Recipe: Soba Noodle Salad

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Today's featured dish is one that requires a bit of prep work for the various ingredients but is very worth the time and effort! It's also a flexible dish that can accommodate your taste and preference while packing a lot of different nutrients all in one dish.

This is actually a variant of a recipe I first learned from my mom and that dish has always won raves when I've brought it to potlucks and such.

Try it out for an energy and taste-packing lunch or served in one of your upcoming summer barbecue! Feel free to add or omit whatever you want to include in the salad to your liking.

Soba Noodle Salad (Vegetarian)
Serves 2

For the salad:
- A packet of uncooked soba noodles (from which you'll want to cook about 2 servings worth)
- Bag of greens of your choice (I just used a bunch of red lettuce from the Korean mart but feel free to use what you like. A bit of bitter greens, for example, could provide a nice contrast to the tangy salad dressing.)
- Half of a tofu block 
- Half a carrot
- Half a zucchini 
- 2 shiitake mushrooms
- 1-2 cups of edamame 
- 2 eggs
- 1 Avocado 
- Sesame seeds for garnish

For the dressing:
- 1 tbsp of red pepper paste (can add more or less depending on how akin you are to spiciness)
- 2 tbsp of soy sauce 
- 1 tbsp of vinegar
- 1.5 to 2 tbsp of plum liquid (this is called 매실액 or "maeshil ehk" in Korean and is the concentrated sweet liquid from plums. They really pack a punch when used in cooking but if you don't have any regular sugar or honey is fine)
- 1 tbsp of water
- 1/2 tbsp of sesame oil
- 1 tsp of minced garlic
- Sesame seeds

1. Cook the soba noodles until they're al dente, drain the water and wash. (Note: The leftover soba noodle water you used to boil the noodles makes a nice, slightly salty tea-like drink. Many noodle shops will serve you the soba noodle "tea" before your meal which cleanses your palate and supposedly aids in digestion.) 

2. Boil the eggs until they're hard boiled and leave to cool in cold water for peeling later. Also boil the edamame according to the directions on the package, drain the water, wash and leave to cool.

3. Slice up your tofu into cubes and julienne the carrot and zucchini. Cut the mushrooms thinly. Peel and remove the seed of the avocado and then cut them into quarter inch thin slices. (Note: Removing the excess water from the tofu will help improve flavor. You can lay the tofu block, before cutting, on a plate, place a clean paper towel on top and then something heavy to strain out the excess water from the tofu. Be careful not to put something too heavy on top or else the tofu will crumble :[ ) 

4. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl and whisk until it becomes a dressing. Taste and adjust to your liking (e.g. more sweeter, more tangier, etc). 

5. Heat up a pan on medium heat with some olive oil and then stir fry the carrot, zucchini and mushrooms with a bit of salt and pepper for about 5 minutes until they develop a nice color

6. Take out the stir fried veggies and leave on a plate. Add a bit more olive oil and now stir fry the tofu cubes in high heat with a little salt and pepper. Do so until the tofu cubes also get browned and slightly crispy on the outside (approximately 8-10 minutes)

7. Take your clean salad greens and arrange on a nice wide plate. Then arrange the soba noodles on top. 

8. Arrange the stir fried tofu cubes and veggies on top of the soba noodles.

9. Remove the edameme from the shells and the eggs from their shells and slice the eggs (width-wise). Layer around the avocado slices and the egg slices on top of your noodles. Scatter around the edamame as well.

10. Whisk your salad dressing one more time since it may have settled and then proceed to drizzle on top. Add some sesame seeds on top for garnish. You could even take some toasted and salted seaweed strips to put on top for garnish as well. You're now good to go!

Vitamins, protein, good carbs and more all in one dish!

What I really like about this dish is that it's a big old mix of flavors, textures and taste. You've got your creamy avocados, crisp greens, chewy noodles, slightly crispy tofu bits all combining with the sweet, tangy and spicy sauce. 

It's a great dish for vegetarians or when you're opting out the meat for a meal but if you're craving the meat a good skirt steak that's been cooked to medium rare with a bit of salt and pepper, sliced against the grain (after letting it cool of course so the juices inside don't escape) and arranged on top could certainly be a welcome addition. 

If you're going to serve it for a bigger crowd (just increase the recipe), I would suggest providing a pair of tongs and serving the dressing on the side for people to serve themselves. 

It's also great on its own for a nice lunch that'll keep you feeling full until your next meal!