Soba Noodles and Umami Mushrooms
Soba, or buckwheat noodles, are one of the culinary treasures of Japan. Our friends Tomo and Noriko prepared a special dinner with homemade soba noodles made with buckwheat grown by Tomo’s father. We ate them simmered in duck broth with cabbage. One misty fall day they took us to a generations-old noodle restaurant for a soba meal. The noodles were served at room temperature, arranged in an artful swirl on a flat woven tray. They were garnished with finely cut green onion, freshly grated wasabi, and slivers of pickled ginger. Also on the table were a bowl of dipping sauce, four different types of sautéed and braised mushrooms, and an array of soy-pickled vegetables–watercress, equisetum, fiddleheads, shiso flower buds, and thin burdock. The wild flavors mingled well with the earthy flavor of buckwheat.
Soba Noodle Salad
Cold soba noodles make a perfect summer lunch or supper salad when mixed with spicy greens and served with a flavorful dipping sauce. Grilled or steamed vegetables, a sauté or braise of mushrooms, cubes of tofu, or thinly sliced grilled meat or fish can be served on top or on the side.
Ingredients: 12 to 16 oz dried soba noodles, 3 cups spicy mixed greens (chopped endive, escarole, arugula, mizuna, baby kale or spinach leaves), 4 to 6 Tbs thinly sliced scallions or green onion, 1/4 cup finely chopped garlic chives or regular chives
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the soba noodles into the water, fanning them out so they don’t clump. Stir the noodles and cook at a low boil 4 to 5 minutes, until they are soft but still firm to the bite. Drain the noodles (you can save the cooking water for a hot drink) and rinse well in cold water. Set aside in a colander to drain.
Toss the noodles with the chopped greens and scallions. Drizzle with dipping sauce and top with chives. Serve with more dipping sauce and umami mushrooms, or any extra toppings you like.
Ponzu Orange-Soy Dipping Sauce
*Ponzu Orange Soy Sauce
Freshly made ponzu sauce is a delicious blend of bright citrus juice and savory soy sauce. Traditionally it is made in Japan with juice from daidai–a bitter orange similar to Seville orange. If you don’t have daidai or other bitter oranges, a blend of other citrus juices makes a reasonable substitute. The combination below is Diana Kennedy’s recipe found in The Cuisine’s of Mexico…or make a blend of 4 parts orange juice and 1 part lemon or lime juice.
Ingredients: 1/2 cup soy sauce, 3 Tbs fresh orange juice, 3 Tbs fresh grapefruit juice, 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice, 1/2 tsp grapefruit zest, 1/2 tsp orange zest
Poki Dipping Sauce
Poki is a Hawaiian relative of ponzu used to marinate sashimi tuna. My husband, Drew, often has this as part of his favorite lunch at Heiwa restaurant in Asheville, “Tuna poki“–a salad of raw tuna, thinly sliced red onion, avocado, and red bell pepper in poki sauce. Tuna (or tofu) poki is perfect on a bed of soba noodles.
Quick Poki: 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 Tbs minced ginger, 3 Tbs soy sauce, 3 Tbs rice vinegar, 3 Tbs mirin (sweet rice wine), 1 to 2 Tbs fresh lime or lemon juice, 2 tsp red chile sauce, 2 to 3 Tbs toasted sesame oil
Whisk all the ingredients together. Use a blender for a more emulsified sauce. Adjust the flavors to your taste.
Rayu: Spicy Infused Sesame Oil
Rayu is a spicy infused toasted sesame oil that may be drizzled on noodles or grilled foods as it is, or mixed with additional ingredients to make poki sauce.
Warm 6 Tbs toasted sesame oil and 2 Tbs canola, grapeseed, or peanut oil in a small saucepan with 2 Tbs peeled chopped ginger, 2 Tbs thinly sliced garlic, and 2 or 3 crumbled small dry red chiles (or 1 tsp red chile flakes). Heat slowly over low heat until small bubbles rise around the garlic and ginger. Maintaining very low heat, stir the oil for 3 minutes. Do not allow the oil to simmer. Turn off the heat, cover, and allow the oil to cool to room temperature. Strain the oil before storing in the refrigerator.
Rayu-Poki: Whisk together 3 Tbs rayu with 2 to 3 Tbs soy sauce, 3 Tbs rice vinegar, 3 Tbs mirin (or 11/2 Tbs balsamic vinegar), and 1 Tbs fresh lime or lemon juice, and 3 Tbs minced scallions.
Rodney and Heather’s Umami Mushrooms
Rodney and Heather, our neighbors, made these shitake mushrooms for our last pizza party, and they were delicious on the pizza and straight out of the bowl. Their umani (savory) flavor goes well with buckwheat noodles.
Method: Clean and slice the mushroom about 1/4-inch thick. Discard tough stems. Heat a large skillet (large enough to hold the mushrooms no more than two slices deep) over medium-high heat. When hot, add 1Tbs oil and 1 Tbs butter to the pan. Add 3 to 4 cups sliced mushrooms. Stir the mushrooms to coat with oil-butter mixture and cook about 2 to 3 minutes, until just softened. Sprinkle with a tsp or 2 fish sauce or soy sauce and 1 tsp umeboshi plum vinegar (or substitute sherry or balsamic vinegar). Reduce the heat to low and cook 1 minute longer. The mushrooms will be tender and moist at this point. Cook them longer if you want to evaporate all the liquid. Remove from the heat and serve hot or at room temperature.
Note: Rodney likes to dry-roast the mushrooms in a hot skillet for a minute or two to evaporate moisture before cooking them in oil and/or butter.
Awesome Sake-Braised Mushrooms
Ingredients: 4 cups fresh shitake or other wild or cultivated mushrooms (cleaned, tough stems removed, sliced about 1/4-inch thick), 1 Tbs oil, 1 Tbs butter, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or 1 or 2 crumbled dry red peppers), 1 minced garlic clove, 4 Tbs sake or other dry white wine, 1 tsp soy sauce, 2 pinches sea salt, 1 Tbs finely chopped preserved lemon
Heat a skillet large enough to hold the sliced mushrooms in a layer no more than two slices thick over medium heat. Add the oil and butter and let the butter begin to color. Add the red pepper, garlic and mushrooms and stir to coat the mushrooms. Add the wine soy sauce, and salt. Cover and cook over low heat 5 minutes. Uncover and stir in the preserved lemon. Serve hot or at room temperature.