I didn’t realize until I was writing this recipe out just how much I cook and love Japanese food and flavors. Until a few years ago, all I knew about Japanese food was just sushi and miso soup.
My Japanese culinary education is thanks to A, my friend and former co-worker. While we worked together, we bonded over our love of food and Japan. A is Japanese and I would (and still do) ask her all sorts of questions about the food she brought for lunch or what she would eat in Japan or anything about Japan. I’m surprised she didn’t get tired of it or think I was one of those crazy Japanese fangirls.
As we became closer, I started going to Japanese markets more and buying ingredients to make things similar to things she would bring in or things I would see on TV (mostly No Reservations) that looked good and not too technical. Before I knew it, I was regularly buying miso, sesame oil, mirin, rice vinegar, and other things I now can’t live without.
Eventually, I left that job for another one and A and I became real friends, not just office friends. To keep in touch, we meet once a month over dinner and catch up. 99% of the time, we meet along Sawtelle, which a street filled with blocks of Japanese restaurants. We eat ramen, she introduces me to Japanese food I haven’t tried before and gives me the “inside” scoop on what she ate when she was growing up.
This week A and I are having dinner (somewhere on Sawtelle, no doubt), and I thought I would make something Japanese inspired. I’ve actually made this wakame cucumber salad several times over the summer (one week it got a little crazy just how many times I made it) and now seems like the perfect time to share it with you.
If you’re new to Japanese food (or making it), wakame (wah-kah-may) is a kind of seaweed. You’ve had wakame before if you’ve had miso soup. Seaweed, besides being delicious, is also extremely healthy for you. Wakame in particular is high in omega-3s and calcium.
You can buy wakame online, at your local Japanese grocery store, or at a higher price in the “international” sections of a regular chain grocery store. They come in all different preparations, but I prefer the pre-cut kind. Most seaweed will be dehydrated and you’ll need to soak it in boiling water to rehydrate. When do, you’ll see that it blooms and doubles or triples in size!
I also use Shichimi togarashi, which is a Japanese red pepper spice blend. You can get that same places you get the wakame (though I’m not sure if they carry at the big box stores). This is a new addition to my spice rack, and I love it! The peppers bring the heat, but the other spices in it (like black sesame and orange) give it more depth than your average pepper mixture.
This salad, served cold, is perfect for the final days of summer. Cool off with this wakame cucumber salad and I hope you start a love affair with Japanese food like I have.