When we started trying to eat more whole foods, soba noodles were one of the first things on the list. I have had an obsession with pasta and noodles ever since I can remember, and I probably eat too much of these mostly refined carbohydrates. Growing up, I used to pester my mother in the mornings before school as to what we would be eating that night for dinner. Happy days if the answer was pasta! If not, I would become grumpy or try to persuade my poor mother to change whatever her plan was for the evening meal. Once I moved out of home, it would be a pretty rare occasion if you could not find a packet of spaghetti or noodles in my cupboard, and I’m pretty sure most guests to my house have had pasta at least once.
We have now switched mostly to wholemeal pasta (unless I am making pasta myself) and when cooking Asian-style meals with noodles, I tend to use soba noodles. Soba means buckwheat in Japanese, and soba noodles are unsurprisingly made from buckwheat. Strangely enough, buckwheat is not actually wheat but a grain-like seed, which is milled into a flour. Buckwheat itself is a complete protein and is high in dietary fibre – you can read more about it here. Because buckwheat does not contain gluten, it is often mixed with flour when cooking to give elasticity to the dough. Soba noodles are therefore likely to be mixed with flour, unless they are home made (one to try soon!) or bought from a specialty Japanese or health food store as a gluten-free product. Alot of the cheaper varieties of soba noodles are actually made mostly with flour, so check the packet labelling on your noodles – if you want to obtain nutritional benefits, choose a product with at least 80% buckwheat (and 20% flour) – called ni-hachi in Japanese.
Today’s recipe uses soba noodles in a warming, nutritious miso broth, topped with oyster mushrooms, some greens, tofu and a sprinkling of sesame. I was inspired by this more traditional dashi recipe for making the broth, and have used shiitake mushrooms as the base, spiced up with some ginger, chilli and lemon to counteract the cold weather. This recipe makes two generous slurpy soup bowls.
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2-3 pieces arame or kombu seaweed
- 5 cups water
- 4 tablespoons bonito flakes (optional – leave out if vegetarian)
- 1 cm piece of ginger, roughly chopped
- 4 tablespoons shiro miso paste
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
[Alternatively, instead of making your own broth, you can use an instant dashi packet which you can buy from the supermarket to replace the first four ingredients in this list, and start the broth instructions below when the ginger is added. This makes for a much quicker mid week meal]
- 250g extra firm tofu (preferably organic, non GMO)
- 2 bundles of soba noodles (approx 200g)
- 1 small head of broccoli
- 1 bunch of bok choy
- 150g oyster mushrooms
- 1 cm piece of ginger, finely grated
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons tamari
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 10 leaves of mint
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds or shichimi togarashi, for serving
- Olive oil, for cooking
- Carefully brush off any dirt from the shiitake mushrooms (do not wash them). Soak the shiitake mushrooms and seaweed in 5 cups of cold water for at least 3 hours – alternatively, if you run out of time (like me earlier this week!), soak the mushrooms and seaweed in 5 cups of hot water (not boiling) in a large saucepan (but not on the stove) for at least 20 minutes. You might need to place a bowl or plate over the shiitakes to keep them under water.
- After the mushrooms and seaweed have soaked, add the ginger to the saucepan and simmer on low-medium heat for 20-25 minutes, being careful not to bring it to boil, while you prepare the noodles and vegetables.
- Once the noodles, vegetables and tofu are cooked and in the bowl (see steps 1-4 below), bring the broth to boil, add the bonito flakes (if using) and immediately turn off the heat. Stir in the bonito flakes for a minute.
- Put a food strainer (preferably lined with a piece of muslin cloth, thin tea towel or absorbent paper) over a large bowl, and strain the broth through the sieve into the bowl. Remove the shiitake mushrooms from the sieve, and then discard the seaweed/ginger/bonito flakes.
- Roughly chop the shiitake mushrooms, discard their stems, and add the chopped shiitake cups to the noodle bowls.
- Spoon the miso paste into a cup, ladle in a spoon of the broth and whisk until the miso is dissolved. Then whisk the miso into the rest of the broth. Add two tablespoons of the lemon juice. Taste the broth, and add more lemon juice as desired, and then ladle the broth into the bowls as set out in step 5 below.
- Cut the tofu into thick slices and place it on absorbent paper on a plate – put another piece of absorbent paper and plate on top with a bowl or other weight, and leave it to sit for 15 minutes. This step is optional, but will improve the texture of the tofu as it drains the water from the tofu.
- Cook the soba noodles in boiling water (3-5 minutes) until they are almost cooked but are still firm. Drain the noodles and rinse in cold water to prevent them from sticking together and cooking further. It is important not to cook them completely, as they will be added to the soup and you don’t want squishy, slimy noodles. Toss half a tablespoon of sesame oil through the noodles, separate the noodles in half, put in two large soup bowls and set aside.
- Chop the broccoli, bok choy (chop and retain most of the stalks as well as the leaves) and oyster mushrooms. In a wok or large frypan, heat some olive oil with a tablespoon of the sesame oil over medium heat and add the bok choy stalks, chilli and ginger. Stir for a minute or two, and then add the broccoli. Add a tablespoon of tamari and a tablespoon of mirin, and stir. Then add in the oyster mushrooms and the bok choy leaves and stir for a minute or two. Remove from heat once vegetables are just cooked (I like them still firm in the middle).
- Heat some olive oil and half a tablespoon of sesame oil into the wok, and add the tofu. Add a tablespoon of each of the mirin and tamari and cook the tofu on high heat until it is browned.
- Divide the vegetables between the two noodle bowls, add the tofu into the bowl and ladle in some of the broth.
- Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and mint and serve.