Kitchen Stories: Obayashi San’s Natto Pasta

Chris Shaw sautés the eggplant for Obayashi Sam's Natto Pasta
Chris Shaw sautés the eggplant.

This month’s Kitchen Story originated in Japan and traveled all the way to Seattle ceramicist Chris Shaw’s kitchen in Beacon Hill.

On a cold, drizzly Monday night, I stopped at Viet Wah to buy some veggies, and then hopped the 36 bus from the International District to Chris’ house.

Chris showed me how to make Obayashi San’s Nattō Pasta. He named the dish after his friend Obayashi, who he met during a year studying in Tokyo. Obayashi was a special man who owned a restaurant, was a reggae DJ, and a fellow ceramicist who hand made all the plates used at his restaurant.

The nattō pasta was the first dish Obayashi cooked for Chris and is the dish they would regularly eat with all the restaurant staff members.

Nattō is fermented soybeans that have a slippery texture and a yeasty smell. You can buy it frozen or thawed at Viet Wah, Uwajimaya, and plenty of health food markets around town. Do not let the texture and the smell when it’s uncooked deter you from using it. Once it’s in food and warmed up, it is much less slippery and more like soft cooked beans, and the flavor becomes softer. It’s a fantastic source of vegetarian protein.

What is especially lovely about this dish is that all the vegetables still hold their unique flavor and texture, there isn’t a single flavor that overpowers any of the other flavors, not even the nattō.

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients: 2 small size Japanese eggplant, 2 medium size zucchini, handful okra, 2 large tomatoes, 2 packets nattō (either frozen or not. If frozen make sure it has thawed before using), 1 package pasta (Chris used whole wheat for him and me and gluten free for his friend Viradeth), 2 cloves garlic, 1 small red hot pepper (use as much of the pepper as you can handle and desire), dash of dry dill (Chris would have preferred to use fresh basil, but alas, it is winter), a little soy sauce, some vegetable oil for frying, salt as desired.

Preparation:

  1. Boil water for pasta
  2. Chop eggplant and zucchini into ½ inch thick disks put them in water so they lose their scum (Chris only does this with this recipe, since Obayashi did so as well)
  3. Chop the tomatoes into ½ inch cubes
  4. Chop the garlic into small pieces, but not miniscule
  5. Chop the red hot pepper into small pieces

Cooking:

  1. Remove the eggplant and zucchini from the water, set on paper towel for a couple of minutes to dry
  2. Drop the okra in the boiling pasta water for a three minutes so they leave some chlorophyl in the water, remove and set aside on a plate
  3. In a large pan, on medium to high heat put enough vegetable oil to fry the eggplant and zucchini, when hot, put some eggplant (one disk next to the other) in the pan. Fry until cooked, but still hard, and brown on both sides. Do the same with the zucchini. Set aside on a plate
  4. In the same pan, on medium heat, put the garlic and hot pepper and stir them together for a minute. (A note: the pepper might be strong, so do not put your face too close to the pan–might sting your eyes)
  5. Add the tomatoes to the garlic and hot pepper. Add the dill
  6. While the tomato mix is cooking, stir the nattō with chop sticks until it is well mixed, sticky, and somewhat hard to mix. Then set aside
  7. Boil the pasta. Make sure it is not over cooked
  8. When the tomatoes are cooked, add the okra, then the eggplant and zucchini. Cook for a couple of minutes
  9. Add the nattō, some soy sauce, and salt as desired. Stir well until the ingredients are well mixed
  10. Add the pasta, still quickly, mix well

And voilà! Obayashi San’s Nattō Pasta is ready to be devoured.

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