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15 ingredients you need in your pantry to master Japanese cooking

Justina Huddleston is an editor and the head writer for TDmonthly Magazine. She has been a freelance writer for several years, though her real passion is cooking. You can see the recipes she creates on her vegan food blog, A Life of Litt...

Learn to love Japanese cooking at home with these essential ingredients

Sure, you've had teriyaki, but there's so much more to Japanese cuisine. Many chefs say that Japan has the best food in the world, and we're inclined to agree. But it doesn't take a plane ticket or expensive dinner out to begin to explore the flavors of Japan. These pantry ingredients can be used to make everything from traditional miso soup to wasabi mashed potatoes and make putting together a Japanese-inspired meal easier than you might have thought.

1. Soy sauce/shoyu

Soy sauce is used in many, many Japanese dishes. Look for shoyu, a Japanese version made from soybeans and wheat, which has a lighter, sweeter flavor than Chinese soy sauce. If you have a wheat allergy, try wheat-free tamari (but make sure the label reads "gluten-free").

2. Mirin

An essential component of teriyaki and sukiyaki sauce, mirin is a naturally sweet rice wine that's used in a lot of iconic Japanese dishes.

3. Dried seaweed

Kombu, wakame and nori are widely used in Japanese cuisine. Kombu is used to make basic dashi stock, while dried sheets of nori are used to wrap sushi rolls. Wakame is a common ingredient in soups, including miso soup. It can also be reconstituted and used to make seaweed salad.

More: 10 types of seaweed you should be cooking with

4. Katsuboshi

Katsuboshi is dried, fermented, smoked skipjack tuna, usually sold flaked. Sometimes it is made from bonito, in which case you'll see it marketed as bonito flakes. Katsuboshi is one of the main ingredients of dashi, a Japanese broth that is the base of miso soup and many other soups and sauces.

5. Miso

Miso is a paste made from fermented soy beans. The most versatile and mild type is white miso, though the funkier red miso is also popular. Miso can be used to make soup, or it can be sweetened and used to glaze fish, meat and vegetables. For those avoiding soy, look for chickpea miso at your local natural foods store.

6. Dried shiitake mushrooms

Rich and full of umami, dried shiitake mushrooms can be used to make flavorful broths or can be reconstituted and added to soups and stir-fries.

7. Ponzu sauce

Made with citrus, soy, mirin and dashi, this dipping sauce is sweet, salty, tangy and savory all at once. Serve ponzu alongside dumplings, sushi or grilled meat.

8. Furikake

Furikake is a seasoning blend that makes quick work of adding a blast of Japanese flavors to whatever you're cooking. It usually contains dried seaweed, sesame seeds, salt, sugar and bonito flakes, though there are many other varieties. Try sprinkling it on rice, using it to season popcorn or even stirring some into your next batch of guacamole.

More: 19 reasons you should have furikake in your pantry

9. Medium-grain rice

Whether you're eating sushi, onigiri or teriyaki, rice is an essential Japanese ingredient. Look for medium-grain white or brown japonica rice or rice specifically labeled as sushi rice. A pot of perfectly cooked rice can be served alongside almost any Japanese meal.

10. Shichimi togarashi

Shichimi togarashi, also known as Japanese 7-spice, is a spicy blend of dried red peppers, Japanese pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, hemp seeds, ginger and nori. Sprinkle it on noodles or in soup, or add it to marinades for extra-flavorful meat.

11. Wasabi

Pungent, hot wasabi is a surprisingly versatile condiment made of grated wasabi root. It can accompany sushi, of course, but it also livens up mashed potatoes, deviled eggs and even smoothies. You can buy wasabi paste in tubes or in its powdered form. It's harder to find in the U.S., but if you come across fresh wasabi root, it's definitely worth a try.

12. Noodles

From buckwheat soba noodles to ramen and udon, having Japanese noodles on hand helps making dinner a cinch. Dried noodles will do in a pinch, but if you can get fresh noodles at a local Asian grocery store, it's worth making the trip. This simple soba noodle salad makes for a great lunch or quick and easy side dish.

13. Sake

Not only is sake an ideal accompaniment to your meals, but this rice wine is also an essential component in many Japanese sauces. It's often included homemade teriyaki sauce, and it can be used in stir-fry dishes too. Look for it at wine and liquor stores.

14. Sesame seeds

Toasted and ground or left whole, sesame seeds are used as an ingredient in different dishes or as a garnish.

15. Japanese curry powder

Curry is very popular in Japan, but make sure to get Japanese curry powder for the right blend of spices. Try this chicken curry rice for a comforting, hearty meal.

More: 25 Japanese recipes easy enough to make at home

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