The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan have left me stunned and with an aching heart. I haven't yet made my way to Japan, but it has long been on the top of my travel wish list as a destination and culture that fascinates me. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone there in their recovery.
Soba noodles are one of my favorite Japanese comfort foods. Soba are usually made from a mixture of buckwheat and wheat flours. Buckwheat, contrary to its name, is not a type of wheat, and is gluten-free. But most soba noodles also contain a bit of regular wheat flour as well to make them less fragile. I used Eden Selected 100% buckwheat soba noodles, available locally at Whole Foods. I'm still on the hunt for a certified gluten-free soba noodle, which Eden's is not, but I have used these repeatedly and have had no problems.
When I went to Seattle, Lara Ferroni turned me on to the cookbook, Lucid Food by Louisa Shafia. She said she was inspired by the gorgeous, natural photography by Jennifer Martiné. I can see why. This is a book you can get lost in looking at the photographs. Kale has never looked so sexy. I was also charmed by the hand-drawn graphics embellishing the book.
This book seduces you with its storytelling, all the while teaching you to "green your cuisine" and eat in more sustainable ways. I love the introduction... Shafia describes the magic of a power outtage in New York City caused by a multistate blackout. Disconnected from trains, computers, and air conditioning, New Yorkers took to the streets for an impromptu party on the sidewalk. With their tvs turned off, neighbors chatted under a full moon and enjoyed the simple pleasures of a summer evening.
One of my favorite recipes from Lucid Food is this one for soba noodles with an almond butter sauce sweetened with maple syrup. Shafia makes it with tofu. I'm off soy for now, so I subbed some roasted chicken. The soba noodles have a soft, nutty, earthiness that is bathed in a very seductive sauce. It's made with a base of almond butter sweetened gently with maple syrup and sesame oil.
The sauce also includes a shot of soy sauce for savory saltiness. As I mentioned, I'm off soy for now, so I found a substitute that works well in this kind of context as a seasoning. It's Coconut Secret brand raw coconut amino. It is a gluten-free, soy-free, organic, coconut-based amino seasoning sauce. It also has much less salt than traditional soy sauce. It's raw, vegan, gmo-free, and contains 17 amino acids. I found it at Whole Foods, next to the soy sauce.
Along with the sobas and almond butter sauce, these noodles have snap peas for a fresh, green crunch. One of the things I love about this recipe is that Shafia pours the hot noodle water over the peas in a colander (also draining the noodles) to quickly cook the snap peas just enough. I also added some strips of red bell pepper too.
One note: the Eden Selected web site recommended cooking these 100% buckwheat sobas the traditional Japanese way to create a firmer noodle. This is easily done by shocking the noodles while they are cooking. Bring your water up to a boil, add the noodles, stir, and then let them come back up to a boil. As soon as the water begins to boil, add about 1/2 cup of cold water to the pan to stop the boiling. Repeat this one or two more times until the noodles are cooked through — when the inside of the noodle is the same color as the outside and they are still firm yet tender to the bite. This will happen quickly, in about 5-6 minutes.
We liked this sauce so much that I increased the proportion of sauce to make a little more of it. You can serve the extra at the table to add as you like.
Soba Noodles with Chicken and Almond Maple Sauce
1 pound roasted chicken meat, shredded
3/4 cup almond butter
2-4 tablespoons soy sauce or soy-free Coconut Aminos
6 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced or grated
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 cups snap peas, ends trimmed and sliced diagonally
8-12 ounces soba noodles
1 red bell pepper, sliced
3 scallions, thinly sliced
one bunch cilantro
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
chili oil for serving
Make the sauce: Combine the almond butter, soy sauce (or aminos), maple syrup, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and rice vinegar. Whisk together until it becomes a cohesive sauce. Set aside.
Place the sliced snap peas in a colander in the sink.
Fill a large pot with water, sprinkle in a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Add the noodles, return to a boil. As soon as the water returns to a boil, add about 1/2 cup cold water to stop the boiling. Let it come back to a boil again, and repeat with another 1/2 cup cold water. Repeat one more time, if necessary, until noodles are cooked through. This should take only about 5-6 minutes.
When the noodles are completely cooked, drain them into the colander with the peas. The hot water will cook the snap peas just enough. Rinse the noodles and peas in the colander briefly with cool water. Drain and then pour them out into a large serving bowl.
Add the shredded chicken, bell peppers, cilantro and scallions to the noodles and peas. Drizzle with about half of the sauce. Toss together with tongs until all of the noodles are coated with the sauce.
Before serving, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serve with chili oil and more almond butter sauce to add as you like at the table.
Adapted from Lucid Food by Louisa Shafia.