For some people macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, and they would be quite content to have it several nights a week for dinner. For me, the equivalent is a wide, deep bowl of soba. In fact there are few things I find more addictive to eat than these nutty noodles tossed in a simple vinaigrette of tamari, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Like a healthier, more sophisticated version of the popular peanut noodles served by your local Chinese takeout, this meal is quick to prepare and immensely satisfying to eat.
The Japanese have found countless ways to prepare Soba, as these noodles remain a staple of their everyday diet. Much heartier than the white, refined pasta we Americans have grown to love, soba is made primarily from buckwheat flour which is chock full of fiber and nutrients that have been shown to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure.
It’s no wonder that these earthy, flavorful noodles are the perfect canvas for the traditional Japanese flavoring agents tamari, sesame and rice wine vinegar. Layered together, the ingredients exude a depth of salty, dark, rich complexity that makes the whole thing very compelling and irresistible to eat as is. Since I am generally feeding more than just myself I often feel the need to dress the meal up with sautéed tofu, scallions, slivers of cucumber and bell pepper and a final sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. While you’re at it, you may want to boil at least two packages of the noodles and double the suggested quantity of the recipe. After quickly lapping your way through the first bowl, you will no doubt find yourself scrounging the fridge for leftovers in the hours and days to follow.
Note: The trick is to not overcook the noodles, as they should remain slightly chewy, rather than go completely limp and soft. Running them under cold water before tossing them in the dressing ensures that they stay this way.
1, 8 oz. bag of Soba noodles (look for 100% buckwheat)
1 bunch of scallions
1 package of firm Tofu, patted dry and cut into 1 inch cubes
¼ C sesame seeds, toasted
1 bell pepper, core removed and sliced into thin strips
½ English cucumber, peeled and sliced into matchstick strips
¼ C tamari
2-4 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp sugar
Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Drop in the noodles and cook for about 5 minutes or until they are al dente. Drain in a colander and immediately run cold water over them to stop the cooking. Thoroughly strain any access water, then toss the noodles in a large bowl with 1 tsp of canola oil.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat for three minutes then add enough canola oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Sear the cubed tofu in the pan until it is golden brown, remove from heat, then place it on a paper towel lined plate to absorb any excess oil.
Combine the tamari, sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil then add it to the noodles, tossing to combine. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more of any of the vinaigrette ingredients depending on your preference for more salt, sweet, sour or nuttiness.
To serve, pile a large tangle of soba in the bottom of a bowl and top with some tofu, scallions, cucumber and bell pepper. Add a final garnish of toasted sesame seeds over top.