|Alta Lodge Chef Sam Wolfe|
This summer my wife Margot and I were lucky enough to visit Japan. I thought non-stop about food, and rarely about my job. It was pretty much the perfect working vacation. I have a food highlight reel that continuously loops through my memory. A favorite reruns prominently features noodles. Udon, somen, ramen, and my current food crush, soba. Unlike its three cousins, it is made from buckwheat and contains no wheat at all. The noodles have a dense, earthy and rich flavor. They are nicely amplified by a sweet soy and mirin rice wine dipping sauce. In the summer, as an antidote to the intense heat and humidity, soba is served cold. The presentations, sauce and flavor are unique to the different locales. At the Zao hot spring resort, along with the soba, we enjoyed mugs of a delicious and unique tea. I later learned it was the noodles' cooking liquid. My favorite soba was served in the small temple town of Yamadera, two hours by train from Tokyo. There are 1,015 stairs and they ascend through fog, ancient cedar forest, and cliff-perched pagodas. In the 16th century it was a frequent stop for Basho, the traveling haiku master. No doubt he feasted on the local specialty, cold soba served in woven bamboo baskets with pickled forest vegetables and ponzu sauce. We have been serving a similarly inspired soba noodle and tofu salad at our Sunday summer brunch buffet.
12 oz dry soba noodles
2T sesame seeds.
2T sesame seeds.
3T chiffonade fresh mint
1 block firm tofu
1 cup thin sliced green onions
1 cup pickled English cucumbers
1 cup mirin rice wine
3 T soy sauce
2 T lemon juice
pinch red pepper flakes
2 T sesame oil
Cook the soba noodles in boiling water, stirring continuously until al dente; about two minutes. Drain the noodles, rinse in cold water and plunge in ice water. If you are using the noodles immediately, you can drain them.
Cut tofu into small cubes, sautee to semi crisp with a splash of soy sauce, tossed with 2 T sesame seeds, and cooled in the fridge.
To pickle the cucumbers, pickle them by thin slicing, sprinkling with 3-to-1 sugar to kosher salt, and letting sit for an hour or so, then coarse chop them.
Reduce the mirin under high heat until it thickens and bubbles vigorously. Reduce heat to low, whisk in soy, lemon juice. Remove from heat, add red pepper flakes, and chill. When cold, using a hand blender add the sesame oil and emulsify. Layer the soba, tofu, green onion, mint, and cucumber into a bowl. Finish the layer with two ounces of the vinaigrette, repeat. Garnish the top with the remaining ingredients, and the sesame seeds.