Frank’s Super-D. Duper Uber-Complicated Zaru Soba

IT’S COLD OUTSIDE! Best to stay indoors.

It is during chilly days like today that one longs for the slightly more inviting months of spring and summer. And what better way to remember than with the consumption of a classic Japanese dish – Zaru Soba. This dish is normally a favorite of asian natives during the warmer months… so for this reason alone, you may think it odd for me to dedicate an entire post to the matter in the middle of frigid January. Add to the fact that – all things being equal – a Japanese toddler could make this dish… it’s that stupid-proof. Al Gore could make these noodles. Therefore I shall compensate by dazzling you with some fantastical Zaru Soba fun facts.

What is “Zaru” “Soba” anyway???

Soba is a specific type of tasty noodle of Japan made from wheat flower. Unlike “udon” which is a much thicker wheat noodle, Soba is thin and often a bit square due to how it is cut and crafted. Japanese like to consume it many ways – hot (such as in soup), stir-fried (such as in “Yakisoba” – a favorite venda-food served during Japanese festivals), under various tasty meats (Kitsune, Soki, or Tempura Soba for example), and of course chilled (atop “Zaru” – a type of bamboo tray). Zaru Soba traditionally includes a specific Buckwheat soba that is chilled right after cooking, served upon the Zaru, topped with various tasty goodies such as “nori” (Japanese seaweed) and lightly dipped and swirled in a “Tsuyu” sauce one chopstick clump at a time. The tsuyu itself is not simply a afterthought soy sauce, but a combination of dashi, sweetened kaeshi, and mirin – a savory combination for sure.

By adding a dash of wasabi and fresh sliced scallion to the dipping sauce, and by using the freshest “shin-soba” (noodles from the very first wheat harvests), one may enjoy a thoroughly refreshing dish, neither lacking in substance nor overbearing on the noodle chomper.

But why served chilled?

Many Soba fanatics believe the best way to taste the sweetness and complexity of the pure wheat noodle is when it is served cold. True, Soba is quite yummy when bathed in meat or vegetable broth, but the flavor and consistency is altered considerably – a most disappointing compromise.

Enough of the fun facts, asian boy. How do you make it?

What you need:

1.) One bundle of uncooked buckwheat soba noodles (Look for these at your friendly International market. They should have them – they’re cheap, and well worth the search. if you somehow snatched fresh, non-dried, you’re in for a real treat)

2.) One cup of chilled Tsuyu (can be found at any respectable Oriental store. The bottle will have a lot of non-English writing, but fear not. If you see the words “straight” “Soba” and “sauce”, chances are, you’ve scored the right stuff.) True, you could just make your own house sauce like some restaurants, but to do this you must be: a.) a Japanese ninja and b.) uber-awesome. You are obviously neither. Just stick with the store-bought bottle stuff, Chuck Norris.

3.) 2 tablespoons of your favorite sesame seed oil (Do not substitute other oils. It would taste… strange.

4.) One Scallion sprig (optional)

5.) One teaspoon of wasabi (really optional… don’t go party crazy with this stuff, your nose hairs will regret it)

6.) Fun toppings of your choosing – freshly shredded nori, a dash of Furikaki (literally translated from Japanese, “needs a dash of something”), or a sprinkling of red pepper flakes will be just dandy.

What to do – directions taken with advice from the sauce bottle (yes, the sauce speaks to me):

Cook buckwheat noodles in boiling water (I personally salt the water just before adding noodles), then rinse with cold water and drain until dry. Noodles should be nicely chilled. (Don’t know how to boil noodles? Congratulations, you’re officially dumber than Al Gore and/or a sea cucumber.) (Just kidding. Make sure you don’t overcook the noodles though. They should be soft but chewy).

Mix noodles with sesame oil being careful not to use too much (the oil can easily become overpowering). Place noodles onto a dish and springkle some sliced nori.

Pour chilled soba sauce into a (small) soup bowl. Then mix with finely minced radish, green onion, and/or wasabi paste.

Enjoy noodles by dipping into prepared sauce, one mouthful at a time.

Best served with a cup of hot Ocha (Japanese green tea), a bowl of salted edamame (boiled baby green soybeans in the pod), small salted fish such as sardines or fresh sliced mackerel, or if you feel really adventurous a cup of chilled sake.

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