This is one of my favorite Japanese dishes—it’s quick, easy, refreshing, and yes, even my Caucasian husband loves it (Clay wanted me to make sure that was clear). Somen Salad is a traditional Japanese dish that can be prepared with any variety of ingredients, but it is always served cold and generally has several types of protein, which makes it perfect for the summer and perfect for husbands (and wives) who like working out.
It has a cold noodle base and a variety of vegetable and protein fixings. I have my favorites, but you can do any combination of the following: kamaboko (bright pink fish cake), cocktail shrimp, sliced turkey or ham, char siu (Chinese barbecue pork), scrambled egg (cooked very thin and cut into strips), cucumber, tomato, green onion, and iceberg lettuce. It can be made in individual servings or as a big dish, family style, and can easily be prepped a day in advance.
Serves: 4 (but can easily be halved for two, doubled, tripled, etc.)
Prep Time: 20 minutes, additional 10 minutes to chill the noodles
½ lb. Cocktail shrimp (I just buy the frozen, pre-cooked shrimp. It’s quick and easy.)
1 block Kamaboko (fish cake)
1 cucumber (preferably Japanese, but any cucumber will work)
3-4 small tomatoes
1 pkg. sliced deli meat (turkey or ham)
4 bundles somen noodles
Thaw the shrimp (or cook it and peel it). Slice the kamaboko. I usually cut it while it is still on the block and then pull the pieces off the block, but it can be done either way. In order to give the kamaboko a scalloped edge, cut with your knife halfway at a 45 degree angle and then jiggle your hand from side to side as you cut the rest. If that’s too confusing, just cut straight pieces.
Partially peel the cucumber and thinly slice. The thinner the better since it will absorb more flavor. Cut the tomatoes into chunks, and cut up the deli meat into small pieces.
Boil water and add the somen noodles. Make sure to mix immediately so they don’t stick together and then mix occasionally. Bring them to a boil again and add cold water. Do this three times to make sure that they are extra soft. After they are finished, strain them and immediately run cold water through them. If you want to serve the salad immediately, push ice cubes into the noodles to cool them down. If you are preparing this in advance, put them in the fridge to chill.
4 T. sugar
4 T. soy sauce
2 tsp. sesame oil and/or 4 T. roasted sesame seeds
4 T. vinegar (I use rice vinegar)
4 T. cooking oil
1 tsp. salt
Mix all the sauce ingredients in a bottle or bowl. Before serving, always make sure to shake or stir because the ingredients will separate.
You can either arrange all of the ingredients in individual bowls or mix everything together family style. Japanese value aesthetics, so my grandmother always makes her food look beautiful. She cuts her radishes, tomatoes, carrots, and other brightly colored things into stars and flowers. When I’m feeling particularly Japanese, I arrange each bowl individually by placing noodles on the bottom and arranging each of the other ingredients on the top. I spoon the sauce over the top, but often will provide an extra dish of sauce on the table. Chinese don’t worry too much about aesthetics – my mom said she never thought about arranging a salad bowl until she met my dad. When I’m feeling particularly Chinese, I throw everything together, including the sauce, and toss it.
If you can, use chopsticks. Not that it is particularly important to your enjoyment of this meal, but I think it is significantly easier to eat this meal with chopsticks rather than forks. According to my dad, Japanese chopsticks are far superior to Chinese because they are pointed rather than blunt. My mother begs to differ. See if you can tell the difference.