I recently attended a soba making class taught by the queen of soba, Sonoko Sakai. Sonoko runs the website Common Grains, and is a food writer, soba maker and all around Japanese food superstar based in Los Angeles.
What is soba you ask? Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat and has become synonymous with a thin type of noodle made from buckwheat. The traditional soba we made with Sonoko is delicious but really time intensive so it is not really realistic to throw together for dinner. Just check out the process here. Also, fresh soba does not keep well. But not to worry, you can find dried soba in any specialty supermarket like Whole Foods but with the caveat that it is made with flour and buckwheat, not just buckwheat. Still it is pretty darn healthy.
Since I am on of semi-health kick after my gluttonous cooking school summer, I have decided to try to clean up my diet. Soba is a great healthy option since buckwheat is something of a superfood. Buckwheat is actually a plant related to rhubarb, not wheat as the name suggests. It has a dark nutty flavor with a chewy texture that is perfectly satisfying and healthy at the same time, making it a great alternative to traditional wheat pastas (i.e. so you won’t feel too guilty after eating a huge bowl of it).
Last weekend I wandered over to Japantown in San Francisco in search of some soba noodles. Japantown is SF is really interesting. It occupies only a couple blocks of the city, but in those blocks you truly feel like you are in another country, it is the perfect cure for wanderlust.
I found this little Japanese market Super Mira that had every Japanese food product imaginable. There I picked up some dried soba, rice vinegar, mirin and the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu for my soba dish.
Soba pretty versatile and pairs well with a lot of different vegetables and sauces. I decided to top the soba with some cucumber and avocado. Not the most traditional of Japanese soba dishes but it was delicious.
All of the ingredients I used in this dish are pretty well-known and can be found at just about any supermarket. No need to go to Japantown for them. (if you can’t find yuzu lemon juice works just as well)
- 4-6 ounces dried soba noodles
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 cucumber, sliced
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 1/2 cup chopped scallions
- good splash of soy sauce (start with about a tablespoon, add more if necessary)
- 1-2 teaspoons of mirin (optional)
- good splash of rice vinegar (a few tablespoons)
- good splash of yuzu (use lemon if you can't find yuzu)
- a teaspoon of hot sauce, preferably sriracha (optional)
- a few tablespoons sesame seeds
Cook the soba noodles in salted boiling water for about 8-12 minutes, or until they’re done but still al dente.
When soba noodles are done, rinse under cold water. Drain well and transfer to a large bowl. Toss the noodles with a tablespoon of sesame oil and chill the noodles in the fridge. The sesame oil will keep them from sticking together.
In a large skillet heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add shiitake mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally until they begin to wilt down. Add garlic and half the scallions and soy sauce and cook for another few minutes. Add the mirin to deglaze and cook until everything is soft. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes.
Toss the cooked veggies with the soba noodles, the remaining of the scallions and cucumber.
Add a good splash of rice vinegar, some yuzu and some sriracha. Taste and add more soy sauce and rice vinegar to your liking.
Serve at room temp, or chill until ready to serve. Top with sesame seeds and sliced avocado.