Summer of Otsufeatured

As featured in Bay Area Bites, August 5, 2009. Lately, I've been obsessed with this buckwheat soba noodle recipe I spotted on one of my favorite healthy food blogs, 101 Cookbooks. The recipe is originally from Pomelo, a fresh little restaurant serving "global cuisine" in Outer Noe Valley and the Inner Sunset, and let me tell you, it is a keeper. I just cannot seem to tire of it. It's healthy and light, yet substantial enough to make up a full meal. Plus, it's a breeze to whip up...and the flavors! There's a wonderful balance to this dish.
Heat, tang, salt, and sweet

Heat, tang, salt, and sweet

The honey, soy sauce, and rice vinegar in the dressing gives it a great sweet, salty, tang. The lemon juice adds a touch of bright acidity, and the sesame oil, a mellow nuttiness. Then there's the cayenne and ginger, imparting the perfect amount of warmth that caresses the back of your throat as you savor it all. (I do bring down the cayenne from ¾ teaspoon to ½ teaspoon for a more subtle heat.)

Cool greens: scallion, cilantro, cucumber

Cool greens: scallion, cilantro, cucumber

After the heat comes the cool crisp greens. I cut my cucumber slices as thin as I can, and mix them with chopped cilantro and scallions. I love this recipe because it requires barely any cooking. Use of the stove is limited to boiling water for the noodles (be sure to keep them al dente for a nice springy chew), and pan frying the tofu. While pan frying tofu is essentially a simple concept, it can prove to be tricky due to tofu's delicate consistency. A few tips on the tofu:
  1. Use oil. While the recipe calls for cooking the tofu in a "dry" nonstick skillet, mine stuck to my nonstick pan and came out a mess when I didn't use any oil. I suggest playing it safe and coating the bottom of your pan with vegetable or olive oil.
  2. Pat it dry. Using paper towels, pat dry your tofu as much as possible. This will minimize splatter and the tofu will brown more evenly.
  3. Cornstarch. For extra crisp, dust a little cornstarch on all sides.
  4. Be patient. Once the tofu hits the pan, don't move it around. You will see that as it cooks, it will firm up. Only then should you try lifting it up to test the level of goldenness on the bottom. If you rush it, your tofu will fall apart.
Once the tofu is cooked, I prefer cutting it up into 1-inch squares, or lengthwise like matchsticks (much better than leaving it in giant hunks like I did in my first go-around pictured above).
Soba noodles dressed

Soba noodles dressed

Once everything is done, a quick toss and you have yourself the perfect summer meal. I paired it with this Steamed Sea Bass with Ginger and Scallion and the combo was fantastic.

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