In 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I was honored to contribute a recipe to a cookbook sold to raise money for disaster relief in Japan. While I posted about the book here, I did not post the recipe. Now, the book is no longer available and it’s time to share the recipe.
The inspiration for this dish came on a flight to Vietnam on Japan Airlines many years ago. One of the onboard “snacks” offered were soba noodles, made from buckwheat, and I ordered some without really knowing what I’d be getting (because, noodles). What I got was a little black lacquered box with dipping sauce and noodles, a step up from the most Asian airlines standard cup ‘o soup. I tucked in and was surprised to find the noodles were cold! These noodles were a revelation; they were so refreshing! I know airplane food is not normally inspiring, nor usually the best example of a nation’s cuisine, but these noodles were shockingly good.
When I got home, I wanted to try making them myself and thought it might be nice to combine the noodles with some tofu and beautiful fresh Maitake mushrooms. Of course, you can replace the tofu with the protein of your choice; fish, chicken, or even roasted pork belly.
I recently made this dish again, and while the original recipe (below) is wonderful, it’s also very versatile. This time, instead of using mushrooms, I used fresh cabbage and carrots, which I cut like for coleslaw, and dressed with some of the marinade from the tofu. Then I tossed that mix into the cooked noodles (photo at the bottom of the post).
1eachpackage extra firm tofu15 ounces, sliced into 8 pieces
1tablespoongrated fresh ginger
1teaspoonchili garlic pasteSambal sauce
3eachgreen onionssliced thin on the diagonal
2tablespoonssesame seedstoasted (black, white or both)
1teaspoongrated fresh ginger
1 3/4cupdashi* broth
2teaspoonsrice wine vinegar
*Dashi is Kombudried seaweed plus bonito tuna flakes. It has a smoky flavor. The dashi I have is imported from Japan and comes packaged like tea bags, but there are all different kinds.
This is not the brand I usebut it is something like this (Amazon affiliate link); Dashi tea bags
Marinate the Tofu:
In a small bowl, whisk together all the tofu marinade ingredients.
Slice the tofu into across into 8 even pieces. Pour half of the marinade into a 9'x13' baking dish. Lay the tofu pieces in a single layer across the bottom of the dish and pour the rest of the marinade over the tofu. Let marinate for about 1/2 hour.
Prepare the Dipping Sauce:
In a medium sized pot, combine all dipping sauce ingredients. Bring to a simmer and allow to cool to room temperature.
Cook the soba noodles in a large pot of boiling water until tender but still firm. About 6-7 minutes. Rinse vigorously under cool running water to stop them from cooking and remove excess starch.
Prepare the garnishes;
Slice the green onions. Toast the sesame seeds in a small sauté pan for about 30 seconds. Heat a large sauté pan and add canola oil. Add the minced ginger and minced garlic to the oil and then add the mushrooms and sauté quickly, about 4-5 minutes until they are soft. Put each garnish ingredient in its own bowl.
Grilling the tofu:
Heat a ridged grill pan. If you don't have a grill pan you can sear the slices of tofu in a hot sauté pan or griddle. Spray the pan with a little oil and then lay down the pieces of tofu on an angle. Cook for about two minutes then, with a spatula, rotate each piece about 45 degrees. After another minute or so, flip them over and repeat. After they are grilled on both sides transfer the cooked pieces to a platter.
To assemble the dish:
Serve the dipping sauce in small cups. Put a couple of ounces of soba noodles in a bowl and top with green onions, sautéed mushrooms, sesame seeds and a piece or two of grilled tofu. The noodles can be dipped into the broth or small amounts can be poured from the cup over the noodles and mixed in to taste.
You'll most likely have leftover noodles and dipping sauce. This is ok. Undressed they hold up well for lunch the next day. Toss any leftover noodles with a teaspoon of neutral oil if you want to save and refrigerate them. This will keep them from sticking together.