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Clean and Soba

A foolproof formula for easy Japanese noodles.


Photos by Leah Lizarondo

If we have Rachel Ray, Japan has Harumi Kurihara. Well not quite. I picked up Everyday Harumi a while back and I have to say that the most she has in common with Rachel is her popularity. Case in point: Everyday Harumi made me feel calm and peaceful just by leafing through it. Calm and peaceful are not quite the first words that come to mind when thinking of speed-cooking a three-course, thirty-minute meal.

Harumi’s recipes are so simple, so accessible (save for some ingredients – natto anyone?) that you can’t help but fall in love with her.

Her recipes cannot be more appropriate for spring and summer. The cookbook is replete with vegetable-centric dishes that are light but full of flavor. This is exactly the kind of food I crave this time of year. In the summer, I tend to handicap recipes with a different kind of heat index: how much fire has to burn in my kitchen. One pan, quick stir-fries are neck and neck with raw food. This recipe is of the former and it delivers on flavor and heat economy!

The recipe below is really about the sauce. It’s a simple basic Japanese base called Mentsuyu — a mixture of konbu broth, soy sauce, mirin and sugar. You can make this sauce in bulk and store it in your fridge to dress any vegetable. It's also good hot or cold. (Remember, heat index!) Perfect for the summer. It can be your go-to sauce on hand that will impress any guest – especially the impromptu ones! “Oh, that? I just threw it together.”

(Score!)

A few notes on the ingredients:
Kombu is seaweed that can be found locally at Asian stores in the Strip district, Market District grocery stores (and even some of the bigger Giant Eagles), Whole Foods and The East End Food Co-Op.

As you start building your pantry with me (chickpea flour has already been featured in a couple of recipes!), kombu is a sea vegetable that you will find lots of use for. It is a base for most Japanese broths. You can add it to any bean recipe to increase the digestibility of the beans (try it – you’ll be surprised at the difference!) – I never cook dried beans without it. Konbu is very high in mineral content which in itself is a great reason to get used to adding it to your dishes. And you only need a small piece of it to get the health and flavor benefits.

Mirin is a sweet Japanese rice wine. Now you can imagine why this sauce tastes so good! This can also be found in the outlets I mentioned above.

Nori is probably most people’s first exposure to seaweed. This is the “sushi wrapper” seaweed. You can buy it in sheets, flakes, strips and now in seasoned packs for snacking. If you’ve been to Trader Joe’s, you’ve seen this! Even Costco carries these snack packs in bulk. You can use whatever form you can get your hands on.

Japanese Soba noodles can also be found in the outlets mentioned above. If you are gluten-free, they have packs that are made with 100% buckwheat (which is a not a wheat!) and are gluten-free.

The Brazen Kitchen “Easy Japanese Soba Noodles” formula is – (1) Boil noodles (2) Sauté the vegetables very lightly and quickly and (3) Toss with sauce. The ingredient measurements are not quite key except for the sauce. But then, again, you can also adjust the ratio to suit your taste.

The best part of this is that you can play with the vegetables. This sauce tastes great with almost anything – which is a big plus as our farmers markets are teeming with the season’s harvests. I photographed two versions of it – one with tofu and one without.* The photo below is also a version of the dish I made in the spring, when asparagus was in season. Basically, this is a mix and match dish. Which is perfect because you can play with what’s on hand.

Enjoy!

*Remember my first tofu post? This can be your second foray – we had a Mediterranean tofu now try your hand at an Asian spin.

  Easy Japanese Noodles

Yield: Serves 6-8

  • 8 oz. buckwheat soba
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion sliced
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 3 cups green vegetables such as asparagus or green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces or 6 cups baby bok choy
  • 3 carrots, grated
  • 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced (you can use dried, soak to soften then slice)
     
  • Optional ingredients:
  • 1 block cubed tofu, pan-fried
  • 3 cups fresh bean sprouts
  • Toppings:
  • Fresh bean sprouts, raw
  • Nori
  • Sesame seeds or Gomasio

Mentsuyu

  • 1 2×4 inch piece of konbu (dried kelp)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin
  • 1 tablespoon cane sugar

Directions:
1. Make the sauce: boil konbu and then simmer until stock is reduced to about 1 2/3 cup. Add the soy sauce, mirin and sugar and bring back to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool. (You can make this ahead and store it in the fridge until ready to use).
2. Boil the noodles according to package directions. When done, drain and rinse with cold water to prevent from cooking further. Toss with sesame oil.
3. In a wide pan, heat the oil then add the ginger and onions. Sauté until onions soften a little. Add the rest of the ingredients and sauté until just softened.
4. Toss noodles and vegetables together, dress with the sauce.
5. Top with desired toppings.
6. Serve hot or cold.

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