I love soba, the thin earthy Japanese buckwheat noodles that are still made by hand. They are among Japan's most popular noodles, especially in Tokyo where they can be found in fast food places, sold by street vendors, and featured in specialty restaurants. Soba are traditionally eaten either hot in broths or cold and accompanied by a dipping sauce. A more modern way to eat cold soba is to combine the dipping sauce with the pasta and add additional ingredients such as vegetables and tofu. Then it really it becomes a Japanese pasta salad.
Soba are made from buckwheat, which is neither a cereal nor a grain, but a flower with seeds used to make flour. Products made from it, such as pasta, are very healthy, since the seeds contain good levels of starch, protein, minerals, and antioxidants. Buckwheat is safe to eat for those who adhere to gluten-free or diabetic diets. And it is also known to lower cholesterol and treat high blood pressure. Add tofu to this recipe and you have a protein-packed meal. Soba is a dish that I enjoy eating over and over again. I love to make a large batch at home and enjoy it as a healthy lunch all week. There's no reheating necessary, just eat it straight from the office fridge.
Cold soba is very fast and easy to put together. The only cooking involved is boiling the noodles. Besides preparing the dressing and soaking the dried shitakes, all the other ingredients are fresh and only need to be cut, chopped, or sliced. For bright and peppery flavor, I combine half parsley and half cilantro. And for color and crunch I add a red bell pepper and a carrot. All the salty, tangy, sour, and umami flavors come from the miso-based dressing, which the noodles thirstily absorb.
Cold Soba Noodles with Tofu, Shitakes, and Miso Dressing
for the soba, tofu, and vegetables:
1 8-ounce package firm tofu
1 1-ounce package dried sliced shitake mushrooms
10 ounces soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped parsley
1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
4 scallions, sliced on the bias
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 medium carrot, julienned
for the dressing:
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon yellow miso paste
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 red Thai bird chile, minced
1 tablespoon grated garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 tablespoon grated ginger (about 1/2-inch piece)
Cut tofu into slices. Place on a plate lined with paper towels. Top with paper towels and another plate. Press down with hands or weigh down with additional plates. Repeat pressings two more times with fresh paper towels until tofu releases almost no liquid. Crumble tofu.
Add dried mushrooms to a bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water. Soak, submerged with a small plate, for 20 minutes. Squeeze liquid from mushrooms and reserve liquid for another use. Coarsely chop the mushrooms.
Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil. Add soba and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse soba under cold water.
In a large bowl, combine soba, crumbled tofu, shitakes, parsley, cilantro, scallions, bell pepper, and carrot.
To make dressing, whisk together vinegar, mirin, lime juice, sugar, miso, sesame oil, chile, garlic, and ginger in a small bowl or measuring cup.
Pour dressing over the soba, tofu, and vegetable mixture. Toss well to combine. Serve at room temperature or chill for 1 hour. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.