In the summertime, the Japanese enjoy eating noodles—especially spicy noodles. The belief is that spicy foods will promote cooling sweat. The same logic is applied for visiting a hot spring during the summer months. Our healthier version of this dish sneaks in a fair amount of vegetables, including carrots, onions and bell peppers. These noodles are toned down from their Chinese original, being only slightly piquant with cooling cucumbers for balance. Japan has a large number of Chinese immigrants living throughout the archipelago, but more famously in cities such as Kobe, Yokohama, and Nagasaki, which boast vibrant China Towns. Nagasaki, located in southern Japan, was the only major port open for Chinese trade during Japan’s period of isolation (1633-1853). Meanwhile, Yokohama and Kobe developed when, in 1859 and 1868 respectively, the two ports opened up for international trade. If you go to any China Town in Japan, you’ll be sure to find Jaja noodles prepared according to the Japanese taste (usually milder). Nevertheless, if you know where to go, you can find them hot and spicy! (Serves 2-3)
1/3 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
½ finely chopped onion
¼ green bell pepper, finely chopped
½ teaspoon finely chopped ginger
1 clove finely chopped garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
¼ pound ground pork
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons mirin
3 tablespoons miso
1 tablespoon soy sauce
½ to 1 tablespoon Chinese pepper paste
1 small Kirby cucumber, julienned
2 packages Chinese-style fresh noodles (5.6 oz per single serving) (Alternatively, prepare about ½ [16-ounce] package spaghetti)
½ tablespoon cornstarch
Large heavy frying pan, small saucepan, paper towels
1. Sauté the carrot, onion, bell pepper, ginger, and garlic in hot cooking oil and sesame oil in a frying pan. Once softened, add the pork, and sauté lightly until cooked.
2. Add the sugar, mirin, miso, soy sauce, pepper paste and 1 cup water, and simmer over medium-low heat to allow flavors to deepen and mix. Stir occasionally, and add more water as needed.
3. Meanwhile, sprinkle cucumber with a generous amount of salt, and place on paper towels to remove moisture.
4. Next, cook the noodles: Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, and add the fresh noodles. Cook until softened and pliable.
5. Drain and plate the noodles.
6. Dissolve the cornstarch in a small amount of water, and pour into the meat mixture. Stir until the sauce has thickened slightly. Remove from heat.
7. Ladle meat sauce atop the noodles, and top with a generous portion of cucumbers. Eat immediately.