The one (and only) thing that I miss about the disgustingly humid temperatures in Tokyo is the arrival of cold noodle dishes on menus everywhere. During the hot months of June through September, I would convince myself that I deserved a daily reward of a big bowl of cold noodles for surviving each hot day. There are many hiyashi-men (cold noodle) dishes, but the most common ones are zaru soba, somen, hiyashi chuka and nikumiso udon.
Hiyashi, means "chilled." A Japanese food-lover may be reminded of other dishes that use variations of that word including hiyayakko (cold tofu), ohiya (ice water), hiya-sake (cold sake). During the hot summer months, hiyashi and hiya is a selling-point and people gravitate towards these menu items to temporarily relieve themselves from salaryman-stuffed subways and sweat-spattered sidewalks.
Since I have already posted recipes for zaru soba and somen on Japanify, I will start out this two-part series by introducing a recipe for nikumiso udon (miso-meat udon). This sweet and spicy dish is a favorite among children because the flavors are simple. The textures in the dish are satisfying during the heat--crispy cucumbers and crumbly meat with slippery noodles.
The miso that many people use for nikumiso is called hatcho miso, which is popular in Nagoya. It is black in color and is fermented for much longer than regular aka (red) and shiro (white) misos. Since I don't regularly stock my fridge with hatcho miso, I decided to use aka miso for my nikumiso udon. Although the meat mixture doesn't come out very dark in color, I was happy with the taste of my final product.
Nikumiso (Miso-Meat) Udon
2 servings udon
1/2 lb. ground chicken or pork
1 tsp salad oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Japanese or Persian cucumber julienned
2 tbsp miso (aka or hatcho)
1 tbsp sake
1 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp chili sauce (hunan style or tobanjan)
1. Julienne cucumbers and set aside in fridge.
2. Mix ingredients for sauce in a bowl or cup.
3. Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Cook udon.
4. Drain the udon and flush with cold water. Prepare an ice bath for the udon and place the strainer full of noodles in the ice bath.
5. In a pan, heat oil on high. Add the meat and break it up with a spatula. Fry the meat for 4-5 minutes. Dial down the heat to medium-low.
6. Add sauce to the pan with meat in it. Mix the meat around until it is well coated with the sauce. Turn off the heat.
7. Strain the cold udon noodles.
8. Take a handful of noodles and place them into a bowl. Top with meat on one side and cucumbers on the other.
Mix it up well when eating so the flavors evenly coat each noodle.
This dish is a real treat on a sunny day off. I can imagine inviting four or five friends over on a Sunday afternoon and enjoying nikumiso udon and a six-pack of beer in the backyard.
Stay tuned next week for Hiyashi Chuka (cold ramen salad), as we continue Japanify's Summer Slurp Series.