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In Japan’s sweltering summers, the last thing you want to do is to spend a long time in the kitchen over a hot stove. This collection of five summer-friendly recipes starts with a homemade version of mentsuyu (noodle sauce), which is used as the flavor base for the other four recipes. With a good mentsuyu in your refrigerator, you can make delicious dishes in record time, getting you in and out of the kitchen fast.


Flavor base: Making your own mentsuyu (noodle sauce) lets you adjust the sweetness and saltiness to your liking. | MAKIKO ITOH
Flavor base: Making your own mentsuyu (noodle sauce) lets you adjust the sweetness and saltiness to your liking. | MAKIKO ITOH

Recipe: How to make mentsuyu (noodle sauce)

Cook: 10 mins., plus pre-soaking and cooling time

Makes approximately 900 milliliters

Mentsuyu is made with soy sauce, mirin (sweet fermented cooking alcohol) and/or sake, and umami-rich ingredients such as konbu seaweed and niboshi (dried sardines) or katsuobushi (fermented, dried skipjack tuna). As the name implies, its original use is as a dipping sauce or soup for hot or cold noodles such as sōmen, soba and udon, or as a sauce for tempura. However, these days mentsuyu is also used as an all-purpose flavor base since it contains the perfect mix of salty, sweet and umami found in washoku.

Although you can buy commercial bottled mentsuyu everywhere in Japan, if you make your own you can adjust the sweetness and saltiness to your liking. My version is less sweet than most commercial brands, but if you want to make it sweeter, use more mirin (and reduce the sake accordingly), or add a little sugar. I use koikuchi (standard or dark soy sauce), but you can use another type of soy sauce instead. If you use shiro-jōyu (white soy sauce, which is even lighter than usukuchi soy sauce) it’s called shiro dashi instead of mentsuyu.

I’ve also included an alcohol-free, vegan version, which uses dried shiitake mushrooms instead of katsuobushi or other dried fish products.

For regular mentsuyu:

400 milliliters soy sauce

300 milliliters mirin

200 milliliters sake

40 grams dried konbu seaweed

20 grams katsuobushi

20 grams niboshi

For nonalcoholic, vegan mentsuyu:

5 dried shiitake mushrooms

500 milliliters water

400 milliliters soy sauce

4 to 5 tablespoons maple syrup

40 grams dried konbu seaweed

1. For the regular version: Put all the ingredients in a pan and bring up to a boil over medium heat. Once it has just started bubbling, turn the heat down to low and simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to cool. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve lined with paper towels or a coffee filter. Store in a clean, covered jar in the refrigerator for up to a month.

2. For the vegan version: Soak the shiitake mushrooms in the water overnight. Put the mushrooms and the soaking water with the rest of the ingredients in a pan, and bring up to a boil over medium heat. (If you do not need to avoid alcohol, substitute 150 milliliters of the water with mirin for more depth of flavor and sweetness.) Once it has just started bubbling, turn the heat down to low and simmer for five minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to cool. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve lined with paper towels or a coffee filter. Store in a clean, covered jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks ⁠— the vegan version does not keep as long. The rehydrated shiitake mushrooms can be used in another dish.

3. To use as a dipping sauce for cold noodles, dilute with equal parts water or a 1-to-2 ratio of mentsuyu to water, depending on your preferences. Keep in mind that the sauce will get thinner as you keep dipping noodles in it.


Just chillin': This glass noodle salad can be made hours in advance. | MAKIKO ITOH
Just chillin’: This glass noodle salad can be made hours in advance. | MAKIKO ITOH

Recipe: How to make glass noodle salad with shrimp and yuzu koshō

Prep: 20 mins., cook: 5 mins., plus cooling time

Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish

Glass or cellophane noodles, called harusame (“spring rain”) in Japanese, are an ideal make-ahead salad base. Similar to the cold, salad-like noodle dishes of many regions in East and Southeast Asia, mentsuyu gives this version a Japanese flavor. Yuzu koshō, a spicy condiment made with green chili peppers and yuzu citrus, adds bite.

You can vary the vegetables and protein in this salad in many ways. Sliced red radish or shredded daikon works well, or you can use radish sprouts or chopped green onions instead of the herbs suggested. Try using shredded cooked chicken (like the “salad chicken” sold at convenience stores and supermarkets), julienned ham, sliced omelette and so on.

This can be made hours in advance and chilled in the refrigerator.

For the salad:

130 grams (1 packet) dry harusame or glass/cellophane noodles

300 grams medium shrimp

1 tablespoon sake

3 thin cucumbers, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks

1 cup shredded green shiso (perilla), mitsuba or flat leaf parsley

½ teaspoon + a pinch of salt

For the sauce:

4 tablespoons mentsuyu

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon rice bran oil or vegetable oil

1 teaspoon yuzu koshō

1. Soak the noodles in boiling water for three to four minutes, until they’re no longer hard in the center. Drain, cool under running water, then drain again.

2. Peel and clean the shrimp. Put the shrimp in a single layer in a frying pan, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt and the sake. Heat over medium heat until the sake starts to evaporate, then take off the heat and put a lid on. Leave until cool.

3. Put the cucumber and carrot in a bowl and toss with ½ teaspoon salt. Squeeze the vegetables around with your hands until they have wilted. Wrap the vegetables in a double layer of paper towels, and firmly squeeze out any excess moisture.

4. Mix the sauce ingredients together. Put the noodles, vegetables and shrimp in a large bowl with the fresh herbs. Add the sauce and toss well. For extra spiciness, dot on a little more yuzu koshō before eating.


