The Japanese diet is packed with superfoods, which are foods with incredible nutritional benefits. The best part? All of these foods are readily available at Japanese supermarkets. Unfortunately, I have not taken advantage of all these healthy ingredients in my own daily cooking. Even worse, due to the pandemic, like many people, I’ve been spending way too much time inside; not exercising, and eating my stress away with konbini junk food.
It’s definitely time to revamp my diet. So, when TSC challenged me to make a week’s worth of meals containing Japanese superfoods, I was up for the task!
I wanted to make cheap, easy, healthy meals that I could cook on a busy weeknight. I also wanted to add some healthy Japanese ingredients to comfort foods I already love, to make them even healthier. Finally, I wanted to see just how many Japanese superfoods I could pack into my meals.
For each meal, I list the superfoods used, as well as their health benefits. Let’s see how I did! Perhaps you can even find inspiration for your own delicious and healthy Japanese meals.
Meal 1: Amazake, Soymilk, and Banana Smoothie
Japanese Superfood Used
- Amazake (甘酒): a good source of probiotics, high in Vitamins B1, B2, B6, folic acid, cysteine, glutamine, arginine, digestive enzymes, and amino acids.
I had a busy day of filming ahead, so I made a quick breakfast smoothie before leaving the house. Instead of my usual soy milk and banana smoothie, I wanted to try adding amazake. Amazake is made by fermenting steamed rice with rice koji fungus, however, unlike normal sake, it contains little to no alcohol. Due to its fermentation process, amazake is also highly nutritious. At first, I tried mixing just amazake and banana, but it was too sweet (even without any added sweetener), so I added some soy milk as well.
- 200ml amazake
- 100ml soymilk
- 1 banana
Blend and enjoy!
Conclusion: The amazake and banana sweetened the smoothie so well that I didn’t need any other sweetener. It was definitely a breakfast I will be making again, with a variety of frozen and fresh fruits.
Meal 2: Natto Cheese Avocado Toast
Japanese Superfood Used
- Natto (納豆): a good source of probiotics, calcium, iron, dietary fiber, and vitamin C.
Natto Avocado Toast
Natto is made of fermented soybeans. Recently, it has made the news for its nutritional benefits. Nattokinase, an enzyme in natto, has been shown to help with blood clots, making it good for heart health, and may even have cancer-fighting properties. Despite its benefits, natto’s funky smell and slimy texture can be off-putting to many. I’m not a fan of the sticky substance much either… unless it’s in a familiar form — cheesy toast!
Natto goes surprisingly well with melted cheese. Its nutty flavor and stringy texture make it taste almost like cheese itself. For some extra trendiness, and something green on my plate, I decided to take the dish one step further by adding avocado, making: natto cheese avocado toast.
- 50g Cheese
- 1 slice bread
- 50g natto
- ½ avocado
- 1tsp olive oil or cooking oil
- Garlic powder/paprika/salt/pepper to taste
- Coat the pan with a bit of oil (I used olive oil)
- Toast both sides of the bread in the pan with medium heat. Once the bread is done toasting, turn the heat to low
- Spread natto, then cheese, on top of the toasted bread
- Cover with a lid and cook until the cheese is melted
- Top with sliced avocado, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and paprika to taste.
Conclusion: This toast was very filling. It was also definitely preferable to eating natto plain. However, I might decrease the amount of natto next time I make it.
Meal 3: Seafood Donburi, Edamame/Wakame Salad, Azuki/Ginger Tea, Blueberry Crisp
Japanese Superfoods Used
- Zakkoku Rice (雑穀米): high in dietary fiber, vitamins B and C, calcium, iron, zinc, and magnesium
- Wakame (若布): high in iodine, folate, manganese, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, D, and K
- Azuki/Adzuki Beans (小豆): high in protein, fiber, manganese, folate, magnesium, vitamin B, and potassium.
- Edamame (枝豆): high in vitamin K, antioxidants, and fiber
- Okara (雪花菜): high in protein, calcium, and dietary fiber; low in calories and fat
Seafood Donburi with Zakkoku Rice
A donburi (丼) is a bowl of meat or fish served over rice. It’s a very easy dish to prepare, with just a few ingredients and very little cooking. I was inspired by this recipe, although I made a few changes.
For my donburi, I found some discounted sashimi at my local grocery store. I love being able to find cheap, safe raw fish at the supermarkets in Japan. You can make sure the fish you purchase at the supermarket is safe for raw consumption by looking for these kanji: 刺身用, which means “to be used for sashimi”.
The pack I found contained salmon, squid, tuna, and yellowtail. It also came with shiso leaves and wasabi for flavoring. Including a variety of fish in your diet is great for getting omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins D and B, as well as iodine and zinc. I mixed the sashimi with some soy sauce and left it to marinade while I prepared the rice.
Normal donburi is made with white rice, however, I chose to use zakkoku rice, which is white rice mixed with a variety of grains, beans, and seeds. Adding these extra grains increases the rice’s nutritional value.
