Part I: The Salad

A simple salad you're sure to fall for.

Sometimes, it’s the simple things in life that bring such joy.

The feel of crisp, freshly laundered sheets on a bed.

The sensation of gulping ice-cold water after a hard workout on a blistering day.

The whiff of heady, fresh rosemary from the herb pots on my front porch.

And a shamelessly simple dressing that can transform plain ol’ lettuce leaves into a salad I can’t get enough of.

Indeed, “Romaine Hearts in Miso-Mustard Dressing” has become the new favorite salad in my house. The recipe is from the new cookbook, “The Japanese Grill” (Ten Speed Press), of which I recently received a review copy. The book is by Tadashi Ono, executive chef at Matsuri in New York, and food writer Harris Salat.

Inside, you’ll find recipes for everything from classic chicken yakitori to foil-baked onions with soy sauce to miso yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls). While most of the recipes do make use of the grill, there’s also a chapter on salads that does not. This is one of those cookbooks that will tempt you with every recipe because they are all quite straightforward and with manageable ingredient lists.

This miso-mustard dressing is like a Japanese version of honey-mustard dressing, only it’s made with fermented soybean paste, which not only lends a powerhouse savory note, but adds a creamy, luxurious body.

The dressing comes together in seconds in the blender with Dijon mustard, rice vinegar, water, sugar and olive oil. Since I had whole-grain Dijon on hand, that’s what I used, which created a lovely yellow dressing with speckles in it.

Drizzle the dressing on romaine hearts that have been split lengthwise, then sprinkle on chopped scallions and toasted pine nuts for added crunch.

If you love biting into a cold, crisp iceberg wedge salad with piquant blue cheese dressing, you’re sure to fall hard for this romaine salad, too, as it offers the same wonderful sharp contrasts in flavors and textures.

It’s a salad that’s both simple and simply good.

Romaine Hearts with Miso-Mustard Dressing

(Serves 4)

1 tablespoon pine nuts

1/2 pound romaine hearts

1/4 cup shiro miso (white savory miso)

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons Japanese rice vinegar

2 tablespoons water

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives (or scallions)

To toast pine nuts, preheat a dry skillet over medium heat. When skillet is hot, add pine nuts, cooking and stirring until the pine nuts turn golden and release their fragrance, about 1 minute. Stir constantly; be careful not to burn the nuts. Transfer pine nuts to a cutting board and coarsely chop; set aside.

Clean romaine hearts, removing any limp outside leaves and trimming the stems. Cut them into quarters lengthwise. On a large platter, line up the spears in a row in one layer; set aside.

To make the dressing, add miso, mustard, vinegar, the 2 tablespoons water, sugar and olive oil to the jar of a blender. Cover and pulse on high speed until smooth, about 30 seconds.

To assemble the salad, pour dressing over romaine hearts. Sprinkle with pine nuts and chives and serve.

From “The Japanese Grill” by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat

Tomorrow: The Meat

More Asian-Veg Dishes: Edamame Shiso Salad with Yuzu Vinaigrette

And: Watercress and Sesame Salad

Another Asian Grilled Dish: Ginger, Garlic, and Honey Grilled Baby Back Ribs

And: Grilled Chinese Sweet & Sour Pork Kabobs

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