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February 22, 2013: Complex-Simplicity of Soba

February 22, 2013

Simply Soba

The dichotomy of Japanese cooking is that although it can be prepared in elaborate and exciting ways, the basic ingredients are usually very simple. The ingredients for zaru soba (cold soba noodles) have such a simplicity. The dish seemed so plain, in fact, that I was beginning to wonder if I had got it right. As always when doing a new recipe,  I consult three different sources to assure that I am on track. Yes, zaru soba is indeed this simple, and it is that simplicity of each ingredient that combines for a surprising complexity.

[My addition to this classic Japanese dish is my vegetarian dashi, which if you are used to the classic dashi may be too mild for you. I omit the bonito flakes which make it too “fishy” for my taste. I find the more mellow “ocean” taste of the wakame and shiitake mushroom to be just right.]

Vegetarian Dashi: Bring 1 Qt. H2O +2 Tblsp. sal de mer to a boil. As it approaches boiling add 4 medium-sized dried shiitake mushroom, 2 pieces of 6″ kombu; 1, 6″ piece of each wakame and smoked dusle. When the H2O comes to boil, remove mushrooms and cut in quarters. Return to stock. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1/2 hour. Strain veggies from stock and return to medium heat. Add 2 Tblsp. each mirin and shoyu. Leave cover off and reduce until 1/3rd stock is gone.

Take 1 bundle (100g.) of soba noodles and add to 1.5 Qt. boiling, lightly salted H2O, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Soba should be firm, but tender. Immediately drain, immerse in cold H2O. Do this twice, to arrest cooking. Leave to drain. 1 bundle of soba will make a good side dish for two people or as a main for one.

Toast 1/2 sheet nori, and crumble (or cut into strips for a more decorative look.) Slice two scallions thin and add to dashi. Top soba noodles with the toasted nori, and dip into the dashi with a small dab of wasabi paste added. [If you are not used to wasabi, try a little to start. You can always add more.]

This dish combines the a tender buckwheat noodle with the crunch of the toasted nori, and the mellow dashi with a slight sharpness of the wasabi to exemplify my seemingly contradictory catch-phrase for Japanese foods and culture: “A complex-simplicity.”

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