Today, East meets West at the back yard barbecue A Japanese Cookout

August 29, 1993|By Marlene Sorosky | Marlene Sorosky,Contributing Writer

When Americans think of backyard dining and picnics, their minds almost automatically click into a chicken-hamburger-rib mode. They're the traditional all-American favorites, of course.

But the time-honored summer feast isn't the exclusive domain of Americans. Other cultures and ethnic groups were practicing the fine art of alfresco dining long before our forebears got together to throw the first box social. And though we'll never be willing to dispose of the sacred family barbecue, sometimes it's fun -- not to mention adventuresome and romantic -- to orient oneself in another culinary direction. With a bow to the Japanese, here's a new approach to the venerable American summer cookout.

In keeping with Japan's light, healthful cuisine and affinity for fresh vegetables, this deluxe menu includes a duo of quickly assembled salads. Sturdy and durable, they are ideal for toting to the back yard or wherever your heart and travels take you.

Cellophane noodle salad with shrimp is an Oriental version of an Italian pasta salad. You can find translucent cellophane noodles, also called bean threads, in the Oriental section of most supermarkets. Although it is customary to soak these noodles in hot water (they need to swell, not cook), microwaving gives them plumper, softer texture. Coat them in the dressing and toss in the shrimp and radishes before serving. The noodles are also delicious without the shrimp, or with other vegetables, cooked meat or fish.

For picnic-perfect portables, fill colorful scooped-out peppers or tomatoes with marinated cucumber and spinach strips. The sesame-speckled dressing is reminiscent of the ones cloaking cucumbers in Japanese restaurants.

Yakitori, thin strips of pork and squash woven around skewers, marinated and grilled or broiled, is virtually a movable feast on a stick. By marinating the pork in a gingery orange-honey glaze and coating it with brown sugar before cooking, it is assured an extra-crispy but not cloyingly sweet exterior. Cook skewers as close to serving as possible.

For a fitting finale, offer fresh fruit, crisp ginger cookies and a thermos of tea. In keeping with the Japanese spirit, leave the silverware in the drawer, but don't forget the chopsticks.

Cellophane noodle salad with shrimp

Prep time: 30 minutes

Advance prep: Dressed noodles may be refrigerated up to 2 days. Add shrimp up to 4 hours ahead.

Makes 4 servings

THE SALAD:

1 package (3 3/4 ounces) cellophane noodles (bean threads)

Oriental dressing, see below

3/4 cup shredded carrots (about 1 1/2 medium)

1/2 cup green onions, sliced diagonally (about 4 medium)

1/2 cup sliced radishes (about 6)

3/4 pound peeled and cooked bay or medium shrimp

THE ORIENTAL DRESSING:

2 tablespoons Oriental sesame oil

1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger

2 medium cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons chicken broth

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

To make salad: Pour 3 cups water into a 2-quart, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes or until boiling. Add noodles and microwave uncovered on high 2 minutes. Stir and microwave 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove from oven, stir and let soak 5 to 10 minutes or until very soft. If there is any water, drain it. With scissors, cut the noodles smaller.

While noodles soak, make the dressing: In a medium bowl or glass jar, mix all ingredients until well blended. (The dressing may be refrigerated for 1 week.)

To assemble: Toss carrots and green onions into noodles. Pour dressing over and toss to coat. (The noodles may be refrigerated up to 2 days.) Up to 4 hours before serving, toss in radishes and shrimp.

Yakitori with green and yellow squash ribbons

Prep time: 20 minutes

Marinade time: 4 hours

Cook time: 3 minutes

Advance prep: Yakitori may be cooked up to 2 hours before serving.

Makes 4 servings; 2 skewers each

6 ounces lean boneless pork, such as loin or leg

1 medium zucchini

1 medium yellow crookneck squash

8 (6-inch) bamboo or metal skewers

1/3 cup packed golden brown sugar

MARINADE:

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons honey

Grated peel and juice from 1 medium orange, (about 4 tablespoons juice)

Cut pork into 3/8 -inch thick strips, about 4 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Pound lightly to make even thickness. Cut zucchini and squash into 4-inch pieces. Using a food processor with 1/4 -inch slicing blade or a sharp knife, slice lengthwise into 1/4 -inch thick strips. You will need 8 slices of each.

To marinate: Combine soy sauce, ginger, garlic, honey, orange peel and juice in a plastic zip bag or glass bowl. Add pork and squash strips. Marinate for up to 4 hours in refrigerator, turning occasionally.

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