Seasonal bounty: This curry uses several summertime vegetables, which you can vary depending on what you have on hand. Just be sure to always include onions and ginger. | MAKIKO ITOH
Seasonal bounty: This curry uses several summertime vegetables, which you can vary depending on what you have on hand. Just be sure to always include onions and ginger. | MAKIKO ITOH

Recipe: How to make vegetable curry with dashi sauce

Prep: 15 mins., cook: 30 mins.

Serves 4

To me, curry is just a part of summertime. This curry uses several summertime vegetables, which you can vary depending on what you have on hand. Just be sure to always include onions and ginger. Unlike other Japanese curries, this one only needs a brief simmer to cook the vegetables through, since the mentsuyu adds plenty of umami and sweetness. Vary the spice level by choosing the appropriate curry roux. To make this vegan-friendly, use a commercial vegan curry roux (such as S&B’s green-label Golden Curry) and the vegan mentsuyu.

For the curry:

3 medium onions, sliced into wedges

1 3-centimeter long piece fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 shishitō peppers, de-seeded and sliced

1 small Western-style eggplant or 3 Japanese-style eggplants, sliced

1 large bell pepper, de-seeded and cut up

1 block (about 200 grams) atsuage (fried tofu), sliced a half-centimeter thick

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

700 milliliters water

100 milliliters mentsuyu

100 grams (1 small block) commercial curry roux

Vegetable oil for cooking

2 tablespoons frozen peas (optional)

4 servings (about 800 grams) hot cooked rice

1. Heat up two tablespoons oil in a large frying pan or wok over high heat. Add the onions and stir-fry until the edges brown. Add the ginger and stir-fry briefly. Add the shishitō, bell peppers and eggplant and stir-fry briefly. Add the atsuage and stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

2. Add the tomatoes, water and mentsuyu to the pan, and bring up to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

3. Take the pan off the heat. Break the curry roux into pieces and add to the pan. Stir until the roux dissolves. Return the pan to the heat, and simmer briefly.

4. Defrost the peas by boiling them for a minute in a little salted water, then drain. Serve the curry over plain rice, sprinkled with the green peas. You can also serve this over udon noodles or pasta.


Festival food: This hot-and-cold takoyaki juxtaposes the piping hot takoyaki with a refreshing, icy cold ginger sauce. | MAKIKO ITOH
Festival food: This hot-and-cold takoyaki juxtaposes the piping hot takoyaki with a refreshing, icy cold ginger sauce. | MAKIKO ITOH

Recipe: How to make takoyaki with frozen ginger sauce

Prep: 15 mins., plus resting and freezing time, cook: around 5 to 10 mins. for each batch of takoyaki

Serves 4

Takoyaki (octopus dumpling) are snacks often served at festival food stalls. Since most festivals are canceled this year, why not have a takoyaki party at home instead?

Although the best-known way of eating takoyaki is to douse them in a tangy-sweet sauce, mayonnaise, katsuobushi and some aonori seaweed powder, I prefer to eat them with a light dashi stock-based dipping sauce as is common in Kobe. This is similar to the way akashiyaki, dumplings from Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture, and a close kin of takoyaki, are eaten.

This hot-and-cold takoyaki is based on a dish I had years ago in Osaka. The juxtaposition of the piping hot takoyaki and the icy cold ginger sauce is very refreshing.

For the sauce (makes about 500 milliliters):

450 milliliters water

5 grams gelatin

50 milliliters mentsuyu

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons ginger juice (grate ginger and squeeze out the juice)

For the takoyaki:

4 large eggs

700 milliliters water

100 milliliters mentsuyu

220 grams cake or “weak” flour

100 grams boiled octopus, cut into small cubes

1 small bunch green onion, chopped

¼ medium cabbage, finely chopped

Katsuobushi as needed

Vegetable oil for cooking

1. To make the sauce: Soften the gelatin in the water for a few minutes. Heat the water in a small pan while stirring until the gelatin has dissolved. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and cool.

2. Put the sauce in a shallow container and freeze. About two hours in, stir it up with a fork, and return to the freezer. Repeat this two more times, until the sauce has become frozen. Keep frozen until ready to serve.

3. To make the batter: Beat the eggs and mix with the water and mentsuyu. Add the flour gradually, stirring between additions. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, ideally overnight.

4. To make the takoyaki: Heat up a takoyaki pan or an electric takoyaki maker. Brush the indents with oil. Fill the indents with the batter, adding a cube of boiled octopus and a sprinkling of green onion, cabbage and katsuobushi to each one. When the outsides start to firm up, flip them over using a skewer. Flip a couple of times to make each takoyaki round. Serve with bowls of the frozen sauce.


Quick meal: You can use mentsuyu to make this quick, cooling chazuke (rice with tea, dashi and various toppings) anytime. | MAKIKO ITOH
Quick meal: You can use mentsuyu to make this quick, cooling chazuke (rice with tea, dashi and various toppings) anytime. | MAKIKO ITOH

Recipe: How to make chilled chazuke (tea-broth rice with toppings)

Cook: 5 mins.

Serves 1

Chazuke or ochazuke (rice with tea, dashi and various toppings) is usually served hot. But it’s also great when chilled, and you can use mentsuyu to make this quick, cooling snack anytime.

For the chazuke:

150 grams cooked rice (1 rice bowl worth)

2 tablespoons mentsuyu

160 milliliters cold water or green tea

30 grams shiozake (salted salmon), cooked and shredded

2 tablespoons kakipī rice crackers, lightly crushed

2-centimeter piece cucumber, finely julienned

¼ teaspoon grated wasabi or wasabi paste, or to taste

Shredded nori seaweed to taste

Ice cubes (optional)

1. Put the rice in a sieve, and rinse under cold water to remove any surface stickiness. Drain well.

2. Put the rice in a bowl. Add the water or tea and the mentsuyu, stirring gently. Top with the salmon, cucumber, kakipī crackers, nori and wasabi. Stir before eating.

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