Paging through a review copy of A Cook's Journey to Japan, a charming new cookbook filled with homestyle faves, I landed on the hiyashi chukka recipe, cold ramen noodles with sesame vinaigrette. Man, that looked good. While training in a Kyoto kitchen last month, during Japan's hot 'n humid rainy season, these refreshing, tangy noodles were always a delight served as makanai, or staff meal. Easy and fast to prepare, too. When I emailed author Sarah Marx Feldner and asked her to suggest a recipe to cook, guess which one she suggested? Yep, and here's what she wrote:
"I love this recipe because it brings back great memories of Japan. I first ate it as an ekiben [bento boxes sold on trains] while traveling along the Shimanto Gawa in Shikoku. And I enjoyed it once again one sweltering summer afternoon with my "Japanese family" in Iwaki, shortly before heading home to The States. It's a great summer dish because the dressing can be prepared well ahead of time. And the toppings are super flexible -- so it's a perfect recipe for highlighting your farmer's market finds."
Amen, Sarah. With this dish you pile a variety of toppings over cold ramen, then pour a sesame vinaigrette. Get creative with the toppings: mix and match crunchy, raw veggies, thin-sliced omelet (a must), and other ingredients -- just like I did. Here's the recipe for my adaptation of this fantastic dish:
For the dressing, from Sarah's book:
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons ground toasted sesame seeds
8 ounces fresh ramen noodles (sold at Asian markets)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 pound medium shrimp, boiled and peeled
1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks (use an uber-crunchy Japanese or Persian cuke, if possible)
1/2 yellow squash, cut into matchsticks
1 beautiful, perfectly ripe large tomato (like a beefsteak), cut into thin wedges
To make the dressing, combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Taste it. If it seems too vinegary to you, add a little more sugar (I use cane sugar at home which isn't as sweet as regular sugar, so I added an extra teaspoon). Also, if you really like sesame seeds (like yours truly), you can add an extra teaspoon or so. Set aside
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat (do not add salt). When the water is boiling, add the ramen noodles and cook for about 2 minutes until they're toothsome (pull one out, run under cold water and taste it to tell). Don't overcook. Drain into a colander and rinse under cold water. Set aside.
Use a piece of paper towel to wipe a thin film of vegetable oil the bottom skillet. Heat the skillet over medium heat. When it's ready, pour just enough egg to make a paper-thin layer. As soon as the egg is set, flip, and set aside. Repeat with the remaining egg, wiping the skillet bottom with more oil between omelets. Make sure your skillet is hot, so the egg won't stick. When you have a stack of paper-thin omelets, cut it in quarters, line the quarters up, then slice the omelet as thin as possible to make eggy threads (see page 32 of Sarah's book for a detailed description of this technique with process shots).
Now you're ready to assemble: Pile a mound of noodles in the center of a dish, and artfully arrange the toppings over them. Generously pour the dressing over the toppings and noodles, and you're ready to chow down!
Shout out to my wife, who suggested the shrimp -- great idea, honey. As we sat down for dinner, she also thought that chiffonaded shiso leaves would also be a nice touch. Yep, we'll have to go that next time.
(Thank you Sarah for sending me your book!)