Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango
I just want to give a shout-out to whoever invented noodles. Noodles are great, no? Pretty much all noodles. Especially Asian noodles.
Last year I discovered Soba noodles, aka Japanese Buckwheat Noodles. How many more times can I say that word in this post? How long will it be before I get PB&J Otter’s classic song “Noodle Dance” out of my head? Time will tell.
Moving on. Soba noodles are really great: they have a soft texture and a mild but distinctive taste, and they don’t leave you with the heavy feeling that Italian pasta (delicious though it is) often does. They also contain all eight essential amino acids. There, you learned something today.
I recently checked out Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Plenty. He’s an Israeli restauranteur in London and it’s a vegetarian cookbook with absolutely gorgeous photos. I was a vegetarian for three years — I’m not anymore but I still eat a lot of vegetarian dishes — and I wish this had been out back then cause there is some really good stuff in here. Including several soba recipes.
I added tofu to this for extra protein, but you can leave it out or use chicken instead. The recipe calls for fresh red chiles for the dressing; I went to four grocery stores, including a Latin-American market and an Asian market, because I am obsessive and single-minded. I could only find dried. So I grabbed a little red jalapeño and used that instead. The other time I made this, I skipped the chile altogether and just splashed some sri racha in the sauce, which was also really good. Possibly better. Finally, I cut down on the amount of onion, because it was pretty overwhelming, but if you’re a better planner-aheader than me, you can just soak them in ice water for a few minutes first.
*Update: did I discover a goddamn red chile plant growing out in my backyard yesterday? Yes. Yes I did.
SOBA NOODLES WITH EGGPLANT AND MANGO
adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolonghi
1/2 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 fresh red chile, finely chopped — or Sri Ratcha
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
2-3 tablespoons sunflower, canola or peanut oil (*The original recipe calls for 1 cup of sunflower oil, but I didn’t feel the need to use that much)
2 small eggplants, cut into 3/4-inch dice
8 ounces soba noodles
1 large ripe mango, roughly diced
handful of basil leaves, chopped (if you can get some use Thai basil, but much less of it)
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced
In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt for up to 1 minute, just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, chile and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.
In a large pan, heat the oil and shallow-fry the eggplant; you’ll probably have to do it in batches. Once golden brown remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave there to drain.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. It should take about 7 minutes. Drain and rise well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to drain.
Toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. You can now leave this aside for 1 to 2 hours if you want. When ready to serve, add the rest of the herbs and mix well.