The foods on this page are likely to be generally unknown to Westerners, even those somewhat familiar with Japanese cuisine. While these foods may seem a bit strange to the novice, they are common fare in Japan.
NATTO (fermented soybeans)
Natto is nothing more than fermented soybeans and it's one of those foods that you either love or hate, with the Japanese themselves divided into pro or anti-natto camps! Connoisseurs savor the servings of sticky whole soybeans, topping them with a dab of hot yellow mustard and sweet shoyu before greedily shoveling them down using chopsticks. That's my favorite way of eating natto, plain and simple, but you can also use natto in soups, okonomiyaki (egg pancakes), or as a topping for hot soba noodles or rice. Natto isn't to everyone's liking, but if you're adventurous here is one easy recipe for soup.
NATTO MISO SHIRO (natto miso soup)

2 cups of dashi
(see basics for preparation method)
2 Chinese cabbage leaves, cut into half inch strips
1 tablespoon of red miso
1/2 cup of natto
1 green onion, chopped fine

Heat dashi in a small sauce pan, add the cabbage and simmer until tender (two or three minutes). Place miso in a small bowl or cup and add some of the hot dashi stock from the pan, mix well until thoroughly dissolved, pour back into the cooking pan. Add natto and heat just until the boiling point. Add the onion and serve.

KONNYAKU-DENGAKU (grilled yam cake with sweet miso)
Konnyaku is a gelatinous cake made from the starch of the "devil's tongue" plant (a relative of the sweet potato). Konnyaku is almost tasteless but has a distinct characteristic texture (which is somewhat like tough gelatin). It's used mostly for this quality, and you can find it as an ingredient in many one pot dishes (nabemono). Konnyaku is sold in blocks roughly the size of tofu blocks, but it's also available in noodle form. If you are able to purchase konnyaku blocks or noodles I highly recommend trying it in dotenabe. You can also try this simple recipe, which calls for grilling a block of konnyaku with sweet miso.

1 block konnyaku
2 tablespoons of
dengaku miso

I like using the red dengaku miso for this particular dish as it goes well with the texture of the konnyaku. Cut the konnyaku block cross ways into slabs an inch thick and place them on aluminum foil. Broil each side until the color changes and the konnyaku begins to brown. Now, spread one side of the slabs with the dengaku miso topping and grill again until lightly browned. Serve hot.
KYURI TO WAKAME NO SUNOMONO (cucumber seaweed salad)
Wakame seaweed is extremely popular in Japan and is loved for it's subtle flavor and slightly chewy texture. It's usually sold dried but when reconstituted in water, swells up into bright green leaves. Wakame is excellent when added to miso soup. Simply soak a teaspoon of the dried seaweed in water and after it swells up (20 minutes), squeeze out the excess water, chop into bite sized pieces and place into small bowls. Ladle the miso soup over the seaweed and serve. The following recipe is for one of the most delicious salads that I know of, in any cuisine! It's made from wakame seaweed and kyuri (Japanese cucumbers).

1 cup of wakame (soak 1/4 cup of dried wakame to get 1 cup of seaweed)
1 kyuri (Japanese cucumber)
4 tablespoons of rice vinegar
2 tablespoons of sugar
3 tablespoons of shoyu

After soaking the dried wakame for about 20 minutes, rinse it well, drain, and chop coarsely (discard any tough stems). Combine the vinegar, sugar, and shoyu in a small saucepan. Stir over medium flame until the sugar dissolves, remove from heat, allow to cool and then refrigerate. Slice the cucumber in half lengthwise, then slice crosswise into thin rounds. Lightly salt the cucumber and let it stand a few moments before squeezing out the excess liquid.

In a serving bowl, combine the chopped wakame with the cucumber slices and mix well. Pour the chilled dressing over the vegetables and toss. Serve in small bowls topped with some white sesame seeds.

HIJIKI NO NIMONO (fried and simmered seaweed)
Hijiki is a type of seaweed that has a slight licorice flavor to it. It's sold dry and it's leaves are tiny, black, and brittle. When soaked in water to reconstitute, it wells up to more than twice its original weight into a tender, delectable vegetable.

1/3 cup of hijiki
1/2 block of abura-age
(deep fried tofu), sliced into 1/2 inch slivers
1/4 block of konnyaku (yam cake), sliced into slivers 1/2 inch long
1/2 carrot sliced into slivers about 1/2 inch long
1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

Heat the following ingredients together in a small sauce pan
1 1/2 cups dashi (see
basics for preparation method)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons shoyu
1 tablespoon mirin

Wash the hijiki in a colander and then place in a bowl with one cup of water to reconstitute (20 minutes), when the hijiki is soft, place back in the colander to drain. Heat your wok and add a little vegetable oil, quickly stir fry the carrots, abura-age, and konnyaku until the carrots just start to become tender. Add the hijiki seaweed and continue stir frying being careful not to burn or overcook the vegetables. Now add the stock, mix well and let simmer until half the stock has evaporated. Serve hot in a small bowl.

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