Soba noodles are wonderful for many reasons, but the two that matter to me are that they’re delicious and they play so well with others–meaning they suck up any flavour thrown at them. After a very quick boil in little water (because they’re short, I don’t boil them in huge pot of water like I do with linguine, even though you’re probably supposed to) and a dip in a no-cook sauce of soy sauce, sesame oil and scallions, you have a meal on your hands. Great soba noodles can be hard to find, because instead of being 100% buckwheat flour, or close to it, they’ve often been cut with a lot of wheat flour, making the texture and taste different from better quality, more pure soba. However, there are times I want a more subtle, less sweet noodle than buckwheat noodles, like when I have a slightly more complex sauce, and one that does the same great job of absorbing flavour. Enter the somen noodle.
Made entirely of wheat flour (and salt and water), they’re thin like soba noodles and springier than pasta, and they suck up a ton of sauce. They seem just as starchy as soba noodles so I rinse them in cold water after cooking them too. They’re my noodle of choice for this tangy sesame sauce but if you can’t find somen noodles, rice noodles would work really well too, or by all means, use soba.
The sauce here has a big job, to flavour the food it touches long after it’s not around to be sipped itself anymore, just like a marinade. So, like a marinade, it’s got big flavour: heat from that minced garlic and ginger, sweetness from a little sugar, tartness from orange juice and, most importantly, that sesame oil used both in the sauce and to sauté the vegetables is my must-have flavour with somen and soba noodles.
Unlike most recipes, this is not one you want to serve immediately, because the sauce makes everything slushy before its had time to be absorbed. You can eat this after a half-hour with the noodles sitting at room temperature or after a chill in the fridge. Essentially, this is a noodle salad, a perfect make-ahead meal, and it’s kind of pretty too. The beautiful white colour of the somen strands made me opt for enoki mushrooms, sprouts and napa, as opposed to shiitake mushrooms or red cabbage for crunch. Feel free to make your palette more noisy where mine is neutral. And leave that red chili out if you want too. Red or not, you know I wasn’t ever going to leave chilies out of mine.
Sesame Somen Noodles
For the sauce:
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp grated garlic
1 tsp grated ginger
1 c orange juice
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp mirin
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
For the noodles:
1 tbs sesame oil
1 red bird chili, destemmed, thinly sliced (optional)
300 g napa cabbage, thinly sliced on a bias, a small handful of leaves reserved for garnish
1/2 tsp salt
125 g bean sprouts, tails tipped, a small handful reserved for garnish
170 g enoki mushrooms, trimmed, a small handful reserved for garnish
180 g somen noodles, boiled and rinsed under cold water and drained well
3 tbs toasted sesame seeds
First, make the sauce. Heat sesame oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and ginger, stir and sautée for 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce has reduced by more than half (to about 1/2 cup.) Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, proceed with the rest of the recipe. Heat the sesame oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the red chili, if using, for 30 seconds. Add the napa and half the salt, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the sprouts, toss well and cook for 30 seconds, then add the mushrooms and the remaining salt and stir well. Cook just until the mushrooms have wilted slightly. Set aside to cool slightly.
Transfer noodles to a large bowl. Pour half of the sauce over them and mix with chopsticks or two forks, separating the noodles and coating them well. Add the napa and mushroom mixture and stir well. Pour a little more of the dressing over top, reserving about 1 tbs for serving, and mix the vegetables into the noodles. Set aside for 15 minutes to allow the mixture to cool to room temperature and absorb the sauce, or refrigerate if you wish to serve it cool.
Before serving, add the reserved vegetables, pour on the reserved dressing, and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds.
Makes 4 small servings or 2-3 large servings.