Cold Soba Noodles with Walnut Paste and Dashi

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It’s hot outside. You need cold pasta. You need radishes. You need this soba noodle salad.

This easy entree is a little bit salty, a little bit sweet, and entirely refreshing. You may not be used to seeing walnuts in a Japanese-style dish, but don’t omit this part. Trust me, it works.

Cold soba noodles with walnut paste and dashi

Ingredients:

1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 cups water
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 4-inch square dried kombu seaweed
2 ounces bonito flakes
1 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
6 ounces daikon, peeled and grated
6 green onions, thinly sliced
12 ounces soba noodles

1. Make the dashi: In a saucepan, combine water with mushrooms and let stand for 1 hour. Add kombu and bring the water to a boil. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the mushrooms and kombu, and stir in bonito flakes. Let steep for 10 minutes. Pour the dashi through a sieve set over a bowl and discard the bonito flakes. Set aside.

2. Make the kaeshi sauce base: in a small saucepan, combine soy sauce, mirin, and 2 tablespoons sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the sugar dissolves, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool. Set aside.

3. In a food processor, grind the walnuts with the remaining sugar until it forms a paste. Set aside.

4. In a small bowl, stir the dashi with the kaeshi sauce base to make a dipping sauce. Set aside. Decoratively place the grated radish and green onions on a serving plate, keeping each in its own separate pile.

5. In a large pot of boiling water, cook the soba noodles until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain the noodles and rinse the noodles under cold running water until the water runs clear. Drain again divide the noodles among 6 serving bowls. Serve the noodles immediately with the dipping sauces, grated radish, and scallions.

Goya Champuru (Okinawan Bitter Gourd Stir-Fry)

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For the uninitiated, goya champuru is a bitter gourd, pork, and egg stir-fry originating on the Japanese island of Okinawa. It’s like the comfort food I never grew up with, a dish balancing soft with crunchy, bitter with savory.

But is my version even goya champuru? I omit the traditional pork belly, which I understand is a pretty consistent ingredient despite there being countless versions of goya champuru throughout Okinawa. But you know what? This is still one of my favorite dishes to cook and eat. If you’ve never had bitter gourd you’re in for a treat. The soft tofu and ethereal eggs are a perfect foil for the astringent bitter melon.

Goya champuru

Ingredients:

3 small bitter melons (about 1 pound)
2 teaspoons salt
1 block (12 ounces) extra-firm tofu
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/3 cup dashi broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 eggs lightly beaten
1/3 cup bonito flakes

1. Cut each bitter melon in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, remove and discard the seeds. Slice the bitter melons crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons and transfer to a bowl. Add the salt, toss until evenly combined, and let stand for 20 minutes. Using your hands, squeeze the bitter melon to release as much liquid as possible, then transfer to a colander and rinse under cold running water. Squeeze again to drain any liquid, transfer to paper towels, and pat dry.

2. Place the tofu on a flat plate lined with a kitchen towel. Cover the tofu with another towel and plate and then weight the plate with two 14-ounce cans to press the tofu and release excess water. Let the tofu stand for 20 minutes. Remove the weights and uncover the tofu. Using your hands, crumble the tofu into 1-inch pieces into a bowl.

3. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over high. Add the bitter melon and cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes. Stir and cook 2 minutes more. Add the tofu along with the dashi and soy sauce and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and cook, stirring to break up the curds, until the eggs are just cooked, 2 minutes more. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the stir-fry onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with bonito flakes and serve warm.

Suya (West African Chicken Kababs)

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Suya, where have you been all my life? Suya is a grilled and skewered meat dish in many parts of West Africa, including Nigeria. These chicken suya are abundantly flecked with crushed peanuts and spices, adding a wonderful texture and layer of heat.

I often cook suya on a cast iron grill but an outdoor charcoal grill will of course be more flavorful. They make a delicious appetizer served alone, or you can serve them with rice for a filling entree.

Suya (West African chicken kebabs)

Ingredients:

1 cup roasted peanuts
1 inch peeled ginger
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 chicken bouillon cube
2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1/4 cup canola oil
salt and pepper
20 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

1. In a food processor, pulse the peanuts until finely chopped. Add the ginger, garlic, bouillon cube, paprika, onion powder and cayenne and pulse until a coarse and crumbly mixture forms. Spread the peanut mixture on a large plate.

2. Rub the chicken 
with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Thread the chicken onto the skewers and press into the peanut mixture to coat both sides. Arrange the skewers 
on a plate. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

3. In a cast iron grill pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Cook the chicken in batches over moderate heat, turning carefully, until deep golden and the chicken is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Repeat with the remaining oil and chicken. Serve warm.

Salmon Fish Curry

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The story of migration is often told through food. Growing up, my mom made perfect potato tahdig atop Iranian-style spaghetti, a testament to Italian-American-Iranian fusion. We found that Thanksgiving turkey went perfectly with baghali polo, an aromatic basmati rice and fava bean pilaf.

As I learn to cook Sri Lankan food, I’m discovering a similar story. For example, my Sri Lankan cookbooks instruct me to make red fish curry with tuna, but Nishan tells me his mom always used salmon when he was growing up in Canada. After all, salmon is ubiquitous in the great white north. And as it turns out, this curry tastes better with salmon than it does with tuna. Or maybe we’re biased. Maybe it’s nostalgia.

I serve this healthy, easy curry with homemade lemon pickle and Iranian-style rice and tahdig, adding yet another layer to our collective story of migration.

Salmon red fish curry with sauted leeks

Ingredients:

2 pounds wild salmon fillet, scaled and deboned
1 tablespoon tamarind, soaked in 1/4 cup warm water and solids discarded
2 tablespoons roasted curry powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
2-inch piece ginger, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 green chiles (such as Serrano), halved lengthwise
2 sprigs curry leaves
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

1. Cut salmon into 1-inch pieces and marinate in a mixture of the tamarind, curry powder, cayenne pepper, fenugreek, and paprika for 30 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Saute onions, ginger, garlic, green chiles, and curry leaves until onions are softened.

3. Add salmon to saucepan with water and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes until salmon is cooked.

Kelp and Mushroom Relish

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My first taste of kombu tsukudani was as a university student in San Francisco. My roommates were Japanese (hi Sanae!) and we’d often head to Nijiya Market in Japantown to do our grocery shopping. The first time I tasted this kelp relish, I fell in love with the salty, slightly-sweet, oceany flavor.

This tastes perfect on top of rice or as a filling in onigiri, but I also like it eat it by itself. If you make homemade dashi and find yourself with lots of leftover pieces of kombu seaweed, this is a perfect use. I like to add enoki mushrooms to the the mix for a textural contrast, but it tastes just as good without.

Kombu tsukudani

Ingredients:

About 50 square inches kombu, leftover from making dashi stock (or equivalent amount soaked in cold water for 20 minutes)
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sake
3 teaspoons mirin
5 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup enoki mushrooms, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths

1. Slice the kombu into narrow strips 1 1/2 inches long. In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of water to a boil and add the vinegar. The vinegar helps tenderize the kombu and eliminate bacteria.

2. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook the kombu for about 8 minutes. Test for doneness by pinching a strip of kombu: it should yield easily. If it does not, continue cooking for another 5 minutes. Drain under cold water and rinse.

3. Rinse and dry the saucepan and add the sugar, sake, mirin, and soy sauce. Bring to a simmer over low heat and add the kombu. Simmer for 4 minutes and add the mushrooms. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring often to not let the liquid scorch.

4. When the kombu looks glazed and the liquid has mostly reduced, remove the pan from the heat, let cool to room temperature, and serve.