Monday 23 June 2014
Cold Soba Noodles
A staple of Japanese cuisine is soba, which are noodles similar in shape and size as spaghetti but made from buckwheat. In Japan they have come up with several ways to eat soba, many of them in soups, but they are also eaten cold. In the western world we don't eat much cold noodles aside from pasta salad. If you incorporate cold noodles with a brilliant flavour profile you can come up with some really stupendous dishes. In this version I combined a few Japanese elements with some Korean elements and turned out a very satisfying dinner. I want to be very clear that this is not an authentic recipe. This is literally just something I threw together. If I may say so, I expected it to be good but the end result exceeded my expectations.
A very popular (and my personal favourite) Korean pickle is kimchi. Kimchi is a both spicy and sour side dish of fermented cabbage and chilies with sometimes other vegetables like daikon, scallion and carrot for example. If you've never tried it, please make a point to do so. If you do, please make an effort to visit an authentic Asian market for it. There are some inauthentic variations out there that I have found really disappointing. My thought was to do a Japanese meets Korean dish with cold soba noodles and kimchi. Another popular Korean dish is bibimbap, which literally translates to "mixed rice". I have come to understand it as a heated bowl with rice and other ingredients separated on top which are mixed together just before eating. A common topping to bibimbap is a fried egg with a runny yolk and that yolk creates a rich sauce that ties the entire dish together. So I tried to incorporate that experience into my soba noodle and kimchi idea.
Let's begin by familiarizing ourselves with soba noodle packaging. There are many varieties. This is the one that I found:
Such as this example, many packages will have serving portions separated by a paper ribbon held together by an adhesive. When cooking your soba, always follow the directions on the package as they may vary slightly. Since I just made a single serving for myself, all I needed was about six cups of water. The actual cooking process is very similar to spaghetti. Season your water with salt to help bring out the flavour of the soba and bring it to a boil. Then add your noodles. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and cook until tender (which took me about seven minutes).
Now, quite unlike spaghetti, when you drain the soba you want to rinse it in cold water. This will shock the noodles and not only keep them from overcooking but get them cold (which is kind of the point). Rinse until the noodles are completely chilled.
Be sure to thoroughly drain the soba. Then you can place into the vessel of your choice for further dressing.
At this point you can do whatever you desire. Going forward in this post I will go through what I did for my Korean + Japanese meal. I added just enough sesame oil to lightly coat the noodles and gave them a good mix. Then I added a tbsp of toasted sesame seeds and incorporated evenly.
Then I mixed in some kimchi, which I'm guessing was about 2/3 cup, but if you decide to replicate this then add as much as your heart desires.
At this point I added the pièce de résistance, the fried egg with the exquisitely runny yolk. To add a little Asian flavour to egg, I fried it with cooking spray and just a touch of toasted sesame oil.
Next up: garnishes! I thinly sliced some scallion which makes a great garnish for an endless array of dishes spanning many ethnic cuisines (good start). I also wanted to add some thin strips of roasted seaweed. You might have to source out a specialty Asian market for this ingredient. Most products that I seem to find are from Korea. They are paper-thin sheets of seaweed that have been lightly coated in a blend of neutral oil and sesame oil then roasted until crisp and seasoned with salt (kinda reminds me of kale chips). I need to take a second to ooze about how addicted I am to these roasted seaweed snacks. They are so good (similar experience to eating a potato chip but both tastier and healthier). I took a separate photo to give you an idea of what they look like so you can familiarize yourself:
Unless you have a very impressively sharp knife the best utensil to use is a pair of scissors to cut little strips of the roasted seaweed and then include them with the scallion to garnish.
In Japanese custom I have come to understand that a cold noodle dish like this would be accompanied with a thin, yet flavourful, dipping sauce. I had some leftover sliced scallion and added that to a ramekin of ponzu sauce, which worked perfectly. Ponzu, for those who may not know, is a sweet, tangy, citrusy soy sauce that sometimes has hints of fermented fish in it as well. It is delicious and common in Japanese cuisine.
There you have it. Bram's interpreted hybrid of a Japanese meets Korean dish that is actually simple and quick to prepare. I vaguely mapped this dish out in my head before setting out to make it and it worked so well. There are many elements to this simple yet complex dish. The spicy sourness of the kimchi is evened out by the cold soba, yet elevated with the richness of the egg, the savoriness of the sesame and the crispy, saltiness of the seaweed. With the occasional dip in that citrusy, vibrant ponzu sauce this was a stellar meal. It would make a perfect mid-day lunch. If you're anything like me, then a squirt or two of Sriracha sauce will end up on your soba as well!
As always I hope that I have inspired you to try something new and slurp up your very own soba. This was a very experimental venture and I am very pleased that the end result was successful to my liking. If you decide to choose a different route with your cold soba noodles, that's perfectly fine. Again, I must claim that I am no expert when it comes to Asian cuisine. I threw a few ideas together that in my opinion really cooperated well so I'm particularly fond of this post.
I would really love to hear your feedback or your ideas on how to enjoy soba noodles. Because the main ingredient is buckwheat, soba is considerably healthier than what most of us consider "pasta" to be. Incorporating alternatives like this into our diet not only leads us to live better and healthier lives but really feeds my passion for what I do.
I have lots planned in the near future so check back again soon.
Thanks for checking this out and I'm looking forward to creating more material to inspire you with.
In the meantime, all my best.