Dispatches From Whitcomb Street

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zaru soba

Still hot. Still eating cold Asian noodles. When will it end? 

Cold soba (buckwheat noodles) are more about method than recipe. Good soba noodles (look for 100% buckwheat if you can find them) and good tsuyu (dipping sauce) will get you like 90% of the way there. There is nothing more refreshing on a hot night than a plate of cold, well-cooked soba noodles and maybe a fast cucumber salad (cucmbers, rice wine vinegar, sugar, and sesame seeds).

Recipe after the jump.

Zaru soba

The noodles:

Drop a package of soba noodles into boiling unsalted water; turn the heat down and simmer them for three minutes or so. Taste to check doneness—soba should not be al dente like Italian pasta, but should not be mushy, either. 

Drain the noodles of their hot water, and then wash them—get in there and really wash them—in several changes of cold water, until every speck of surface starch has been washed away and the water runs clear. Set aside.

The sauce:

Heat one part sugar, one part mirin, and four parts soy sauce until just boiling. Now combine with about three times that amount of dashi (good proportions for four people: A tablepoon of sugar, a tablespoon of mirin, a quarter cup of soy sauce, and a cup and a half of dashi). Taste and correct seasoning, adding soy for a saltier, darker sauce, mirin and sugar for a sweeter sauce, and dashi to thin it out. Remember that this is a dipping sauce—it’s okay for it to be robust and intense. Put it in the fridge.

The accoutrements:

Zaru soba requires shredded toasted nori—do this with kitchen scissors for the least mess. I like lots of scallions, too, and some toasted sesame. Sometimes we grill tofu to have on top, or blanch some baby bok choy. My mom makes paper-thin omelets and cuts them into shreds. Basically, anything that you like and that tastes good cold. It may not be authentic, but allowances are okay when it’s 90 degrees in the shade.

The assembly:

If you have the traditional flat soba basket, hooray! If not, a flat plate will do. Take a small bundle of a few noodles—a mouthful—and wind it into a little nest. Put it on the plate. Repeat until you have a good portion, arranging the nests for easy pickup with chopsticks. Garnish with your favorite toppings and serve with sauce on the side. 

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