To make zakkoku rice, all you need is a bag of regular rice, and these small packs of grains, which can be purchased at most Japanese supermarkets.
Zakkoku rice is easy to make — just wash the white rice, add the appropriate number of packs of zakkoku for the amount of rice you are making, add the usual amount of water, then turn on the rice cooker (using its normal settings).
Once cooked, the rice turned a lovely shade of purple! I completed the donburi with the other half of the avocado leftover from my natto-avocado toast.
Conclusion: This dish was great! It was very easy to make, healthy, and filling. I also thought the zakkoku rice tasted better than normal rice.
Wakame and Edamame Salad
I tried to increase the number of vegetables in my meal by making a wakame and edamame salad, following this recipe.
Conclusion: This salad was a failure. I liked the fishy flavor of the fresh seaweed and the salty/nutty flavor of the edamame separately… but together they were very odd. I needed to find a different way of preparing these foods. Fortunately, I still had the rest of the week to experiment.
Azuki Bean and Ginger Tea
I followed this recipe from Cookpad, but also added some ginger (because I like ginger tea). You can buy bags of dry azuki beans at Japanese supermarkets.
The tea is very easy to make. Simply mix 2 handfuls of azuki beans with 4 cups of water, then boil for 20 minutes.
Unfortunately, I got distracted cooking my other dishes and let the beans cook for 40 minutes instead of 20, so the tea became a bit cloudy.
Conclusion: With a bit of sugar, the tea was a nice hot drink, which tasted a little like the Japanese dessert zenzai. I think the tea would have been even better if I hadn’t cooked the beans for so long. Fortunately, you can save the cooked azuki beans for other recipes.
For dessert, I made blueberry crisp, one of my favorites. However, instead of wheat flour, I used okara powder. Okara powder is the soybean pulp leftover from making tofu and soy milk. It’s very low in calories and high in dietary fiber.
To make the crisp, I followed my usual recipe, although I halved the amounts and substituted the flour with okara powder.
Conclusion: It tasted almost like normal blueberry crisp, however, the texture was wrong. The okara stayed powdery, even after cooking. I think adding some kind of binding agent, like potato starch, could be helpful next time.
Meal 4: Edamame Soba, Tofu, Konjac Sashimi, Pickled Plums, Zakkoku Rice Pudding
Japanese Superfoods Used
- Konjac/Konjaku (蒟蒻): high in dietary fiber but very low in calories; it also contains protein, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, iron, zinc, and amino acids
- Umeboshi/Pickled Plums (梅干): a good source of potassium, fiber, and polyphenols (which may help reduce the risk of diabetes)
- Soba/Buckwheat Noodles (蕎麦): high in protein and fiber
- Tofu (豆腐): tofu has all nine amino acids; it’s also a good plant source of protein, manganese, phosphorus, iron, and calcium
- I also re-used the edamame and zakkoku rice
This meal was very easy to pull together on a busy weeknight. It took only five minutes to boil the soba noodles, drain them, then add a splash of soy sauce and sesame oil. I mixed in the rest of my edamame and topped them with chili flakes. I didn’t follow a recipe, but this one is very similar.
Tofu and Soy Sauce
Since my main dish was lacking in protein, I decided to eat a block of soft tofu as well. A dash of soy sauce brought out its natural sweetness.
I picked up this mysterious pack from the supermarket, unsure of what to expect. Konjac is a jelly-like substance made from the konjac, or konjaku, root. It is high in fiber, and low in calories (one pack of konjac was only 7 calories). So, it’s popular in Japan as a diet food.
The konjac sashimi had a slight fishy scent, which reminded me of actual fish, but almost no taste. The package instructs you to wash it thoroughly, which helped to get rid of some of the fishy smell. All the flavor came from the yellow sauce that was included in the package. The sauce tasted very similar to honey mustard.
Conclusion: The jelly texture was fun to eat, and the sauce was delicious. Altogether, it made a very easy, healthy side dish. I will definitely try it again.
Pickled Plums (Umeboshi)
No traditional Japanese meal is complete without tsukemono, small side dishes that cleanse the palate. So, I picked up a jar of pickled plums from the grocery store to go with my dinner.
Conclusion: These particular umeboshi pickles were a little too sour for me. But the taste depends on the brand, so I will have to try more types of plums in the future.
Zakkoku Rice Pudding
Another staple in my sweets and snack catalog is rice pudding, using this recipe from Taste of Home. I tried to increase the pudding’s health benefits by making it with leftover zakkoku rice.
Conclusion: Because the zakkoku rice was slightly sweet, I thought it would be good as rice pudding. Unfortunately, after prolonged cooking, I found that the zakkoku rice became bitter.
