(CNN)When it comes to Japanese food, we all know the basics.
Sushi. Ramen. Curry. Gyoza.
But then there are all those regional variations and specialties unique to each prefecture, many of which have yet to make their mark on global menus.
Tohoku, the northernmost region of Japan’s Honshu island, is particularly ripe for culinary exploration.
Japan food expert Elizabeth Andoh is the author of the book “KIBO — Brimming with Hope,” a collection of recipes and stories from Tohoku.
It was published following the 2011 Japan earthquake tragedy, with portions of the proceeds donated to recovery efforts.
Five years on, the beautiful mountainous region is welcoming visitors again, giving us more reason than ever to explore its cuisine.
The following KIBO excerpts highlight eight Japanese specialties that are popular in Tohoku. Entries have been edited for length.
Shiso maki: Walnut-miso stuffed shiso leaves
The Tohoku region is justly famous for its walnuts — large, meaty orbs that produce an incredibly rich, aromatic paste when roasted and crushed — and its miso — a full-bodied, red fermented soybean paste.
In this dish, the two local champions combine with toasted sesame to make an addictively tasty filling for shiso leaves.
Some Tohoku chefs will add a spicy spark to the sweet-and-salty miso mixture by adding a pinch of fiery shichimi togarashi (seven-spice blend) to the filling.
In the summertime, when fresh shiso grows in abundance, nuggets of the nutty filling are wound in the herb’s aromatic leaves before being lightly seared in sesame oil.
These stuffed leaves are terrific with an icy beer, chilled sake or hot green tea.
Hittsumi-jiru: Pinched noodle soup with pork
Salted, pressed rice sandwiches — onigiri — are easy to pack up, transport and eat, making them a substantial, satisfying finger food.
Most are shaped into triangles, though logs called tawara, or “rice sheath,” and balls are also common.
Plain, white rice stuffed (like a sandwich) with a filling is the norm, but maze gohan (cooked rice that has been tossed with other cooked foods) is also used in making onigiri.
Rice “sandwiches” are usually wrapped with strips of nori (laver), though onigiri are sometimes slathered with miso or brushed with soy sauce and grilled.
These are called yaki onigiri, or grilled pressed-rice.
Matsu no mi shira ae, kaki utsuwa: Persimmons stuffed with fall fruits in pine nut tofu sauce
Many food cultures scoop out juicy melons and citrus fruits then serve the fruit, cut into bite-sized pieces, in the hollowed-out shell.
In Japan, persimmons are used in a similar fashion.
The carved-out shell becomes an impressive cup in which the diced persimmon is served on its own or in combination with other fall fruits — grapes, pears, crisp apples — that have been doused with a classic sauce of pine nuts and tofu called shira ae.
To make the creamy sauce, some cooks merely mash tofu and season it with a drizzle of mirin (sweet rice wine) and a drop of usukuchi shoyu (light-colored soy sauce).
Others will blend mashed tofu with sweet, pale miso or a spoonful of rich sesame paste.
In the Tohoku region, many cooks add toasted, crushed pine nuts to enhance their rendition of shira ae.
Shake no kobu maki: Salmon-stuffed kelp rolls
Kelp, rolled into neat diploma-like scrolls and tied with edible gourd ribbons, are enjoyed throughout Japan, especially during the New Year holidays.
The classic Tohoku version stuffs the rolls with migaki nishin, a cured and dried herring.
They’re enjoyed as appetizers during the holidays in the Tohoku region, paired with celebratory sake, or served clustered together as a side dish at dinnertime.
8 Japanese dishes you’ve probably never heard of