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I’m Mari.
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Cooking with Mom: "Chestnut" Shrimp Balls & "Pine Needle" Soba

Japanese food, like many other countries is very seasonally driven but the Japanese try and take it one step further. Sometimes they make foods as proxy for the real thing. Huh? A couple weeks ago, Mr. Mari and I went to my parents' home. As an appetizer, my Mom made us some fried shrimp balls that had bits of broken somen noodles on the outside of them. Yum! I thought - I love crunchy. I should have known better than to think it was just a textural thing since we are talking about my Mom and it was an autumn weekend. What she actually made was shrimp balls that symbolized chestnuts, an Autumn-specific food. In the wild, chestnuts have prickly outsides; those smooth nuts we normally see in markets are what're inside the burr.  

To further emphasize the Autumnal motif, Mom made some "pine needles" too - made of fried soba and seaweed. Obviously, they aren't just for decoration. Follow the jump to read the allegory - because of course it's something more than just being edible pine needles!

The phrase, "Matsuba karetemo futarizure" literally means, "Even though pine needles die, they're still together", thus, the Japanese use it as a symbol for marriage: 'Even through death, we stick together.' Awh, that's nice. Can we eat now?

makes 15 balls

1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 bundle of dried somen noodles (see Note)
1 large egg, separated
Canola oil for frying
Coarse salt, optional

Over a small bowl, break somen noodles into 1/2-inch long pieces. Set aside. Put egg white in small bowl and whip to break up. Set aside. 

Place the raw shrimp, yolk, cornstarch in a food processor bowl fitted with steel blade; blend until smooth. With wet hands, separate paste into 15 sections, loosely rolling into ball-shape. 

Place a ball into egg white, toss to coat. Transfer it to the somen bits' bowl and toss to coat. Continue egg-ing and somen-ing the remaining balls.

Heat one-inch oil in a medium size pot until it registers 325 degrees. Carefully lower each ball into the oil. If your pan is crowded, don't add any additional balls. Cook for about one minute or until golden brown. Turn over once and cook for an additional one minute. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Enjoy!

Note: Somen noodles are available in Asian market. Mom said to buy the thinnest somen noodle possible. The thicker it is, the harder they will be when fried. So instead of it being a happy crunching sensation, you can potentially hurt the inside of your mouth. Not fun.

MATSUBA-SOBA ("PINE NEEDLE" SOBA) makes 25-27 needles

18 Soba (buckwheat) noodles
1/4 sheet of dried nori (seaweed)
Canola oil for frying

With scissors, cut the seaweed into 1/2-inch wide strips. Set aside.

Break each soba noodle into three pieces, each piece being 2-1/2 to 3-inches long. Pick up two pieces, hold them together and align one end. Dip that one end into a small bowl of water and wrap a piece of seaweed around the wet end two times. Tear off the extra seaweed and use on the next set. Continue with the remaining noodles.

Heat two-inches of oil in a small saucepan until it registers 325 degrees. Carefully place the noodles in the oil. Once the noodles rise to the surface, they are done. They are very fragile so take care when removing them. Drain on paper towels. Enjoy!

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