Being that summer weather makes cooking slightly hellish, during the last few days, I have been needing to restrict oven use to before noon (if I even bother to use it at all), although firing up the stove has not been that horrible and can still be tolerated in small doses. Simplicity in food prep also seems to help when those long, hot summer days make people feel sluggish. My current cold cereal habit is somewhat of an example of adapting dietary habits in accordance to the change in weather.
But eating cereal all day long won't cut it, at least not for this gal. Despite my sweet tooth, I hardly feel like I've had anything substantial unless my food intake for the day includes something savory. At a recent outing to a Japanese restaurant with my family, one of the items included with my mom's meal was a tiny arrangement of what looked to be thin shavings of cucumber and wakame, a type of seaweed. Indulging my curiosity, my mom had me try a bit of the simple little salad, which ended up having an enjoyable, well-balanced sweet-savory-tangy flavor. She explained that when she worked with a catering company years ago in Hawaii, that same salad--called namasu--was a staple item on the menu and was a result of Japanese influence on local cuisine. Made from only a handful of ingredients and served cold or at room temperature, it was easy to prepare in varying quantities and perfect for enjoying on those typical hot, humid days on the island.
Recreating namasu at home was incredibly easy, as the ingredients are few and easy to both find and prepare. After asking my mother about the basic components of the salad, I did a quick online search to help me to work out some idea of the proportions of ingredients and discovered that this particular dish is often referred to as kiyuri namasu, translated as "cucumber salad" or "pickled cucumbers." I did not end up using a particular recipe (although many were very similar to one another), opting rather to just keep the ratios of ingredients in mind and playing it by ear. Most of the recipes did not actually call for wakame--some included it as an element of more elaborate variations of cucumber salads--so I added what I deemed an appropriate amount to the basic kiyuri namasu formula. It's easily omitted if seaweed is unavailable or unwanted, but I think it contributes a nice flavor and more texture and visual interest to such a simple dish.
Kiyuri Namasu (Cucumber Salad/Pickled Cucumbers) (printable recipe)
Yields 6-8 servings
2 English/"seedless" cucumbers
1/3 c brown rice vinegar
1 1/2 T sugar
1/2 tsp grated ginger
3 T dried wakame
1/4 c warm water
Salt to taste
In a small bowl, reconstitute the wakame by covering it with warm water and allowing it sit for a few minutes. Peel the cucumbers (you can leave some strips of green, as I did, for visual appeal), scoop out any remaining seeds, and thinly slice. Place slices in a colander, sprinkle them lightly with salt, and allow to drain while you prepare the dressing.
In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar and sugar. Heat over low flame until the sugar is just dissolved, then remove from heat and stir in the grated ginger. Drain the cucumber and gently squeeze out excess liquid, then place the slices in a medium bowl. Drain the wakame and roughly chop it into small pieces, then add it to the cucumber. Add the vinegar dressing and toss everything together to combine. Salt to taste. Refrigerate until the salad is well-chilled. It is best served cold, but it is also fine at room temperature.
This is a tasty snack or small side dish to a summertime meal. It not only has different taste elements to please the palate, but the cooling aspect is most welcome when it simply is just too hot to cook. And the easy of preparation is certainly a plus; the quantities are easily scaled up for feeding bigger crowds, as well. It tastes better as it sits, too, after the flavors meld. I definitely recommend giving this humble salad a shot for the next barbecue, picnic, or luau, or maybe for part of a Japanese-inspired meal.