Japanese food is so much more than sushi. This is something I learned not long after moving to Tokyo. Being a Minnesota girl I never realized that a good portion of food in Japan consists of noodles. A lot of them. With autumn beginning to creep in a little more day by day, noodles are becoming more prominent. The equation goes something like this: as the temperature decreases, the desire for hot, steamy noodles increases. Today was no exception. The weather was a perfectly mild 70 degrees (F) and as I type this I can hear raindrops falling gently on the ground outside our open window. Autumn is finally here. And it is the perfect time for a Japanese Noodle Tasting Dinner!
For this dinner party, I created a menu that introduced 4 different types of Japanese noodles. And the dessert is a bit of a surprise- noodley in appearance, but not in reality. Easily prepared in advance, this menu is a perfect way to take your dinner guests on a tour of the Japanese noodle scene in both traditional and not-so-traditional ways.
A few notes about a noodle-themed dinner: keep the portions small. With 4 noodle courses plus dessert your guests will be feeling full very quickly if the portions are too large. On the plus side, Japanese noodles are easy to prepare ahead. Many are typically served at room temperature, or even cold, so making the noodles in advance is the perfect way to save time and keep the meal moving along. In many cases, as you will see in the dishes here, the noodles are warmed by a broth or sauce poured over them.
Here is a look at the menu:
To begin the meal, I made a salad with somen noodles that were deep fried in sesame oil and vegetable oil. The nutty flavor of the sesame oil helped to showcase the sweet and salty taste of the somen. Since somen is often served with a citrusy dipping broth, the salad dressing incorporates the same ingredients used in a yuzu dipping sauce: kombu stock, yuzu juice, soy sauce and red pepper flakes. And what would a Tokyo Terrace dinner party be without a cocktail? I paired the salad with a drink that I call the Nihon (nee-hohn) 75. Similar to a French 75, this cocktail is made with crisp champagne, a floral sake, and yuzu juice. As opposed to its French friend, the Nihon 75 replaces gin with sake and lemon juice with yuzu. It showcases the crisp champagne, which pairs nicely with the crispy somen.
The next dish was Zuridashi Udon (zoo-ree-dah-shee, oo-don). According to Mari Fujii, author of The Enlightened Kitchen, Zuridashi Udon is a favorite dish of “novice Zen monks”. This dish is perfect for a crowd because the traditional way of serving it is in a large bowl (often the same bowl the noodles are cooked in). The noodles are lifted over the edge of the bowl or pot, which is why it is called Zuridashi. Various condiments are served with the noodles, pasta water included. I used green onions, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and ground sesame.
The third meal is simple but stunning. Buckwheat soba noodles served with broiled shrimp, scallions and asparagus. The noodles are served in bowls and we poured a warm soba broth made with kombu, soy sauce and sake right over the top. Everything about this dish is made ahead of time. All you need to do is heat the broth just before serving and it warms the whole dish on the spot!
The grand finale was Slow-Cooked Asian Short Ribs with Ramen Noodles. Perfectly cooked pork short ribs with lotus root and kabocha squash provide a hint of traditional ramen. This is a true East meet Midwest Tokyo Terrace dish that combines Grandma’s pot roast with Japan’s famous pork ramen. To make it even more Midwestern, I used the Crockpot I schlepped from Minnesota to Tokyo in August. Totally worth it. The meat was so tender and juicy that it fell apart using just a little nudge from our chopsticks. I wish you could have seen the look on our friend Danny’s face after his first bite. A hands-off dish that is full of flavor and a dream for a host and your guests!
When throwing a dinner party, don’t feel pressured to make everything yourself. I often times leave the dessert up to my friends or my local bakery, as I did for this dinner party. I wanted a dessert that looked like noodles but, well, wasn’t noodles at all. I stumbled on these beautiful Mont Blanc cakes at a bakery in Shibuya just last night. I was walking by and something caught my attention from the busy sidewalk. There they were: perfect Mont Blanc cakes for our dinner party! The cakes are covered in a chestnut cream. Underneath the noodlesque exterior is a center full of fresh cream and a base made of soft yellow cake.
Another option I have served in the past is rich, creamy Affogatto. Affogato is simply vanilla ice cream with espresso poured over the top. Simple and comforting at the end of any meal.
