The summers of my youth were often spent on the southern island of Kyushu Japan visiting my maternal grandparents. They live in what used to be a small, rural fishing/farming village about 2 hours from the nearest small airport (which for an island about the size of South Carolina is a long way).
For those of you that haven’t been to Asia in the summer, it’s hot and humid. The kind of “hot and humid” where you step outside and are met by a curtain of sticky, sweat-inducing heat that makes you want to turn right around to go take a shower. The only tolerable times of the day are sunrise and sunset, but due to the mosquitoes that come out at dusk, you really only want to be out at dawn.
Dawn was one of my favourite times in Japan, not just because of the temperatures, but because this was the time my ojiichan (grandpa) would take me fishing off a stone outcropping, and the time that my o-obaachan (great-grandmother) would take me out into the fields to pick cucumbers, daikon, shiso, and other bounties of the summer.
As the day heated up, we’d go back to the shelter of home for breakfast. Here is a recipe for one of my favorite breakfasts from those summers in Japan. Hiyashi-jiru (lit. chilled broth) is a regional specialty of the Miyazaki region of eastern Kyushu. The chilled crunchy cucumbers with the cold miso sesame broth are poured over hot rice which makes for a delightful appetite enhancing breakfast that’s both nutritious and filling.
While traditionally this is made with a fish based dashi, this can easily be made vegetarian by using a kombu (kelp) and shiitake (mushroom) based dashi. If you can’t find fresh Japanese or Lebanese cucumbers where you live, you can substitute a small hothouse cucumber with seeds removed, or other thin-skinned variety of cucumber. The shichimi is entirely optional, but the shiso really does add something if you’re able to find it (try Japanese markets or local sushi restaurants).
for the cucumber
3 Japanese or Lebanese cucumbers mandolined
1 tsp salt
for the broth
1/2 C good quality dashi
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbs ground toasted sesame seeds
2 Tbs white miso
5-6 green shiso leaves cut into a fine chiffonade
shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7 spice chili pepper)
Cover the mandonlined cucumbers with the salt and mix well to combine. The salt helps break down the cell membranes releasing much of the water contained in the cucumber. This effectively pickles the slices making them more crunchy than crispy. Press down on the cucumbers putting a weight on top (a small pan filled with water or a plate and a large can will do). Put it in the fridge for an hour to chill and release most of its juices.
To prepare the broth, make the dashi, adding 1 tsp of sugar to the warm dashi so it can dissolve. Allow it to come to room temperature then add the ground sesame seeds and miso. Place this in the fridge with the cucumbers to cool.
When the cucumbers are ready (you can tell by pressing a slice between your fingers, if it turns translucent it’s ready), squeeze out the liquid with your hands (you could also use a cheese cloth). The more liquid you get out, the crunchier they will be, so do your best to get as much water out as you can. Put the squeezed cucumbers in a bowl and cover with the chilled sauce. Add some of the shiso and mix to combine.
To serve, put some hot rice in a bowl and cover with the cucumbers and sauce, then garnish with remaining shiso and a couple dashes of the japanese chili pepper.
Update: I’m submitting this to the Tastes To Remember event.