recommend trying out some of the recipes in here, because many take under a half hour to prepare, and once you have some of the staple ingredients and kitchen tools used in the recipes, you’ll be good to go!
Before jumping into the recipes, I’d like to take a minute to acknowledge the authors for including a section in the book for anyone unfamiliar with how to cook traditional Japanese food, myself included. They didn’t have to (many cookbooks don’t), and the fact that they did, and in such great detail, really made cooking from this book that much more enjoyable. Pages 198 through 213, meticulously detail everything you might need to know, like:
-what uncommon ingredients look like and substitutes you can use if you can’t find it at your local grocery store (I’m looking at you Karashi and Katsuoboshi). PRO TIP: if you can’t find an ingredient and want to give it one more try, check to see if your city has local markets like Zion or Ranch 99. You might find the ingredient there!
-how to make different kinds of sauces and dressings, including: miso-based, soy and sesame-based, and vinegar based. There are nearly twenty sauces in total for you to try and experiment with.
-as well as essential kitchen essentials to help simplify the food prep. This was probably my favorite part, because I learned about a lot of quirky tools I didn’t have (but now can’t live without). Two of my favorites are: fish bone tweezers (much better than digging for them awkwardly with a fork) and a turtle brush (perfect for scrubbing veggies that have dirt on them and much better than a sponge).
Now let’s jump into the rest of the book! CIBI (pronounced ‘chi-bee’) means ‘a little one,’ which from the intro can be:
-‘the smile we get from our customers in the morning’
-‘the sharing of a friendly conversation’
-‘the magic moment of tasting unexpected flavors and combinations’
-‘the comfortable space where you always feel good.’
CIBI is both an individual and shared experience that inspires and fills each day with special moments.
Take a moment to soak that in.
The authors created this philosophy to reflect who they are with where they are. Wholesome at its core, CIBI is rooted in each and every recipe in the book, from the ingredient selection to the notion of savoring that very last bite.
In 2008, Meg and Zenta opened up CIBI, a multi-purpose cafe, store, event, and neighborhood space in Melbourne, Australia. More than a decade later, they now have a second location in Tokyo, not to mention this beautiful cookbook! Their motto is “head, hands, heart” which focuses on teaching others how to enjoy life and make each day special by sharing fresh, simple meals with the ones you love.
So without further adieu, let’s get into the food!
The book, like its recipes, it organized in a very straightforward manner. The first dozen or so pages are about CIBI and the inspiration behind the book. After that, you’ll find a bit about a traditional Japanese breakfast. Here, you’ll find recipes to make traditional miso soup, as well as perfect stovetop rice.
Like I said earlier, the back of the book is where you’ll find all of the helpful kitchen information. If this is your first time cooking Japanese food, I’d recommend perusing through it once you’ve picked out some recipes you want to try.
The rest of the book is where you’ll find all of the recipes, including: Vegetables, Grains & Sandwiches, Seafood, Meat, and Sweets.
WINTER MISO GRATIN WITH CAULIFLOWER, TOFU, AND MUSHROOMS (p. 101)
This recipe comes from the “Vegetable” section. Prior to this recipe, I hardly ever ate cauliflower or tofu, in part because of the taste (or lack thereof), and in part because I didn’t really know how to prepare them. After this recipe, I’ve definitely ventured out of my comfort zone to try more things with these ingredients. I really like how all of the ingredients meld together when you put it in the oven.
Maybe it was the cheese or the breadcrumbs, but I’d definitely recommend this dish to parents if your kids aren’t a fan of vegetables. This trick also works for significant others that will only eat vegetables if they don’t know they’re in there! The dish itself is gooey and creamy without being over the top, and the prep from start to finish (including oven time) is a little shy of thirty minutes. Not bad for a hearty entree!
CIBI EGG AND POTATO SANDWICH (p. 120)
I’m a huge fan of egg salad sandwiches. They’re easy to make and packed with protein, so when I saw there was a recipe for one in this cookbook, I wanted to try it! You’ll find this one in the “Grains” section, and in case you’re wondering, yes, it’s made with potato, and no, it doesn’t taste as weird as it sounds!
Like the first recipe, this one was super easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time (just keep the mixture and the bread separate). You can easily modify this recipe for any food preferences (e.g. remove the Gouda cheese and sub ingredients in the mayo if you’re lactose-intolerant). In addition to egg, this recipe calls for potatoes and broccoli, which I was hesitant to include (at first), but they add a bit of crunch and texture to the sandwich.
This is another CIBI Japanese breakfast favorite, and for good reason, it’s packed with flavor and a delicious twist on the classic egg salad sandwich!
BAKED SALMON WITH AUTUMN MUSHROOMS AND SWEET MISO SAUCE (p. 142)
Out of all the recipes, this is probably my favorite. I really like salmon, but never know how to prepare it…until now! You’ll find this one in the “Seafood” section, with more than a dozen other delicious recipes. If you’re short on baking trays, Meg suggests wrapping them in foil (an excellent tip that cuts down the cleanup). Another bit of advice, if you’re following the recipe and wrap the pieces in parchment paper (as shown in the pictures), be mindful to not put them close to the top of the oven (I learned this the hard way). My only other tip for this recipe, if you don’t have kitchen string, is to use floss. The only downside to floss is it’s hard to untie, so be sure to use scissors to cut it open (and don’t try to do it with your hands like me…whoops).
As far as taste, I really like how subtle the flavors are in this dish. The leeks and mushrooms are more than garnishes, and the sweet miso sauce pairs well with the lemon wheels. I’d definitely recommend this recipe if you’re looking to make something nice for a dinner party or significant other, without the significant time commitment in the kitchen. From start to finish, I think this dish took about forty minutes, and that includes twenty minutes in the oven!
GREEN TEA MUFFINS WITH SWEET AZUKI BEANS (p. 184)
I wanted to try something from the “Sweets” section because this was the course that I thought might be the most difficult…but like I mention earlier in the review, all of these recipes are honestly very simple to make (you just have to take your time and read the directions). That being said, I was also intrigued to try this recipe in particular, because the authors include at the top of the recipe that they’ve served these muffins since they opened…so they must be good!
I’m not quite sure why mine browned on the outside (instead of the pretty green ones featured in the book); maybe it’s the kind of matcha I used? Looks aside, these taste delicious and are subtly sweet. If you’re unable to eat nuts, you can leave the garnish off, and I feel like a broken record, but these muffins took less than a half hour to make (which includes twenty minutes in the oven).
All in all, this cookbook truly demystifies the notion that Japanese cooking is difficult. There is a variety of recipes and all are easy to modify for allergies and food sensitivities (see “CIBIMEMOS” at the bottom of many recipes for the authors’ input & suggestions). I really enjoyed cooking with this title and would highly recommend it if you’re looking for recipes that aren’t too time or prep intensive, but still full of flavor and healthy ingredients.
The color photography is stunning, the recipes are easy to understand, and more than anything, I think this is a beautiful guide to get you started with some simple recipes to add to your repertoire.
I received this book complimentary on behalf of the publisher, but all thoughts and opinions in this post are my own. All photography featured in this post is my own unless noted otherwise; please seek permission before copying or reproducing the images.
Book Stats: CIBI: Simple Japanese-inspired meals to share with family and friends by Meg and Zenta Tanaka
Page Count- 231
Binding- Hardcover with color photography