Cold soba noodles
Here we are, then: the very last Epicurean. After three years and 67 articles, it is difficult to find the right way to come to an end. Looking back, I recognise that what I value most in the food I eat is simplicity and honesty.
A farm fresh egg simply fried in butter, its crisp, lacy white balanced by a creamy orange yolk. A slice of fresh, toasted sourdough bread, slathered with soft, yellow butter. A cup of slow-brewed coffee. The bite of a juicy peach in the height of summer. These are the things that make me the happiest and that I crave when I am hungry.
Having written very little about Japanese food in the Epicurean, perhaps it is time to honour the cuisine that so beautifully epitomises the ideals of freshness, simplicity and honesty by writing about a dish that I like to cook for my family and special guests: cold soba noodles with a dipping sauce.
Elastic, chewy noodles
Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat whose seeds are ground to an earthy-tasting flour, which is light brown in colour and nutty in flavour. Because it contains no gluten, soba flour is mixed with regular wheat flour to produce elastic, chewy noodles that retain their shape when cooked. Soba noodles are readily available in any toko or Asian supermarket; you will recognise them by their light brown colour. They feature in many dishes like stir fries and soups, but the best way to enjoy their unique character is to eat them cold served with a dipping sauce.
For the sauce, mix 100 ml of good quality soy sauce with 30 ml of mirin (a sweet Japanese rice wine – look for hon mirin, which contains alcohol, rather than the cheap, corn syrup-based alternatives), and 200 ml of dashi stock.
Dashi is a light broth typically made from dried bonito flakes, but an instant version is also available. You can find both the flakes and instant granules at the Amazing Oriental supermarket – just follow the directions on the packet of either one. Very much like making tea, they just involve soaking the flakes or granules in some boiling water for a few minutes. Mix the three ingredients well and transfer to two small bowls (this recipe serves two, but can be scaled up or down). The sauce should taste quite salty and intense, since it’s the main seasoning for the noodles.
Bring a pot of water to boil and add a tablespoon of salt. Add 300 gr of soba noodles and cook uncovered until ready (about 6 minutes – follow the packet instructions and your senses. When cooked, the noodles should be flexible and springy with a little bite). Keep a watchful eye on them to make sure the water doesn’t boil over; if it looks like it might, add half a cup of cold water or lower the temperature a bit.
Once ready, drain the noodles in a colander and run them under cold water, gently massaging them with your hands to clean the surface starch. Drain the noodles very well and serve them on two large, flat plates (zarusoba, as it is known, is usually served on flat bamboo baskets or trays), along with the dipping sauce.
To eat, use your chopsticks to pick up the noodles, dip them in the sauce and slurp greedily to appreciate the flavour of the buckwheat noodles. A bottle of warm sake would not be a bad idea, either.
This is the final recipe of Anastasios Sarampalis, lecturer at the Psychology Department.