Meal 5: Shirataki Noodles with Soy-Butter Mushroom Sauce, Shiso and Lemon Tea, Sweet Potato Chocolate Pudding
Japanese Superfoods Used
- Shirataki Noodles (糸こんにゃく): these konjac-based noodles are only made of dietary fiber and water
- Shiso/Perilla Leaves (紫蘇): high in vitamin A, iron, calcium, and carotene
- Maitake mushrooms (舞茸): a good source of antioxidants, fiber, vitamin D, potassium, vitamin C, and copper
- Shiitake Mushrooms (椎茸): a good source of vitamin B and D, phosphorus, and potassium
- Eryngi Mushrooms (エリンギ): high in carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins B3 and D
- Japanese Sweet Potatoes (焼き芋): high in vitamins A, B5, and B6, as well as copper, iron, potassium, and fiber
Shirataki Noodles with Shoyu-Butter Mushroom Sauce
I found a whole selection of Japanese mushrooms in the discount fruit and veg bin of my local Japanese supermarket. I followed this recipe to make the Japanese butter-soy sauce pasta. However, I substituted normal noodles for shirataki noodles and changed up some of the mushrooms.
The shirataki noodles were even easier to use than regular noodles as you don’t need to cook them — I just rinsed them, and they were ready to be used.
I garnished my dish with some leftover shiso leaves.
Conclusion: The shirataki noodles had a more rubbery texture than regular noodles. However, it was amazing that something so delicious and filling could have so few calories.
Shiso and Lemon Tea
I boiled 10 shiso leaves with 200ml of water for 1 minute. Any longer and I read that the leaves would become bitter. I also added the juice of 1 lemon and sugar to taste.
The next day, the shiso-lemon tea made a great chilled lemonade!
Conclusion: this was a refreshing drink that I will be making all summer long.
Sweet Potato Chocolate Pudding
Japanese roasted sweet potatoes are delicious all on their own. However, I was craving chocolate pudding, so I was curious to see if I could use sweet potato as a base. I loosely followed this recipe I found online.
Conclusion: This sticky-sweet treat was very rich and satisfying. I will be making it again!
Meal 6: Miso Soup, Pickled Plums, Pickled Daikon, Green Tea
Japanese Superfoods Used
- Miso: a good source of probiotics, vitamins K, E, B, and C, as well as folic acid
- Nori: high in iodine, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, vitamin B12, and potassium
- Daikon Radish (大根): high in vitamin C, potassium, and phosphorus, and the enzyme myrosinase
- Sencha Green Tea (煎茶): high in cancer-fighting antioxidants and vitamin C
- I also re-used tofu, wakame, and pickled plums
I followed the basic recipe for miso soup from Just One Cookbook. You don’t need many ingredients for the soup, just some dashi broth powder, miso, tofu, and whatever seaweeds or vegetables you would like. I decided to add my leftover fresh wakame and some dried nori.
If you want to keep the miso’s probiotics alive, make sure to add the miso paste after the soup has been taken off the heat. Boiling the miso will kill all those gut-healthy bacteria.
Conclusion: Wakame seaweed tastes much better in miso soup than in wakame salad. The soup itself was warm and filling, perfect for a rainy spring day.
I prepared the daikon the night before, following this recipe so that it would be ready for lunch the next day.
Conclusion: The pickled daikon was very easy to make. It added a nice crunch and sharp flavor to the meal. Next time, I might also add a bit of sugar to make the pickles sweeter.
I completed my lunch with some more umeboshi plums as a tsukemono, and a cup of green tea, instead of my usual lunchtime coffee.
Meal 7: Natto, Mushroom and Cheese Omelet, Amazake-Banana Smoothie, Miso Soup
Japanese Superfoods Used
- Shimeji Mushrooms: high in potassium, protein, zinc, copper, and vitamins B and D
- I also re-used miso, natto, and amazake
Natto, Mushroom and Cheese Omelet
Back to my old favorite combination: natto and cheese. This time, I also included some mushrooms leftover from my shirataki noodle recipe. I followed this recipe from the Japanese cooking site Cookpad but replaced the mayonnaise with cheese.
(I cooked some shimeji mushrooms and set them aside)
(Then, I added the egg and natto to the pan)
(Then, I added mushrooms and cheese)
(Finally, I covered and cooked the omelet until the cheese melted)
Conclusion: The omelet came out great! It was filling, healthy, easy, and delicious. In fact, I liked it even better than the toast from earlier in the week. I could barely taste the natto at all.
I completed my brunch by adding in some leftover miso soup. I also re-made my amazake smoothie; this time with a frozen banana. I think I will start making these smoothies regularly!
Japanese Superfood Challenge Completed
It turns out that eating healthy in Japan isn’t as expensive as it might seem — as long as you use healthy Japanese ingredients, rather than imported American “health foods”. The total cost for all the ingredients was 6962 yen. I made a total of seven meals, all of which I doubled to serve two people. So, the average cost of a single meal was 497 yen. Plus, I still had some leftover ingredients.
The challenge was a fun chance to experiment with ingredients I never usually use. I also discovered how tasty, easy, and inexpensive it can be to include these ingredients in your daily life here in Japan. My favorite recipes were the edamame soba noodles and the banana-amazake smoothie, so be sure to give them a try.
What’s your experience with Japanese superfoods? Let us know in the comments!