Saturday, September 22, 2012

Buckwheat Soba Noodles

Excellent Ingredient of the Week
Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat. It is synonymous with a type of thin noodle made from buckwheat flour, and in Japan can refer to any thin noodle (unlike thick wheat noodles, known as udon). Soba noodles are served either chilled with a dipping sauce, or in hot broth as a noodle soup. It takes three months for buckwheat to be ready for harvest, so it can be harvested four times a year, mainly in spring, summer, and autumn.

In Japan, soba noodles are served in a variety of settings: they are a popular inexpensive fast food at train stations throughout Japan, but are also served by expensive specialty restaurants. Some establishments, especially cheaper and more casual ones, may serve both soba and udon as they are often served in a similar manner. Soba is the traditional noodle of choice for Tokyoites.

Soba is typically eaten with chopsticks, and in Japan, it is considered acceptable to slurp the noodles noisily. This is especially common with hot noodles, as drawing up the noodles quickly into the mouth helps cool them. Like many Japanese noodles, soba noodles are often served drained and chilled in the summer, and hot in the winter with a soy-based dashi broth. Extra toppings can be added to both hot and cold soba. Toppings are chosen to reflect the seasons and to balance with other ingredients. Many people think that the best way to experience the unique texture of hand-made soba noodles is to eat them cold, since letting them soak in hot broth changes their consistency.

100% Soba noodles are gluten free. Unlike wheat, barley, rice, oats, corn, rye, sorghum and millet, which are members of the grain family, buckwheat belongs to a different family. Buckwheat is a native of southern China, but it is cultivated worldwide and has been a part of the human diet for centuries.
Buckwheat has the second-highest protein content after oats — certainly higher than the amount in wheat, rice, millet, sorghum and corn. Containing all nine essential amino acids, it is a complete protein, like soybeans. Soba noodles made from buckwheat flour can be consumed by celiac disease patients.

You can buy buckwheat noodles all over town, but you can also very easily make them at home with no special equipment.

Homemade Buckwheat Soba Noodles

2 cups of buckwheat flour
1-2 tablespoons wheat flour, optional for extra strength
1/2 cup of water
1/2 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar or lemon juice

The night before, place the flour in a medium size bowl. Pour the water and vinegar/lemon juice into the bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until you’ve combined it as much as you can. It will most likely be a crumbly mixture at this point. Using your hands, start kneading the mixture until the water and flour starts turning into a ball (at which point you can knead a little on a clean surface outside the bowl). Knead for a few minutes until it forms into a firm ball. If needed, you can add 1-2 tablespoons of more water, or the wheat flour. You want a firm, but not dry, or wet ball. 1/2 cup of water to 2 cups of flour was perfect for me.

Clean out your bowl and place the dough ball back into it. Dampen a clean dish towel, and wring dry. Place over the ball of dough to keep it moist while it “soaks”. I also put plastic wrap over the bowl, just to make sure that everything stays moist. Leave the bowl out on the counter top overnight for 12 -24 hours.

When ready to roll out, first place a large pot of water to boil on the stove. While the Japanese don’t salt their pasta water, I like too, as the dough doesn’t contain any salt. So salt it generously.
Meanwhile, divide the dough into four sections. Using arrowroot powder, buckwheat flour, or even white flour (once again, only if you don’t have to be gluten free), flour the rolling surface well. If you have a large wooden cutting board, it’s nice to roll and cut directly on it. Flour the top of the dough and your wooden rolling pin. With gentle, but firm motions, start rolling out the dough. You want to roll it out to about 1/8 inch thickness or even thinner! During this process make sure that you are keep both sides of the dough well floured.

To make it easier to cut, I cut the dough into thirds (about 4 inches tall), and laid them on top of each other (just make sure they are lightly floured to prevent sticking). Using a sharp knife, cut the noodles into 1/8 inch “slices” all the way down the dough. Repeat this process with the rest of the dough and let the noodles rest for about 10-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, your pot of water should be ready. Make sure it’s at a rolling boil, then add all of the noodles at once, giving a gentle stir to make sure they don’t stick to each other. It should only take two minutes to cook. When done they should be tender, but still be slightly chewy.
Drain the noodles, making sure that you use a colander with fine holes so the noodles don’t fall through! You can now rinse with cold water to cool them if you are using it in a cool dish, or keep warm for whatever dish you have planned for it.

Basic cold soba recipe

8 ounce(s) soba noodles
2 scallions, sliced
2 teaspoon(s) sesame oil
2 teaspoon(s) reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoon(s) toasted sesame seeds

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse under cold running water until cool. Transfer to a medium bowl and toss with scallions, oil, soy sauce and sesame seeds. Yum!