It’s really hot here, like it is in a whole lot of the rest of the world these days. It’s so hot that between the hours of 1 and 4, the Stooges do not go outside, even though they want to (they have a tendency to plunk themselves down in full sun, and then forget to take themselves out of it, whereupon they need to be called back in, and they do, panting furiously and looking somewhat dazed). (This is one of the many reasons why they are Stooges.)
Dog days comes from the Latin dies caniculares and, as wikipedia.org reveals, “The name comes from the ancient belief that Sirius, also called the Dog Star, was somehow responsible for the hot weather.”
Finding an appetite when it’s this hot ain’t easy. Remembered a dish of cold soba noodles, served with a vinegar/soy sauce, from many many moons ago. Funny how some dishes are cyclical, or native to a period in your life (Like, Oh! Here’s when I was a vegetarian! Or: Here’s where I was sticking it to my parents and only eating white things! And then you think of the food you used to eat then, and sometimes you wince and say, What a pretentious git was I, or maybe you don’t; maybe you have a Proustian moment and are transported on angel's wings back into a special kitchen. Or not.). Ramen noodles are certainly a period piece. We ate them a whole lot right out of college; they were quick, easy, cheap (5 packets for one dollar, those were the days).
Higher on the food chain was a cold soba noodle dish. It seemed, somehow, to lower the temperature within oneself and beyond oneself. Simple, unadorned except for that perfectly-mixed sauce/dip/condiment.
Hadn’t made the dish in far too long. So spoke with sister, who’s done several stints in Japan, about how to cook the noodle (it’s very easy to overcook). Her method, the Japanese one, is to bring a pot of water to boil, throw in the noodles, bring it back to a boil, add a cup of water, back to a boil, and repeat the action two more times. Various web folk said throw it in the pot, but guard it carefully.
Wrote to pal Paula, who has done numerous stints in Japan, and therefore qualifies as an authority (high school exchange student, junior year abroad, TESL, three years in the 90s). She has very nicely provided the classic recipe below, and then there’s my total bastardization of it to follow. Paula notes that she prefers making this dish with somen noodles, “the much thinner wheat noodles which often come in serving size bundles.”
But back to the cooking: guarded it so carefully that the Stooges, carefully arrayed on cool, soothing tiles at my feet, got to taste the noodle while it cooked. This is certainly the first time they have had any Japanese food. They did not seem at all puzzled by it, but then again, they are omnivores; indeed, they seemed to like it, looked at me expectantly, hoping that the quest for al dente soba was still in progress. (It wasn’t, after that first proof.)
冷やしそめん (hiyashi means cold)
Prepare a dipping sauce:
2 T. mirin
1/4 c. soy sauce
1 c. dashi or broth (recipe below)
2 T. rice vinegar
1 t. sesame oil
1 piece of konbu (dried kelp)
¼ c. katsuobushi (bonito shavings)
1-5 c. water depending on your need
Boil for 3 minutes and strain. (From Paula: “Last night I boiled a cup of chicken broth with scallions, slivered ginger and a Thai chili pepper to make my broth.”)
¼ c. fresh cilantro, chopped
3 green onions finely chopped (best if you put them in a thin cloth, run under cold water, and then squeeze out excess water)
1 large carrot cut into 1 inch pieces and julienned
½ c. julienned cucumberShredded lettuce
½ c. julienned sweet red pepper (not traditional but good)
Toasted nori cut into thin strips
Optional: Any or all of the following:
½ c. tofu-kan thinly sliced
1 block kamaboko (fish cake) finely chopped
Tamago yaki (beat 2 eggs, fry as you would a thin omelet and cut into fine strips)
Heat a pot of water to boiling. Drop noodles into pot and stir to fully submerge. Boil for 3 minutes. Drain and run under cold water. Place in a bowl with ice cubes.Serving:In each serving bowl place the desired amount of noodles and an ice cube.Top with desired toppings.Pour one or two spoonfuls of dipping sauce over each bowl.In the summer this is often served as a full meal but also might be accompanied by a square of cool, fresh momen dofu (tofu) with shoyu and wasabi.Paula suggests the following, “For a fancier meal we like to eat it with cold poached white chicken. We usually use a recipe from The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller.”
Cold soba noodles with tofu, leek, and cucumber
200 gr. soba noodles
1 T. toasted sesame oil
1 T. red-wine vinegar
300 gr.tofu, chopped into uniform cubes
2 young leeks, shredded
¼ c. toasted sesame seeds
½ cucumber, seeded, sliced into crescent moons
3 T. low-salt soy sauce, shoyu, or tamari
2 T. red-wine vinegar
2-3 T. mirin
Multiple generous shakings of Shichimi Togarashi
Throw the noodles into a pot of boiling water and zealously guard it. They should be done in about three minutes, but do check before removing from the flame and draining. Pour cold water over the noodles while they cool down in the colander.
Put into a bowl, add the shredded leeks, diced tofu and cucumber. Mix the soy sauce, red-wine vinegar, and mirin, pour over the salad, toss gently.
Vigorously apply the Shichimi Togarashi, and serve.
 Spaghetti puttanesca is equally cheap, but who knew about that dish then?
 The label kindly informs us that it contains red pepper, orange peel, yellow and black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, sea weed, ginger. Rather than try this concoction at home, buy it.