As you may have noticed, chilled noodles are a summertime favorite in Japan: an understandable reaction to the oppressive heat that falls over the country at this time of year. This version is not too different from Hiyashi somen, but you make it with thick Udon noodles instead of those thin Somen. The other difference is that the noodles, together with all the toppings, are put into each diner’s bowl from the start, rather than being taken little by little from common dishes at the table.
As toppings, you have some leeway to choose your favorite: a lot of people are fans of a Natto and Okra topping, others prefer roast pork, salad, grated daikon and so on. Me? I go for that soft-boiled egg…
Today, we made Hiyashi Udon because we were in a bit of a hurry and didn’t want to spend too long cooking. Another plus: here’s a dish you can make in 20 minutes flat. To save even more time, you could even use the same sauce you made for Somen on your Hiyashi Udon, but I prepared a slightly different sauce today.
August is when ginger is at its best. At this time of year, prices are low and you can find the fresh, fragrant roots everywhere.
If you read this blog regularly, you already know that Japanese home cooking is seasonal cooking. So, at this time of year, we make lots of deeply ginger-perfumed recipes – in part because of an old folk belief that this root helps fight off the sluggishness and lethargy you get when the weather gets really hot.
Here’s a flavored rice that puts ginger to good use. This spicy and refreshing ginger-scented rice goes great alongside fish. Best yet, it’s very easy to make: you just add some sliced ginger and a little bit of simple sauce, and cook it as you would plain white rice.
There’s a reason you usually don’t see aubergine recipes here: sadly, I have a pretty nasty food allergy to them. It’s terrible, because I was a huge fan until they started to make me ill, about three years ago. Today, though, I’ve decided that Yakinasu is worth blogging even if I can’t have any of it for myself. So here’s a recipe I made for some dinner guests last night.
As the name suggests (Yaki=grill, Nasu=aubergine), this recipe is really simple: basically just aubergines you’ve grilled and peeled. That’s it! Simple as it is, the results will definitely surprise you: grilling eggplants this way gives them a deep, smoky, earthy taste you’re going to love.
This recipe is not difficult at all, but it does call for patience and finesse. Part of what’s challenging about it is that you need to keep those eggplants on the grill long past the point where they look basically ruined: it’s by letting the skin char completely that you get that deep, smoky flavor. The result is so delicate and delicious, I think it’s an excellent choice for guests.
With this weather, there’s only one Japanese dish you think of: an ice-cold noodle specialty called Hiyashi Somen.
Besides being delicious, Hiyashi Somen’s also easy to turn from just a meal into an event. If you have a long cane of bamboo handy, you slice it in half, smooth out the inside, and you’re ready to make Nagashi Somen: a bamboo water slide for Somen. Everybody loves this, but especially kids, who have great fun picking out their lunch with their chopsticks as it moves down the half-pipe. (See the video)
I know the very concept of eating ice cold noodles strikes foreigners as especially weird and maybe not so appetizing. But you really should try these: they’re very easy to like. What can I say? On a hot summer day, there’s nothing as refreshing as an ice cold bowl of Somen.
Yes, you read that right, what we have here is stir-fried lettuce. I know it sounds strange, but just trust me on this one. Although the lettuce seems withered, you’ll see it remains surprisingly crunchy and delicious after cooking.
Simply seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh ginger, Ebi Lettuce Itame is a delightfully “assari” dish. This is one of those hard-to-translate terms: it means subtly flavored, delicately textured and light all around. Japanese culinary culture puts a big premium on this sort of thing – subtle, refreshing dishes that won’t leave you feeling weighed down or overstuffed. I guess this isn’t necessarily that fashionable in Western cooking, but in Japan calling a dish “assari” is high praise indeed.
So when you want something light but still more consistent than a salad, try some stir-fried shrimp with Lettuce.
How do you usually eat Tofu? In the Japanese repertoire, there are plenty of recipes to choose from, from Yu-dofu and Nabe to Miso soup, Kenchin-jiru, Agedashi tofu and Hiya-yakko, a popular fresh tofu recipe that I’ve not yet presented here.
In this recipe, I show you how to make a kind of fancied-up hiya-yakko using sesame oil rather than soy sauce. Why the need to fancy it up? Because, while simple Hiya-yakko sure is delicious, it’s just a little bit too plain a dish to serve guests. If you want to make a fresh tofu dish that’s sure to impress, this recipe is the solution for you.
A note of caution: these uncooked tofu recipes will turn out impossibly light and delicious if you use the right kind of tofu. Really, they live or die on the quality of the tofu you manage to get. In Kyoto, where silken tofu is a prized artesanal specialty made fresh each morning by traditional craftsmen, it’s hard to go wrong. Here in Montreal, where the tofu is ok but not necessarily fantastic, results can vary. Wherever you are, you should only try these using the best quality, softest silken tofu you can find.
And a tip: in North America, some quite decent Korean brands market this type of tofu as “extra silken”. That’s the kind you want.
Named after the golden red color of the autumn leaves by the Tatsuta River near Nara, as evoked in a famous poem dating from 9th century, Saba Tatsuta-age is a wonderful recipe to try when you manage to secure high quality mackerel (‘Saba’ in Japanese), whether fresh or frozen.
Though traditionally prized for the delicious taste you get when you seal in all of the fish fat, this method of cooking has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts as scientists have increasingly identified the health benefits of essential nutrients such as Omega-3, which are plentiful in mackerel and other blue-backed fish.
A secondary, but not inconsiderable, advantage is that this way of cooking mostly attenuates the strong, fishy-smell that’s typical of Blue-Backed fish. The result is a succulent fish dinner that’s nutritionally outstanding without the overpowering fishy taste you get from other ways of cooking mackarel.