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.
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.
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.
As you know, I’m not a big fan of sushi. On an average day, making sushi is far too much work for the home cook to take on: you have to make the rice, flavor it with vinegar, then let it cool, then make each sushi shape by hand, plus you need several different types of fish for credible sushi. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, who needs it?
But what if you have a craving for raw tuna, but don’t want to go to all the trouble to make sushi? In that case, try this maguro zuke-don recipe, a kind donburi (see also Oyako-don) made by placing sashimi (raw fish – in this case, tuna) over a bowl of normal white rice.
The great thing is that even very lean tuna – which doesn’t make for very good sushi – works quite well in Maguro zuke-don. The result is this easy, quick, and really satisfying dish.
Nuta is an ancient Japanese side dish: the first recipes for it appear in documents from the end of the Muromachi Era – some 450 years ago.
When I was a young girl, I can remember my grandmother making this for guests. But my feeling is that, in Japan, nuta has fallen out of favor over the years. You rarely see it on restaurant menus anymore, and few younger people seem to cook it at home these days.
I have no idea why that should be. Healthy, flavorful and extremely easy to make, nuta is poised for a come back if you ask me. In fact, over the years, I’ve discovered that people outside Japan love nuta. I always make it for my non-Japanese friends and it’s always a big hit.
Here, I share the vegetarian version of the dish, which is especially easy to make. But if you wanted to go further, you’d add squid to it for a show-stopper of a side dish. Just fantastic!
Butajiru is basically miso soup, but with one special ingredient: pork. The key thing here, though, is to go beyond just pork and add a lot of vegetables: enough to take it up a notch from the light broth you associate with Miso soup and turn it into the centerpiece of a meal.
What’s great about butajiru is that, once you chop all those vegetables, you don’t have to work a lot to make a really substantial meal. White rice, Butajiru and one small side dish (if you like) would make a perfect, well-balanced meal. So when cook is feeling a bit lazy, it’s a great solution: an easy warming dish for a cold winter day.
Because one thing I guarantee: Butajiru warms you up!
Nothing has done more to harm tofu’s reputation in the West than the sense that it’s “health food”. Lets face it: nobody wants to eat health food. “Health food” is just another way of saying “food that you eat despite the way it tastes”.
My philosophy is that you should never eat something primarily because it’s healthy: you should eat food because it’s delicious. The only way you keep coming back to a recipe, or to an ingredient, again and again is if your mouth waters when you think of it.
So here’s a dish to drive a mack truck through every idea you have about tofu. How about we bread it, fry it and suspend it in a lovely, deep dashi-based sauce? Agedashi tofu is a glorious dish, golden and soft and swimming in deep, delicate flavors that dissolve in your mouth like cotton candy.
For Agedashi tofu you can’t go without grated daikon. It’s easiest to get nice fresh and sweet daikon in autumn and winter, so agedashi tofu is another menu you should try now!