This dinner party was a huge success. Preparation was simple with the use of my Crockpot and the help of my husband. Seriously. I couldn’t throw a dinner party without him. During the meal, I was able to sit down with my guests and enjoy the food (although I was taking these photos throughout the dinner…with many apologies, of course), which was a nice change of pace. And who could complain about getting to sample such a variety of Japanese noodles in one dinner?
For more of my tips on entertaining, click here.
Makes about 6 cups
A couple recipes call for kombu stock. Use this recipe as needed.
1 4-5 inch piece of kombu
6 cups water
Fill a pot with the water. Add the kombu and allow it to sit for at least 30 minutes and up to overnight. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat. Lower to a simmer and allow to cook for about 30 minutes. Remove the kombu, take the pan off the heat, and set aside to cool. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
Crunchy Somen Salad
For the salad:
1 bundle somen noodles
3 cups vegetable oil, for frying
2 Tablespoons sesame oil
1 head bibb lettuce, chopped
1/2 cup wakame
1 cup radish sprouts
For the dressing:
1 cup kombu stock
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons yuzu (or lemon) juice
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the somen noodles and allow to cook for 30 seconds. Remove and rinse with cold water. Blot the noodles dry with paper towels and keep in a bowl. Set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, heat the vegetable and sesame oils until they reach about 300 degrees. Divide the somen noodles into 5 or 6 bundles and set on a plate. Working with one bundle at a time, gently drop the noodles into the oil. Use a slotted spoon to keep the noodles from spreading out in the pan. Allow to cook for about 1 minute. Remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Continue with the remaining batches.
For the salad:
On each serving place, place a layer of lettuce, then wakame, and finally radish sprouts. Top with a next of somen.
For the dressing:
Combine the kombu stock with the soy sauce, yuzu (or lemon) juice, and red pepper flakes. Set aside until ready to serve. When ready to serve, drizzle the salads with the dressing.
14 oz. dried udon noodles (the thin, ribbon-like variety rather than the thick)
crushed sesame seeds
green onions, chopped
fresh ginger, chopped
fresh garlic, chopped
red pepper flakes
Fill a large pot or nabe with water. Bring to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until al-dente, about 3 minutes. Transfer the pot to the dinner table and have guests serve themselves. (Provide them with bowls, not plates.) Guests can top their noodles with the assortment of condiments.
Soba with Shrimp, Scallions & Asparagus
12-18 Shrimp, shell on
14 oz. buckwheat soba
1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed
1 bunch scallions, green parts only, cut into 2 inch pieces
For the broth:
4 cups kombu stock
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the soba and cook until al dente, about 4 minutes. Drain and rinse well with cold water. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
On a baking sheet, arrange the shrimp, asparagus and scallions. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper . Place under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, or until the shrimp are pink. Keep an eye on everything to ensure nothing burns! If the veggies are cooking too quickly, remove them and return the shrimp to the oven.
Combine the kombu stock and sake in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil. After about 2-3 minutes, remove from the heat and stir in the soy sauce. Transfer to a small heatproof pitcher and serve on the table with the soba.
On a serving plate, arrange the soba noodles, then the scallions and asparagus. Finally, place the shrimp on top. Provide guests with bowls and serve family style. Guests should pour the broth over the noodles.
Slow-Cooked Asian Short Ribs with Ramen Noodles
14 oz. ramen noodles, fresh or dried
10-12 short ribs
1 cup of flour
salt and pepper
1/2 a kabocha squash, 1/2 inch slices
1 cup lotus root, peeled, cut into 1/2 inch slices and quartered
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sake
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 star anise pods
1/3 cup chopped green onions
Pat the short ribs dry with a paper towel. Combine the flour with the salt and pepper in a wide bowl or plate. Lightly whisk together using a fork. Dredge the ribs in the flour and set on a plate.
In a large skillet, heat the oil. When the ribs have been dredged in flour, place them in the hot skillet and brown on all sides, about 1-2 minutes per side. Set on a plate.
In the slow cooker, combine the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, onion, brown sugar, sake, rice wine vinegar and star anise. Stir together to dissolve the sugar. Add the short ribs. Layer the kabocha and lotus root on top. Cook on high heat for 7 hours, turning the ribs once about half-way through.
Prepare the ramen noodles according to the package directions.
On each plate, place a layer of noodles, top with the short ribs, veggies, and some sauce. Sprinkle with chopped green onions and orange zest. Serve immediately.