I love a recipe you can suit to the season, and this is one of those. Last night i made it with thinly sliced Brussels sprouts stir-fried with grated ginger in sesame oil, and some thin-sliced red onion; in summer i like to serve it with cucumber, cherry tomatoes, spring onions and fresh coriander; in autumn it is usually with lightly steamed broccoli florets, chopped red capsicum and either spring or red onion, depending on what i have to hand. I always add some cubes of tofu, fried until golden, but it is the dressing that really makes this recipe special. The dressing is a Heidi Swanson (of 101 Cookbooks fame) special. I have altered the recipe slightly - Heidi includes cayenne pepper and some cane sugar; i find the sugar is not required when the cayenne is omitted. If you like a blast of heat, add 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 1 & 1/2 tablespoons natural cane sugar.
This recipe does require a few of what i consider to be 'specialty items', but they are well worth having - i guarantee that if you make this once, you'll make it many times, as it is such a versatile, tasty meal. This dish is the only reason i have mirin (a Japanese sweet rice wine) in my pantry, and is my main cause for buying pine nuts and black sesame seeds. You can make it with white sesame seeds only, but the black seeds give a more interesting appearance. Prior to my 6-week 'vegan challenge', this meal was also the main reason i ever had tofu in the fridge.
SOBA NOODLES with SESAME DRESSING and SEASONAL VEG
1 heaped teaspoon pine nuts
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds
4 tablespoons black sesame seeds
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1.5 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2 teaspoons mirin
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
Reserved cooking water from noodles
1 packet (270g) soba noodles
300g firm tofu
olive oil + 2 tsp sesame oil for frying
Toast the pine nuts and sunflower seeds in a large frypan over medium heat until golden, stirring regularly. Add the black and white sesame seeds and toast a few minutes longer, stirring constantly. It is hard to tell when the black sesame seeds are toasted, so keep a close eye on the white seeds. Don't try and multi-task while you are doing this - you do NOT want them burned! Slightly under-cooked is better. Remove from the heat as soon as you smell or see toasted sesame, and transfer to a bowl. Crush seeds in a mortar and pestle - this is easiest to do in smallish batches - you want it looking like a black sand. Stir in the tamari, mirin, sesame oil and rice wine vinegar.
Pat the tofu dry and dice into cubes. Fry in the olive/sesame oil mix over medium-low heat until golden, turning often.
Prepare your vegetables, steaming or stir-frying any that need it.
When everything is nearly ready, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the soba noodles and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain (remember to reserve some cooking water) and rinse under cold water. Rinse again under hot running water if you want to serve this as a warm dish.
Add about 80 ml of noodle cooking water to the dressing and stir well to combine. Stir the dressing through the noodles (sometimes i use my hands to massage it through to get a good coverage). Layer the noodles into a serving bowl with the tofu and seasonal vegetables, finishing with a layer of vegetables and tofu (i've tried just tossing everything together and always end up with a pile of veges and tofu at the bottom of the bowl with a big mess of noodles on top. The layering method is the best way to get a good mix). Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on top. Serve immediately if you want a warm dish, or at room temperature in the summer.