Champion of Japanese home cooking goes all-vegetarian with latest cookbook

Nancy Singleton Hachisu's latest cookbook is "Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook."

Nancy Singleton Hachisu’s dedication to all facets of the eating experience in Japan has resulted in a series of cookbooks, with the latest, “Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook,” bringing her to Bookshop Santa Cruz for an in-person conversation May 16.

This story was originally featured in this week’s Lily Belli on Food newsletter. Be first the first to hear about food and drink news in Santa Cruz County — sign up for Lily’s email newsletter here and text alerts here.

Nancy Singleton Hachisu was a young woman living in San Francisco when she first tried sushi — and she was hooked, not just on the food but on the feeling and the atmosphere of the sushi bar. Growing up one of six children in Atherton, the sense of peace and calm she felt in the sushi bar quickly became a feeling she wanted to capture.

She took a trip to Japan in 1988 to learn the language and customs, and she’s made the country her home ever since, living on an organic farm with her Japanese husband and raising their now-grown children. Her passion for Japanese cooking has only intensified, extending to all aspects — from the ingredients to the preparation to even the dishes the food is served on.

Since 2012, she has written multiple cookbooks dedicated to Japanese cuisine, and has become a champion for Japanese artisanal ingredients. Her latest book, “Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook,” came out April 27, and she’ll appear at Bookshop Santa Cruz later this month.

Inside Nancy Singleton Hachisu's latest cookbook, "Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook."

The new collection features 250 beautifully illustrated recipes, 95% of which are naturally vegan. Recipes are divided by cooking style, and the book includes extensive guidance on how to create many of the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine, including dashi and tempura batter. Hachisu’s son Andrew was instrumental in helping her with recipe testing, a collaborative effort they worked on during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Much of the inspiration for her books comes from Japanese temple cuisine.

“I’m not a Zen Buddhist but I cook in the same mindset — it’s about respecting the ingredients and that process, and how things are grown,” she said. “It’s trying not to put your finger on it too much and letting the food evolve from raw materials. It’s a philosophy of life; you can’t manhandle life.”

Nancy Singleton Hachisu will appear at Bookshop Santa Cruz on Tuesday, May 16, at 7 p.m. to discuss her new book, “Japan: The Vegetarian Cookbook.” The event is free, but registration is recommended.