This is one of our regular summer dinners, it’s a year-round favorite first course—and it’s part of the Japanese home cooking we love to eat (check out the Japanese Pancake with Pork and Tonkatsu Sauce and Japanese Ground Chicken and Egg over Rice). I vary the accoutrements (as Emma calls them), depending on who’s joining us. If it’s one of Emma’s friends I always have the sliced egg crepe, roasted black sesame seeds, sliced nori (seaweed) and inari (fried tofu that’s slightly sweet), chunks of avocado, and Emma’s fave (because it’s pink, sweet and candy-like), ogura. (She was appalled when I told her it was seasoned cod—I wish you could have seen the look on her face!—but not enough to turn her nose up once and for all). Bruce and I enjoy shitaki, shiso leaves, ginger, scallions, and umeboshi (pickled plum), which I chop and lightly mash. This dish is really a great appetizer for a smallish group–it’s fun to slurp, share and create different concoctions together.
What you do: Fill a serving bowl with cooked, drained and cooled (under cold running water) somen along with ice and enough cold water to cover. Each person gets his own little bowl filled with dipping sauce (scroll on down for the recipe) to which he adds a bunch of noodles, then tops them off with whatever combinations suit his fancy. When he’s finished, he can try another batch. And another.
Toppings: Chopped scallions; toasted black sesame seeds; sliced shiso leaves; uemboshi (pickled plum I pit, chop and lightly mash); sliced egg “crepe” (just tilt the pan until beaten eggs form a thin crepe); sliced shitake (from the dipping sauce, below) or other mushrooms like enouki; sliced nori or other seaweed, preferably dry; wasabi; grated or pickled ginger; inari and ogura (if you’re 12 and under, and can eat something sweet with just about anything); sauteed vegetable like Japanese eggplant; daikon or other sprout; avocado; even shredded chicken or pork, or shrimp. Really, you can use anything your heart desires.
3 cups water
1 1/2 cups dried bonito flakes
4 dried whole shitake mushrooms, softened for 30 minutes in lukewarm water
1/2 cup mirin
2/3 cup soy sauce
Bring all ingredients to a boil in a saucepan. Lower heat and cook for 5 minutes. Remove and strain, reserving shitake to slice and use as one of the toppings. Let the dipping sauce come to room temperature, then refrigerate. It keeps in the refrigerator for a week.