It may not be my favorite season, but summer is great if you love food. With the farmers markets a veritable cornucopia of vibrant produce, and my own tomato vines laden with sun ripened gems of various shades, it’s an exciting season to be in the kitchen cooking. But by the time August rolls around, the elation of summer’s bounty starts to wear off and the ever-rising mercury begins to teeter on unbearable.
This is the time of the year I turn to chilled noodle dishes because they require very little actual cooking and yet they provide a hunger quenching meal that’s a nice change of pace from an endless stream of salads.
This chilled udon dish is actually a noodle soup, complete with an ice cold tomato broth. It’s a bit like a Japanese gazpacho with slippery udon noodles that cool you off with each slurp. The broth is a blend of freshly juiced tomatoes with ground toasted sesame and Japanese dashi stock. The combination makes for a refreshing sweet and tangy broth with some nutty richness contributed by the sesame seeds, and a marvelous smoky umami from the dashi.
I used very thin inaniwa style udon noodles for this because they’re lighter than ordinary udon, but thicker varieties will work just fine, and soba noodles are another great alternative. As for the topping, I used a thread-thin julienne of green shiso, but basil (which is in the same Lamiaceae family as mint and shiso) will work in a pinch.
Lastly I know this is pretty obvious, but the key to this dish is to use very ripe, very sweet tomatoes. If your tomatoes are mealy and taste like sour water, your soup won’t taste very good either. If you can’t find good tomatoes, bottled tomato juice will work better than using bland tomatoes.
Grind the sesame seeds, using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and then add the ground sesame seeds to a bowl.
Core the tomatoes and then chop them small enough so that they will fit in your juicer (you should end up with about 1 1/2 cups of juice). If you don't have you a juicer you can blend them together with the dashi and then pass then through a sieve to remove any seeds and skin.
Add the tomato juice, dashi and salt to the bowl with the sesame seeds and stir to combine. Adjust salt to taste. Chill the soup until you are ready to serve.
Boil the udon noodles according to the package directions. Drain the noodles and then rinse thoroughly with cold water until the noodles are cold. You can also add ice to the water to speed this up.
Split the tomato stock between two bowls and then add a mound of udon noodles. Garnish with some more sesame seeds and some julienned green shiso.