A family favourite
There are some classic Japanese flavours here – but to get it right you’ll need to do some shopping…
Tuna: It should be good quality (but not sushi quality). Make sure you buy thick slices – at least 4 cm.
Seasame seeds: These should be the toasted Japanese type.
Sesame oil: Japanese is best.
Soba noodles: Buy good quality Japanese noodles with a high percentage of buckwheat.
Mooli or daikon: there is no alternative to this – so you’ll need a specialist grocer. Mooli are a large and long form of radish. The size may seem a problem, but in fact the length is an advantage – the aim is to get long julienne strands. Any left over will keep well in the fridge.
Julienne peeler (or mandolin – not recommended): I used to make beautifully thin and curly mooli salad on my mandolin. But I threw out my mandolin after cutting my finger. I will spare you the gory details – suffice to say I don’t miss it one bit. However, I have discovered a marvelous little tool; the julienne peeler (available from Lakeland). It’s safe as houses and nearly as effective as the mandolin. Although the vegetable shoe-strings it makes are more the army boot type than dress shoe, they make a perfectly good mooli salad.
Spinach: Make sure you buy spinach of fine quality, i.e. not ‘cooking’ or perpetual. I first discovered this spinach salad in a Japanese sit-down takeaway – the type that are ubiquitous throughout London. It was a revelation to eat cooked spinach as a cold salad! However, it only works with sesame dressing…
Sesame dressing: So good you’ll want to pour it over everything. I used to make this from scratch using Japanese sesame paste – I felt very proud of myself as it is quite a tricky thing make. However, not surprisingly for such a good dressing, it can now be bought ready made in Japanese grocers. NB: If you cannot find this try adding tahini and crushed sesame seeds to some of the soy dressing…
Soy dressing: You need to buy a good quality Japanese soy. The dressing is based on a Nobo recipe. It’s similar to ponzu dressing – soy and lemon and a bit of oil and sugar. Use groundnut oil if possible – it has a very light and neutral taste.
Shiso – or Perilla: This is worth seeking out. Shiso is from the mint family and although there are mint notes there is something else to the taste that is completely distinctive and is impossible to mimic. Only a small amount of this perfumed and heady herb will bring an authentic scent of the orient over your table.
Shichimi: Japanese chilli powder. I do have this in my cupboard, but did not use it. For a formal meal I would offer it on the table (as Wagamama do). But, if one is not careful this can end-up being used like salt and pepper or ketchup – put on everything without thinking. My instincts were that the tuna was so subtle that it would be overpowered by the shichimi.