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Right tangle

A plate of cool soba noodles makes a no-hassle summery supper.

By Adam Ried
July 19, 2009
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Among Japanese noodles, I find soba particularly appealing. Made partly from buckwheat flour, the noodles taste nutty, earthy, and faintly tangy. They cook quickly, in about three minutes; the classic sauce, called tsuyu, and garnishes are simple; and soba is often served at room temperature or cool in warm weather, so you’d be hard pressed to make a quicker or easier meal. Last, soba is widely available -- look no farther than the international aisles in a well-stocked supermarket.

Cool soba is often served plain alongside individual portions of dipping sauce. Ready-made tsuyu is available in bottles, but its flavor pales compared with fresh, which requires just four ingredients -- soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and dashi, the traditional Japanese broth for which I make the highly unorthodox substitution of soba cooking water. Other flavors, commonly wasabi or ginger, can also be added. Bucking tradition again, I find that soba also goes well with heartier garnishes and dressings, as in the last two recipes.

Simple Cool Soba with Dipping Sauce

Serves 4

Garnish the soba modestly. Small amounts of thinly sliced scallion; slivers of carrot, daikon, cucumber, or red bell pepper; thin strips of toasted nori; or a sprinkling of lightly toasted sesame seeds, individually or in combination, are all good candidates. If you fancy wasabi paste or grated ginger, add 2 teaspoons of either to the dipping sauce, stirring it well to incorporate.

1/3 cup mirin

1/3 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt

12 ounces soba

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Garnishes, as desired (see note above)

In a medium bowl, mix mirin, soy sauce, and sugar, and set aside. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1½ teaspoons of salt and the soba, stir gently to separate the noodles, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 3 minutes. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid. Drain the soba in a colander, immediately rinse with cold tap water until cool, and drain again. Transfer the soba to a large bowl, add the sesame oil, and toss to coat thoroughly.

Add the reserved cooking water to the dipping sauce and stir to mix well. Divide the sauce among 4 serving dishes. Garnish the soba as desired, and serve with the sauce.

Cool Soba with Shiitake Mushrooms, Carrots, and Daikon Dressing

Serves 4

1 tablespoon safflower oil

½ pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

1 medium clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon sake or dry sherry

Salt

1/3 cup mirin

¼ cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

2/3 cup coarsely grated fresh daikon

12 ounces soba

2 medium carrots, julienned (about 1 1/3 cups)

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

1 scallion, thinly sliced

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it ripples. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 1½ minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and the mushrooms are soft, about 1 minute longer. Add the sake or sherry and a small pinch of salt and stir to mix. Transfer the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the mirin, soy sauce, sugar, and daikon, and set aside. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1½ teaspoons of salt and the soba, stir gently to separate the noodles, and cook, stirring occasionally, until not quite tender, about 2½ minutes. Add the carrots and continue to cook until soba is just tender, about 1 minute longer. Drain the soba mixture in a colander, immediately rinse with cold tap water until cool, and drain again. Transfer the soba mixture to a large bowl, add the sesame oil, and toss to coat thoroughly. Add about two-thirds of the dressing to the soba mixture and toss to coat well. Arrange in a large serving bowl, top with the mushroom mixture and remaining dressing, sprinkle with the scallion, and serve at once.

Cool Soba with Shrimp, Napa Cabbage, and Cilantro

Serves 4

3 tablespoons soy sauce

¼ cup sake or dry sherry

1½ teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

3½ tablespoons safflower oil

1 medium red bell pepper, thinly sliced

Salt

12 ounces soba

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage

In a medium bowl, mix 1 tablespoon each soy sauce and sake or sherry with the ginger. Add the shrimp, toss to coat, and set aside to marinate for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, vigorously whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, remaining 3 tablespoons sake or sherry, rice vinegar, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of the oil to blend, and set the dressing aside.

In a very large skillet over high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil until it ripples. Add the shrimp (discard the marinade) and bell pepper and cook, stirring, until shrimp turns pink and pepper begins to soften, about 2½ minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over high heat, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1½ teaspoons of salt and the soba, stir gently to separate the noodles, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain the soba in a colander, immediately rinse with cold tap water until cool to touch, and drain again. Transfer the soba to a large bowl, add the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil, and toss. Add the dressing and toss. Add all but about 2 tablespoons of the cilantro and toss. Arrange the soba in a large serving bowl, arrange the napa cabbage and the shrimp mixture attractively over the soba, sprinkle with the remaining cilantro, and serve at once.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

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