Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mangoes
And an important lesson from “Footloose.”
Photo by Leah Lizarondo
I think an appropriate preamble to this post is that it goes against food-movement fundamentalism — almost nothing in this recipe is local or seasonal. The noodles are Japanese, the mangoes are from Chile, the eggplant and lime from somewhere in the South, and the basil and cilantro are from an unknown location that’s definitely not within 100 miles of where I live.
Gasp! I broke the RULES! And it feels good!
Why?! The first day of spring has come, and I’m as cold as I have ever been. It snowed the other day. Then it slushed. I need to eat food that makes me happy. Plus, it’s my birthday — and where I grew up, you must have long noodles on your birthday (otherwise you may meet an untimely demise). Why would I tempt fate?
So you must excuse me if this post does not advocate for reaping the season’s bounty. This off-season has gone way too long. So I’m throwing a temper tantrum by eating something that reminds me of summer and birthdays past (in other words: warm-weather occasions).
This recipe is from what’s becoming one of my favorite cookbooks, “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi. Ottolenghi is a James Beard award-winning chef in London, where he runs a portfolio of restaurants and writes a column for The Guardian — an amazing source of inspiration (especially if you don’t have his cookbooks).
“Plenty” is filled with delicious dishes for vegetable lovers and is one of my go-tos if I need ideas on how to use eggplants. I love eggplants but often revert too quickly to making babaganouj. His eggplant recipes are brilliant. So is the entire cookbook. I have bookmarks all over to prove it.
How can I describe this dish? To start, it’s a fantastic salad to bring to any potluck. It makes for a great lunch salad or dinner. You can easily add tofu or edamame to boost protein; both blend perfectly with the flavors. Basil and cilantro (lots!) are breathtakingly delicious together. The mangoes are the perfect foil to provide just the right cuts of sweetness amid the savory bites.
THE LESSON? It’s OK to bend the “rules” once in a while. While following guides and eating sustainably benefits personal health and the environment, it also does the soul good to stray from that path from time to time. Otherwise, being militant may lead to deprivation, which in the end, tends to make us give up entirely. Don’t forget the big picture.
SO. Lose your blues and . . .
Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mangoes
From “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi (with slight modifications)
Book recipe says it serves 6, but I would go with 4
- ½ c rice vinegar
- 3 T sugar or maple syrup (what I used)
- ½ t salt
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- A good pinch of red pepper flakes or to taste or ½ fresh red chili, finely chopped
- 1 t toasted sesame oil plus 1 T for drizzling
- Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
- ½ cup sunflower or grapeseed oil
- 2 eggplants, cut into ¾-inch dice
- 8 to 9 ounces soba noodles
- 1 large ripe mango, cut into ½-inch dice
- 1 ⅔ c basil leaves
- 2 ½ c cilantro leaves, chopped
- ½ red onion, very thinly sliced
1. In a saucepan, gently heat the vinegar, sugar and salt until the sugar dissolves, for up to a minute. Remove from heat and add garlic, chili and sesame oil. Set aside to cool. Then add the lime zest and juice.
2. Heat the sunflower oil in a large pan and shallow-fry the aubergine in three or four batches. Once golden-brown, transfer to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave to drain.
3. Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling, salted water, stirring occasionally, for five to eight minutes; the noodles should retain a bite. Then drain and rinse under cold water. Shake off the excess water and place on kitchen towel to dry.
4. In a mixing bowl, toss the noodles with the dressing, eggplant, onion, mango and half of the herbs. You can set aside the bowl for an hour or two. Test for salt. When ready to serve, add the rest of the herbs, mix and pile on a plate or in a bowl. Drizzle with more sesame oil right before serving.
This dish can be served warm, room temperature or cold.