Here's my antidote to August swelter: refreshing cold somen with an unbelievable sesame-miso dipping sauce. I wrote about somen last summer, too. These wheat noodles are thin like angel hair pasta, and take all of two minutes to prepare. And the dipping sauce is a function of mixing, not cooking -- so perfect for summer. The key is the suribachi, or a traditional Japanese-style mortar and pestle. I highly recommend you own one. The mortar is an earthenware bowl lined with grinding ridges, while the pestle is made from wood (the finest pestles are made from sansho pepper tree wood, which imparts its own delicate essence). The suribachi is ideal for grinding sesame seeds, the first step in the recipe; in fact, you can prepare the entire sauce in this one bowl (so fewer things to wash, another summer treat!). I topped my somen with needle-cut cucumber and sliced scallions, but you can use thin-sliced myoga or shiso, too (or both). Also, before you serve the noodles, place a few ice cubes on the plate you're using first. The ice cubes keep the somen cool, and also keep the noodles from sticking to each other. Light, vegetarian, hot-weather fare, this somen and miso sauce is so good, we've been eating it almost every week this summer. I adapted this version from the Sendai miso website (I love Sendai miso)...
3/4 cup sesame seeds (about 5 ounces or 140 grams)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup Sendai or other red miso (Sendai miso is available in the USA)
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1 cup water
400 grams dry somen, or more if you like (somen usually comes wrapped in 100 gram portions)
2 trays of ice
1 cucumber, sliced into thin needles (I use kirby cukes, which are the closest to the drier Japanese cucumbers that I love)
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, both white and green parts
Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil over high heat.
Use a suribachi, doing all the grinding and mixing with the pestle. Grind the sesame seeds in a suribachi until they turn into a paste. Add the sugar and grind until it combines with the sesame seeds. Add the miso and soy sauce and combine well. Slowly add the water, mixing all the while, until the ingredients become a thin sauce. Place the suribachi in the refrigerator until you're ready to use the sauce.
When the water boils, add the somen and cook for about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water until the noodles cool. You want to stop the cooking process as well as cool the somen. Add some ice cubes on top of the noodles in the colander to cool them further.
To serve, place ice cubes on 4 plates and divide the noodles among them. Top with the cucumbers and scallions. Divide the sesame-miso sauce into 4 dipping bowls. Serve the noodles and sauce side by side. To eat, dip the noodles and toppings into the sauce. Enjoy!