whoever decided to call this stuff “fermented bean paste” clearly had no concept of what sounds appetizing and what does not. if i were asked on the street, “excuse me, would you like a bowl of fermented bean paste soup?”, you can bet your butt i would say no. but “miso soup”? i would be all over that like white on rice.
think about any pasta salad you have ever had. did it involve copious amounts of mayo and/or butter? yeah, that’s what i thought.
as a midwesterner, i am far too familiar with that cloying texture. the sound of pasta salad squelching as you dig a spoon into it still haunts my nightmares. i have learned to fear the gradually deepening yellow color of the salad as it becomes warmer and warmer in the intense heat of outdoor barbecue parties. yes, i begrudgingly enjoy it now and again. but i can feel my arteries screaming in pain as i masticate every bite.
imagine eating a big fat plate of the southern-style pasta salad i just described as the main course of lunch. imagine the unending stomach pains that would result. imagine the huge spike in your blood pressure. imagine all those veggies, still half-buried in their fields somewhere, calling for the imposter “salad” to be deposed.
luckily, somewhere in a lab deep beneath the earth, japanese scientists and farmers were cooperating to create a new breed of pasta salad implementing an innovative hybrid noodle. a noodle with texture, a noodle with flavor, a noodle so fresh that veggies would shriek and swoon at the prospect of being mixed in the same bowl (if they could shriek or swoon).
and they called that noodle harusame.
made of mung bean starch, water, and magic, they are the perfect choice for a fresh, filling, and absolutely delicious summer salad.
when june rolls around in japan, the weather takes a turn for the worst. these few weeks between spring and full-fledged summer are characterized on this side of the world by rain almost every day, intense heat, and truly ridiculous humidity. the japanese call this weather tsuyu, which is of course their word meaning “to die of asphyxiation because the air is so laden with moisture you could drown whilst walking to the grocery store.”
that being said, atrocious weather isn’t the only herald of summer. because of the amazing raw food culture that japan has, all kinds of tasty and extremely fresh foods start appearing in the mom and pop small restaurants all over the country the moment june swings into full-force. while it may seem strange to most of us in the west (with the exclusion of pasta salad, which i was never really that big on anyway), cold noodle dishes like zarusoba and hiyashi chuka become very easy to consume in quantity when the mercury goes through the roof.
and in my mind, there is no cold noodle dish that can hold a candle to sōmen. these japane
se noodles are made from wheat flour and have a milky white color to them, much like udon. but sōmen stand alone in that their diameter is extremely thin (less than 1.3 mm by definition), which makes them super delicate and incredibly fast cooking. once cooked and flash chilled, the noodles are generally added to a deliciously salty broth and topped with all manner of awesome fresh produce.
yesterday, i got to hankering, and decided to give it a go.
i like to tell my friends that, when it comes to cooking, there are three kinds of people in this world.
first, there are the people who have a million different knives, none of which are sharp or useful. second, there are the people who use their knife until it is no longer sharp, and then throw it away and buy a new one.
last, there are people who have one knife that they keep so ridiculously sharp it is at risk of cutting through the food, the cutting board, and the counter beneath.
while this categorization is a little bit cut and dry (no pun intended), there is some truth to it. i admit, i used to be the second type of person. but i can confidently say that now, i am the third type through and through. in my opinion, one knife is all you need as long as you care for it and know how to use it properly.
and when it comes to using a knife properly, japan takes the cake. not only are their knives incredible, the people who wield them command incredible respect and admiration. i have been to a few sushi restaurants that consist of nothing more than a counter and chairs, but left with the feeling that i had been to a five-star restaurant. the flavor of sashimi, maybe more than any other food in the world, is determined entirely by freshness and the knife used to prepare it.
so i thought, why not make sashimi at home? and then i thought, “i’m not a 85-year-old japanese man who can slice perfect sashimi in his sleepo, that’s why.” and then i thought, “even those guys had to start somewhere.”
and then i went and bought some fish. my knife did not disappoint.
close your eyes and imagine you are a five-year-old. it is your birthday, and your parents have tied a bandana around your head to cover your eyes with. the time for presents has come, and when the big reveal finally happens, you find a mini-clydesdale standing in front of you.
it’s a horse, and as a five-year-old, you realize how awesome that is. but once this realization passes, aren’t really sure where to go from here. you don’t know if it will be your friend. you don’t know if it is dangerous or not. you aren’t even sure what an animal like a mini-clydesdale can be used for. can you ride it? do you take it for walks? does it stay in your house or outside? because you don’t know the answers to any of these questions, you just kind of stand there slack-jawed in surprise and excitement and confusion.
now imagine that you are you, and the mini-clydesdale is the perfect 10. i gave you a list. i did a good job of telling you why i made the list in the way i did. but i didn’t really tell you what it is good for.
so now, i’m going to teach you how to ride the mini-clydesdale. that’s right, it is recipe time.