Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Sam Slagheap's Soba Salad

Hey everyone, Sam Slagheap (or Slackheap as I'm called around the office) here finally stepping in and posting something already. First, commence the excuses. I couldn't figure out what I wanted for my first post. and I had a few qualifications. One, I had to find an alliterative dish in keeping with the spirit of the blog. I would be publicly shamed by my fellow posters otherwise, and rightfully so; no excuse for a lit nerd like myself not to come up with something. Two, I wanted something light since summer is fast approaching. Third, I wanted to use something from our CSA to help highlight the great produce we picked up. We had picked up a great looking bunch of white icicle radishes that reminded me of delicious Japanese daikon. So, one quick stream of consciousness later, I decided to make something from my slowly growing repertoire of Japanese cookery, a great light summer lunch dish: Soba noodle salad with a white miso dressing.

Now, despite my predilection for Japanese food, I am German and like a good borderline obsessive compulsive Kraut, I've organized the mise en place before starting to cook with everything that you'll need:
Bundle of soba noodles
Sheet of nori (a type of seaweed)*
Hijiki (yet another seaweed), soaked in water for 30 minutes and then drained*
1TBSP rice wine vinegar
1TBSP sesame oil
1-2 TBSP white miso (experiment with amount to taste)*
Green onions, sliced
White icicle radishes, cut into matchsticks
Sesame seeds for garnish, toasted
Soy sauce to taste

*You can find miso(refrigerated section), nori and hijiki in any Asian supermarket or the ethnic food aisle well stocked megamart.

I must admit, though, I was loathe to cut up this little guy since I thought he kind of looked like the mandrake root from Pan's Labyrinth, an phenomenal movie you should throw in the Netflix queue if you haven't yet seen it yet.

Finally, though certainly an optional ingredient (well, its not an ingredient at all but an absolute necessity for me), is a nice pot of French press coffee and my constant companion at home and in the office, Papa Hemingway.

While your water is boiling, a few words about nori. Seaweed is a great thing to experiment with if you're a vegetarian. Its basically a superfood loaded with iron, calcium, vitamins and everything else vegetarians should keep an eye on nutritionally speaking. Its very common in Japanese cooking and the Japanese diet is a large factor for their high life expectancy. To prepare, heat a frying pan to low heat and let it toast there a sheet at a time. Keep an eye on it though, we'll be returning later.

Add all your liquid ingredients into a meh-sized mixing bowl and whisk until completely emulsified like so...

It should look like slightly watered down peanut butter and I usually will add a little water to thin the dish both to lighten the meal itself and also to help with the mixing. A quick sidenote, this also makes a great marinade for vegetables, tofu, tempeh or, and I'm conjecturing here obviously, fish or chicken for our more carnivorously-minded friends.

Your water should be boiling at this point so go ahead and throw those soba noodles into the pot. Now, I should mention a few quick asides for those not entirely familiar with Asian noodles as they don't act like Italian pasta by and large. First and foremost, soba takes about half the time that Italian pasta does; start testing for doneness around the five minute mark.
So in the meantime...

Your nori should be finished toasting by now. How do you know its finished toasting? Well either the ever vigilant Papa Bear gives you a heads up or you see that it has changed colour from a dark, almost black green into that bright, neon green that you would recognize if you've ever munched a maki roll at your local sushi joint. Use your tongs to grab the sheets from your pan and slice into thin strips. Now that your pan is free, you still have enough time to throw in some sesame seeds to toast while you wait for the soba noodles to cook. If you've ever toasted whole cumin seeds, its the same idea; you want to toast these guys until they start to smell nutty and pop up out of the pan itself.

Once your soba noodles are finished, drain into a colander and rinse under cold water. This is another difference between soba and Italian pastas. Even though you would rinse Italian pasta after cooking if you intended to make a salad like we are her to stop the cooking, you always want to do this with soba, even if you're making a hot dish. Why? I don't know you just do. Now shut up and finish cooking so you can eat.

To finish, simply throw all your ingredients into the mixing bowl and use your tongs to combine. Garnish with the green onions and toasted sesame seeds. Oh, and if you drink coffee while cooking like I do, you might want to finish it up before you eat, soba noodles and coffee don't get along all that well. A delicious Japanese lager like Kirin Ichiban of course would be a better matching beverage wise. Enjoy.
Special Sam Slagheap Bonus Round: If anyone was paying attention to the times, the soba noodles at five minutes are the most time consuming part so if you time everything well, the whole dish comes together in about 7 or 8 minutes. This fact makes it a great summer dish since you don't have to slave over a hot stove for any prolonged period of time. It keeps really well for next day lunch too.


  1. I never thought I would live to see the day! Slagheap writing on the blog! I guess I'll stop calling you slackheap for now at least. Thanks for the cooking lesson, delightful pictures, and witty comments. I will be awaitiing some Sam's Soup, or Sam's Snacks, or how bout Sam's Secrets?

  2. Well insofar as snacks are concerned, toasted nori makes a delicious snack in and of itself. Second post today should buy me some time.