Soba Noodle Salad

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week last week, I volunteered to prepare a pasta salad for the wonderful teachers and awesome staff at Thoreau, my daughter’s elementary school.  Originally I had planned to prepare a traditional pasta salad with cooked chicken, cucumber and a fresh dill dressing.  In between dropping my daughter off at school and walking home, I decided to make a soba noodle salad instead.

Soba noodles are buckwheat noodles; soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat.  I love them.  The texture is thicker and meatier than most pasta.  They hold sauce well and being brownish gray, look totally different from traditional egg noodles.  They also cook quickly and are very starchy so once they are done I make sure to rinse them well with cold water to stop the cooking process and keep them from sticking together.  They can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores.

The Mirin Soy Sauce I use in this salad has become almost as famous in my cooking classes as my Scandinavian Sugar Cookies.  I joke in the head note to my recipe that the sauce is even good on cardboard.  It is also good with chicken, beef, salmon, pork and grilled eggplant to name just a few options.

The sauce is made by combining soy sauce, sake or white wine, Mirin and sugar and cooking it until it becomes a thin syrup.  Freshly-grated ginger, minced garlic and thinly-sliced scallions are then added.  That is it.  It keeps forever.  Well, maybe not forever but for a very long time.  I found some in the back of my condiment fridge that was at least 8 months old.  It was fine.  I freshened it up a bit with more ginger, garlic and scallions but it was still tasty.  If it begins to crystalize, just warm it again to dissolve the sugar crystals, as you would with honey.

Add whatever vegetables you want to the salad.  Keep texture in mind, though.  Big chunks of raw vegetables would not be a good match for the soft, succulent soba noodles.  Instead, I recommend soft vegetables, cooked/blanched vegetables or leafy greens (cooked or uncooked).  I add meat to the salad when cooking for myself, naturally.  Cooked chicken or shrimp come to mind immediately.  Thin slices of beef or pork tenderloin would also be sublime.  Thinking about using grilled duck breast, cut on the bias and folded into the salad with blanched asparagus tips makes me want to put the pot of water on right now to begin the process.  Here is the basic recipe:

Soba Noodle Salad

Ingredients:

2 bundles Soba noodles

Water for boiling

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup or to taste Mirin Soy Sauce (recipe follows)

1 cup diced cucumber

3 scallions, minced

1 cup chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:  Boil the noodles in salted water.  Drain, rinse in cold water, drain and place in a large bowl.  Add the Mirin Soy Sauce and other ingredients.  Season as needed with salt and pepper.

Mirin Soy Sauce

This sauce makes cardboard taste good.

1 cup sugar

½ cup sake or white wine

½ cup soy sauce

1 tablespoon Mirin

2 cloves garlic, pasted

2 teaspoons grated ginger

2 scallions, sliced into thin rings (optional)

Method:  Cook the sugar, sake, soy sauce and Mirin in a non-reactive sauce pot until the thickness of syrup.  Add the garlic, ginger and scallions and bring just to a boil.  Cool and use as desired.

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