Sunday, August 3, 2008

Pork and Myoga Salad

Like a lot of people living in the greater Kanto area, I face an hour commute on the train most days. When my train pulls in at my station each night at 10 pm, rather than walking alone down a quiet platform, I join hordes of shuffling suited salarymen and women on their way home. It sometimes takes as long as five minutes to get off the platform and out through the gates, especially if the throng, heads bent over mobile phones as they resignedly send their ETA to family members, gets thwarted by the odd Tokyo-bound passenger locking up a gate coming onto the platform. It's Japan, so no one grumbles - we just pull our bags to the side and pause our shuffle long enough for the straggler to crowd-surf his way to the train.

After being spit out of the gate, I follow the crowd past the bicycle lot and down the road. I can't bear to take a left turn into the 7/11 like so many others, because the thought of konbini egg-salad sandwich or floppy chicken karaage leaves me cold. When I finally get in the door, I'm hungry, but a heavy meal is out of the question. That's when a recipe like this saves the day - it's light; it's healthy; and it keeps well in the fridge to make up the next day's lunch. If I'm feeling like something more substantial, I have it with a bowl of steamed rice.

I found this recipe in the Japan forum at, which has been an invaluable resource to me as I've learned how to cook Japanese food. First, you need about 200 g of lean pork - I take thinly sliced Japanese pork and boil it quickly, which cooks it without any added fat. Really, though, any cooked pork would do - leftover grilled pork loin or chops would be fine, I think. Then, I thinly slice three Japanese cucumbers, which is about the equivalent of one English cucumber. To this, I add three shredded myoga bulbs, which are a sort of edible bulb of a ginger plant. It doesn't actually taste like ginger, though - more like a shallot or sweet red onion, either of which would make a lovely substitution. Three largeish shallots or half a smallish red onion would do. Then, for a dressing, mix 100 ml each of good quality soy sauce, mirin, and rice vinegar. The final touch is to add wasabi paste, which adds a lovely sharpness to the salad - add it to taste. There isn't any oil in this recipe, but I don't miss it in the dressing, because the salty soy, the sweet mirin, and the sharp wasabi all work together to make it well-balanced and satisfying.

This time of year, having a cool bowl of tangy salad - along with a cold Kirin beer - is just the way to relax after a sweaty and stressful commute.

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