Some people handle scorching summer weather well. And then there’s me. When the mercury hits more than 85 degrees, I feel like a flower wilting in windowsill. In Kyoto, the humidity seems to intensify the effect, but it is there that I discovered one of my favorite tricks for staying cool: Eating soba noodles.
When my friend Yuko first introduced me to soba, I was so taken with the deliciousness of it all that I ate two servings. Once I discovered how nutritious and easy to make these humble noodles are, they have become a summertime staple. Traditionally served on a wicker platter with classic seasonings of thinly sliced scallions, roasted seaweed and dipping sauce, soba is both superbly refreshing and surprisingly satisfying.
“...despite its name, [buckwheat] is not a member of the wheat family—it’s actually a fiber-rich fruit seed.”
Soba means “buckwheat” in Japanese, but despite its name, it’s not a member of the wheat family—it’s actually a fiber-rich fruit seed closely related to rhubarb and sorrel. Buckwheat is one of the healthiest foods you can eat, because it contains twice the protein of rice and is abundant with antioxidants and other essential vitamins. It does not contain gluten, so soba noodles are also a wonderful option for those with gluten sensitivity. (Be sure to always check the label as some companies include wheat flour for a chewier texture.)
Once you experiment and find your favorite toppings, soba makes a quick and delicious lunch or supper. Each bite transports me back to the cool and tranquil Kyoto noodle houses, refreshing my spirits as well as filling my stomach.
Here’s all you need:
• A package of soba noodles. Most large grocery stores carry these noodles in their Asian foods aisle. They are thin and look similar to wholewheat pasta, and are typically packed in bundles. One bundle will serve one person.
• 1⁄4 cup soy sauce (for those with a gluten sensitivity, look for gluten-free variations which are available at most markets)
• 2 Tablespoons of mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine). Often used in Japanese cooking, mirin is found at most grocery stores near the soy sauce. You can also use one tablespoon of water mixed with a tablespoon of honey as a substitute.
• 1 cup dashi,which is Japanese soup stock. If you don’t have dashi or are vegetarian, feel free to replace with a cup of your favorite vegetable stock.
For garnishes, you can use what you have on hand. Some of my favorite garnishes are:
- Scallions, sliced thinly
- Fresh ginger, grated finely
- White sesame seeds, toasted
- Roasted seaweed, shredded finely
- Wasabi, if you enjoy a little bit of heat
Put a pot of water on to boil. As it heats up, slice or grate your favorite garnishes and set aside in a small bowl. Mix dashi or vegetable stock with mirin and soy sauce, and let sit. When the water boils, submerge a bundle of soba noodles and stir. Most soba noodles will cook in five to eight minutes, but it is best to follow the packaging’s instructions to avoid overcooking. When ready, drain the noodles in a colander and quickly rinse with cold water to prevent overcooking and stickiness. Transfer to a bowl and serve immediately. Sprinkle garnishes directly into the dipping sauce. With chopsticks, gently swirl a bitesize amount of noodles into the dipping sauce and enjoy.
Do have a favorite summertime supper? If you do, please share it in the comments below; I’d love to try it!