I have a confession to make: I am not a fan of potlucks. I've always found it to be a lot of pressure and kind of take them too seriously. But bringing a home-cooked dish to a party is not only financially practical for the party host and guests, but also supposed to be FUN, right? Arg.
I actually blame Hideko, my mother, for my fear of potlucks. Every year, there was a year-end picnic at my Japanese school, and all the mothers would bring something to eat. Hideko, who takes great pride in her cooking, would whip up something pretty ordinary (in my household at least), and at the picnic it would always be the first thing that disappeared off the tables. She would get all these compliments from other moms, and she would say something like, "Oh, it's not hard to make at all!" (Annoying).
While I of course was in awe of Hideko for pulling this off year after year, I was actually always more concerned with the dishes that no one touched. The dishes that mothers had taken time to make, but had gone unnoticed or overlooked entirely. It really takes a lot of talent to pick a sure-shot-Ace dish for parties and potlucks, and my mom had the gift and always made everything from scratch. Not everyone has this gift, and I guess I've always been sympathetic to this. I mean, how DEVASTATING that no one would eat what you brought to the party?
My potluck fears were put to the test a few weeks ago when I was invited to Johnny's family barbeque. The last-minute invitation came via email, to which everyone responded, "I'll be there! I'll bring ___!" Oh dear. I always try to get away with simply "making drinks" at their family gatherings, since Johnny's entire family -- two sisters, mom AND dad, all happen to be excellent cooks. But I figured it was time to flex my muscles a little and rise to the Potluck Challenge.
Clearly I'm more like Hideko than I'd like to admit and have too much pride to bring a loser dish to a potluck. So what would I make? I didn't have too much time to think about it but did browse through cookbooks and Japanify the night before the barbeque for ideas. I remembered I had harusame (bean thread/ cellophane noodles) in my Deep Hole and decided to go to the farmer's market in the morning to get some colorful vegetables for a fresh harusame salad. The weather would be HOT, especially down in San Jose, and I wanted to bring something cold and refreshing.
Serves 4-6 people
2 packets of harusame (I get these smaller invididual packets in Chinatown)
A few carrots and cucumbers
Handful of shiitake
1 tbsp sesame seeds
Optional: Ham, wakame (seaweed), green onions, parsley or cilantro
2 parts shoyu, sugar, rice vinegar
1 part sesame oil, water
Optional: Fish sauce, lemon juice, ginger
1. Soak noodles in cold water for five minutes.
2. Start boiling a pot of water.
3. Slice shiitake.
4. Once the water is boiling, lightly blanch the mushrooms.
5. Fish out the shiitake after a few minutes -- they're redy when the white is all one even shade.
6. Strain and run under cold water. Let air dry.
7. Don't waste the hot water! I'm sort of obsessed with reusing water when at all possible. Boil harusame in the water you used for the shiitake for a couple of minutes. They don't need to much time to cook through. Strain, run under cold water, and set aside to dry.
9. I HATE julienning or shredding vegetables. I just don't have the knife skills for it. So I cheat by using my peeler to make ribbons.
This is actually harder than it looks. There's no easy way out of this. I need to get a Benriner mandoline RIGHT NOW.
10. Same method for cucumbers. If you love to julienne, then by all means, knock yourself out.
11. Make an egg omelette. I used two eggs, but really only needed one.
12. Let the omelette cool down then cut up into small thin strips.
13. Arrange the salad in a nice Pyrex or Tupperware: harusame on the bottom, and the accoutrements on top.
14. Sprinkle some sesame seeds over the salad and chop up some cilantro. I'm really into cilantro these days.
15. Make the dressing to your taste. I found that mine needed some umph, so I added a bit of fish sauce and grated some ginger and splashed in some lemon juice. Bottle the dressing separately so the salad doesn't get all soggy en route to the party.
Wrap up the salad in a furoshiki cloth, put cilantro in a separate container, and don't forget the bottle of dressing!
Ready to go!
Once you get to your destination, ask for a big bowl and mix the salad altogether. There were green onions about to go to waste (sacrilege!) so I chopped and threw them in.
Garnish with fresh cilantro!
I wish this could be filed as Lazyass Cookin, but alas, there are too many steps to this salad. It's all pretty simple, but kinda time consuming. From start to finish, this salad took about 30 minutes to make.
And I hate to brag... but this was a hit at the party! It was almost all eaten, except for a few strands of carrots and cucumbers on the bottom (of course I checked!). A sprightly salad like this goes a long way at barbecues for meat eaters and vegetarians.
This is definitely my go-to dish for picnics and potlucks this summer. Harusame is awesome and so versatile. Enjoy!