If you, like me, are a fan of cold, spicy noodle dishes, then this salad is for you. It’s reminiscent of the Pasta and Co. Chinese Vermicelli salad I was obsessed with during college, only that salad has about three times the oil. This version is lighter, but equally delicious. I feel like soba noodles are healthy. And if mushrooms or tofu are deal breakers for you, you can swap them for any other veggies and/or protein you like (although I hope that you won’t, as this is a Melissa Clark recipe and she really knows her stuff).
If mushrooms aren’t your thing – and don’t get me wrong, they absolutely should be, but since I know that for a lot of people they are not – you could easily leave them out. The noodles are great on their own, and you could add in any crunchy vegetables that you like – I might add some julienned red bell peppers next time. While I’m not usually a huge fan of tofu, it turns out it’s pretty good when deep fried with sesame oil and tamari. But you could do this with grilled chicken (marinated in the aforementioned sesame oil and tamari, even), or sautéed shrimp or scallops (Melissa’s alternate suggestion). Aside from the mushrooms and the tofu, the salad takes five minutes to throw together – you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry already – and you can doctor it up any way you like. The soba noodles are delicious – and naturally gluten free (made from buckwheat), although you need to check the packaging to make sure.
If you are a mushroom person, I will tell you that the extra step is worth it here – the roasted shiitakes are SO dang good. I made this the other day without them (only because I had everything but the mushrooms and was too lazy to go to the store) and I really missed the texture and meatiness they normally add.
The vinaigrette is simply soy sauce, a little sesame oil, rice vinegar, orange juice, and freshly grated ginger – it’s so easy to put together, I wonder why I don’t do it for every meal. The cucumber is great for crunch, and I’m of the opinion that cilantro makes everything better. Take an extra two minutes to toast your sesame seeds, and you have a gourmet, healthy, and delectable meal that’s almost too pretty to eat.
The one thing I would note about frying the tofu is that it makes a huge mess – I’ve finally learned my lesson and taken everything else off the stove so that the splatters are limited to the stove top – and I think the cleanup is worth it. You could also add the tofu plain, however, and save yourself the calories and the mess.
One year ago: white bean and kale soup
Sesame Soba Salad with Roasted Shiitakes and Tofu Croutons, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now
For the Salad:
7-8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil, more to taste
3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 (12.8 ounce) package soba noodles
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (about half a small orange)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
1 medium cucumber, peeled
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds
For the Croutons (optional):
1/2 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced into 3/4-inch slabs
1 tablespoon peanut or olive oil
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the mushroom caps into 1/4 inch strips. Toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, and a pinch of salt. Spread the mushrooms out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and slightly golden, 8-10 minutes.
2. Cook soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse quickly under cold running water; drain again completely.
3. In a bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 3 tablespoons soy sauce, the orange juice, vinegar, and ginger.
4. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each quarter crosswise into thin slices.
5. To prepare the tofu croutons, pat the tofu slabs dry with a paper towel. Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. When it shimmers, add the tofu and let it cook undisturbed (stand away from the pan, as the oil will splatter) for 3 minutes. It should be golden brown on the bottom. Flip the tofu pieces and continue to cook for about 2 minutes longer, until the underside is golden. In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari or soy sauce and sesame oil. Pour it in the pan with the croutons and cook for 1 minute longer. Drain croutons on a paper towel-lined place.
6. In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, cucumber, mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and dressing. Serve topped with the tofu croutons, if desired. Drizzle the salad with more soy sauce and/or sesame oil just before serving if it needs perking up.