Recipe: otsu noodles (sesame soba noodles)
Spontaneity is not my best color, but there are times when you just have to get on it and hit the road. Last week was one of those times. We packed up and drove west at the last minute to take care of some business. It was a quick trip (less than 36 hours), but a good one. Traveling around the western half of Colorado always reminds me that there is so much wilderness I want to explore right here in my own state.
heading out at sunrise (iphone)
mount massive from the road (iphone)
kaweah was extra good in the car (iphone)
mount crested butte
jeremy’s boozy cocktail was really a boozy dessert (iphone)
pizza with the best crust at secret stash (iphone)
kaweah lounging in the dog-friendly motel
Travel of any sort makes me realize how much I miss cooking and preparing my own food. Maybe it’s the control freak in me or perhaps I can’t stomach dining out too often (especially freeway food – gah), but I develop cravings for specific things when I’m away from home. By the time I return, I’m ready with a list of groceries and a menu of wholesome, fresh fare. This time, I had otsu on the brain – Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles loaded with vegetables and tofu with a seasoned sesame sauce. When I purchased the noodles at the local Asian market, I picked up a pack of green tea soba noodles in addition to the traditional soba noodles.
the sauce: rice vinegar, sriracha, tamari, sesame oil, lemon, ginger, sugar, tahini
soba noodles, tofu, sesame seeds, bean sprouts, cucumbers, green onions, eggplant
The weather dictates what I’m craving because I bundle my feelings toward a dish with the process of preparing it. When the weather is cold and snowy, I like to roast, bake, slow-cook, braise in part because it warms the house. Warmer weather means more fresh, raw, and cold foods because 1) I really dislike being hot and 2) who has time to cook when you could be outside?! We are currently yo-yoing between freezing cold snow storms and gorgeous sunny days, but I am already migrating to foods that suit the latter. The sauce is not set in stone, but essentially based on sesame paste (tahini) with lots of options for added flavors.
grated ginger, lemon zest, and lemon juice
put all of the sauce ingredients in a bowl
mix until smooth
Let the sauce mellow while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. What you choose to add to the noodles is entirely up to you, but I really liked the combination of vegetables and tofu in this recipe. Sub in meat for tofu if you are feeling carnivorous. Maybe add shredded carrots. You know what you like. I decided to press my tofu while I prepped everything else. I like removing excess moisture if possible when I have to pan fry tofu.
press the tofu for about 20 minutes
slice the vegetables
dry cook the eggplant until wilted, then add a dash of oil and sauté
slice the tofu and pan fry
You can bake the eggplant slices with a brush of oil, but I like to throw them in a hot frying pan and let the heat wilt them – something I learned from my mom. It takes a few minutes and you have to be patient, but eventually they will wilt (do flip them over from time to time). Once the eggplant starts to shrink and become pliant, I add a little vegetable oil and sauté the slices. Without the dry cooking, the eggplant soaks up way too much oil and becomes a greasy, soggy mess. The tofu fries up easily enough with a little oil. I like the browned exterior, so I take the time to brown the tofu on at least four of the six sides. Another alternative which I prefer (but didn’t have on hand) is dried tofu, which is found in most Asian grocery stores. It is seasoned and has a firm, almost chewy texture. Boil the soba noodles according to the package instructions the drain and rinse in cold water.
now you’re ready to assemble
a little bit of everything and some sauce
a bowl of otsu noodles
The traditional soba noodles have a subtle nutty flavor. I’ve been enjoying otsu with these soba noodles for years. The green tea (cha) soba noodles are nutty, but it’s that green tea nutty that is delicate, light, and almost herbal. You can definitely tell a difference when tasting the noodles alone. It’s a little less pronounced when you mix the noodles with the rest of the ingredients, but it’s still there and I really like it. So if you’re curious, give the green tea soba a try for a little change of pace. Both versions of otsu are delightful. Oh, and I added crushed peanuts (I had some lying around) on another occasion for some added crunch and nuttiness.
the green tea soba noodles
don’t forget the sesame seeds!
Otsu Noodles (Sesame Soba Noodles)
1/4 cup (2.25 oz/65 g) tahini (sesame paste)
2 tbsps tamari (or soy sauce)
2 tsps sugar
2 tsps rice vinegar
1/2 lemon, zest of
1 lemon, juice of
1-inch nub of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp Sriracha, to taste
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Whisk or stir everything together until smooth. Set aside until ready to use.
14 oz. firm tofu
1 eggplant, sliced into 2-inch batons
2-3 tbsps vegetable oil
pinch of salt
9 oz. soba, boiled according to package instructions, drained and rinsed in cold water
2 cups cucumber, cut into 2-inch batons
2 green onions, sliced thin
2 cups fresh mung bean sprouts
1/3 cup toasted sesame seeds
Wrap the tofu in several layers of paper towels and set on a plate. Place a flat-bottomed bowl or heavy plate on top of the tofu and let press for 20 minutes to drain off excess liquid. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over high flame and put the eggplant slices into the pan in a single layer. When the eggplant begins to brown (after a few minutes), flip the slices over and brown. Continue until the eggplant has wilted, shrunk, and is pliant. Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil and a pinch of salt to the pan and sauté the eggplant. Remove from the pan and set aside. Prepare the rest of the ingredients (the noodles, cucumber, green onions). Unwrap the tofu and slice it into 2-inch pieces. Heat 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in the frying pan and place the tofu in a single layer in the pan. Fry until golden then flip the tofu slices over. Fry each side (or as many sides as you have patience for) until golden. Remove from heat. Toss all of the ingredients together with half of the sauce (use half at first then add more as needed). Serves 4.
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