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Diversity in Japanese Summer Foods

 Japanese soups and noodles are the most versatile food ever, one dish served winter with a few simple changes can be enjoyed in a different way in summer.  In the colder months, the most popular dishes will be heavier on the broth.  But during the summer months the same kind of food can be poached and presented in a lighter way.  As with other Asian cultures Japanese food is often communal, where food is prepared before everyone in the group and everyone just digs in.  Although these meals can be prepared individually.

Nabe or Nabemono means things in a cooking pot.  In Japan and Korea this dish is cooked in what is called a donabe, or cooking pot, and is served communally.  It is the most versatile Japanese dish ever and is easy to make at home.  Nabe is basically a broth with vegetables and meat added to it.  The base for this soup is what is called Dashi, which can be made with water, kombu or dried kelp and bonito flakes which is made of dried bonito fish.  Once you are finished making the stock, just add soy sauce and saki into the donabe.  On a side note, Dashi can also be the base of Miso soup.  And just by adding tofu, miso and chopped chives you can reproduce this excellent side soup.

Shabu Shabu, a type of Nabe is sliced prime beef and vegetables.  To set yourself up for this meal slice up some prime beef tenderloin or marbled ribeye that has been cooled but not completely frozen.  Chilled meat is easier to slice up and the beef needs to be cut deli style, extra thin.  Then choose what vegetables you want and slice them up as well.  Traditional vegetables for this tasty dish are Chinese cabbage, enoki mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, carrots and negi or Japanese scallions.

Once you have everything chopped and the broth is ready, all guests have their own soup bowl where they can dish from the donabe.  Vegetables and mushrooms are then added to the bowls.  Then depending on how hot the remaining soup is, one dips the beef slices in either their own broth or into the communal donabe until the meat changes color.

As Americans like condiments with their food, Nabe has its own.  Often served with Nabemono is Ponzu, a dipping sauce that can double as a marinade.  This tart sauce is made of Mirin, which is a type of rice wine, rice vinegar, tuna flakes, seaweed and fruit juice like lemon.  It is used to dip the meat in.  Ponzu is a must have when it comes to Japanese cuisine and can be bought at the local Asian food market, I like to go to the Asian Market on 76th street near Cass.

On the flip side, Rei Shabu is the summer equivalent of Shabu Shabu.  While Nabemono is more like a soup, Rei Shabu is like a salad.  The similarity between the two is the sliced up vegetables.  The vegetables often used for this dish are cucumber, carrot, daikon and tomato.  For this rendition you will need thin sliced pork.  Instead of dipping into a broth, the pork is dipped into boiling water until it is pink and then dipped into a plate of cold water.  The process is similar to poaching an egg.  Once everything has been prepped, then it all gets mixed into the dish.  Miso soup make a good side for this summer version of Nabe.

For traditional Japanese food including Shabu Shabu, Sakurabana provides a wide variety of Japanese food.  The restaurant may have a modernized appearance with a Western style seating, but they serve the same delicious Japanese food you would be able enjoy in Japan.  Their menu has six different Nabe and section for noodles which includes the Soba and Udon.

Ramen made in restaurants is beginning to gain popularity.  American people are now learning that Ramen is more than the instant noodles that they can by for $0.10 a package.  After I would go hiking over the mountains of Japan, I would always stop at a Ramen shop and order a large bowl of ramen to regain my strength.

To prepare ramen at home, you can purchase the noodles at your local asian grocery store or if necessary the bulk ramen at your grocery story.  Throw out the packets that come with them and make your soup.  You can prepare your own chicken, pork or miso broth.  Add your noodles, most often it will only take three minutes to prepare them.  Since it doesn’t take a lot of time for the noodles, it’s a good idea to prepare everything else before and add to the soup.  Slice up some green onions and throw in some nori, or dried seaweed.  One element to ramen is braised pork depending on the broth you choose.  If you choose a miso base, then shrimp is a good compliment.  The final touches for Ramen is the soft boiled egg sliced in half.

Somen is the summer version of ramen.  It is made with thin Japanese noodles which consists of wheat flower.  Since vegetable oil is used to make these noodles extra thin, if preparing at home, it is a good idea to rinse the noodles, another process just like poaching.  This dish was designed for summer and is served cold.  And similar to ramen, you add sliced cucumbers, ham and egg crepes to complete the meal.  Along with the noodles this dish is enjoyed with a dipping sauce called Tsuyu, which is a concentrated Dashi.  They can also be dipped in Ponzu.

Another version of ramen made in summer time is Hiyashi Chuka, which means chilled Chinese.  This dish is made with poached ramen and includes many of the same ingredients mentioned for ramen and somen.  All the cooked meat and vegetables are sliced and tossed onto the plate with the noodles.

For traditional ramen, Ika Ramen and Izakaya serves ramen just like a Japanese ramen shop.  Izakaya in Japan are informal gastropubs similar to the Irish pubs.  Located in Bensen, they play trendy music and have a happening atmosphere.  Along with ramen they also serve Donburi or Don for short, which is rice in an oversized bowl with meat and vegetables that have been simmered together.  

Soba or buckwheat noodles is another variation on Japanese noodles, they have a nutty flavor to them.  Like all the other noodles, they can be enjoyed either hot or cold.  They can be served in a dashi broth with vegetables or they can be served more like spaghetti made with Asian style seasoning.  After boiling the noodles, rinse and add them to the frying pan.  Instead of spaghetti sauce, the soba gets seasoned with sesame oil and then add the chopped vegetables.  Popular vegetables for this dish are scallions, bamboo shoots, daikon radishes and ginger.  One final touch for hot soba is the egg over easy.  Adding the egg will add a bit of creaminess to this dish.

The cold version of soba is just like the other noodles or soups, the noodles can either be poached or chilled in the refrigerated after made.  Then the noodles are tossed with the sliced vegetables of your choosing into a salad sesame dressing.  They  can also be dipped into Ponzu sauce and other dipping sauces for variety.

Japanese food offers many easy to make dishes and with some simple modifications can alter the way you enjoy the cuisine.  The heavy broth winter food by simply poaching noodles and meat can make the entree a lighter eating meal meant for summer enjoyment.  Since they are easy to make and easy to alter, you will impress your friends and family at your next gathering.

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