A little late I know…but better late than never… (and it is, technically, still February!)
The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com.
Having never made soba noodles before, I was unsure of what to expect. In fact, although there are many steps in making cold soba and tempura…it is actually quite a simple dish. You start by boiling the soba noodles. I followed the directions on the package and let them cook up for 4 minutes, drained them and then plunged them into cold water to stop the cooking.
Next up was the broth for the soba…
Mentsuyu – Traditional dipping sauce:
2 cups basic vegetable stock
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
Heat the mirin gently and then add in the soy sauce and vegetable stock. The Mentsuyu is typically made with Kombu Dashi, which I did not get my hands on soon enough, so I substituted vegetable stock and added just a bit of powdered miso soup broth for a little more flavor.
Vegetables, a beautiful thing! All the fresh ingredients for the tempura on the right and all the toppings for the cold soba in the upper right. Clockwise, starting at the tofu: tofu, edamame, nori, julienne of cucumber, green onions, sweet potatoes, broccoli, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and green beans! Time to make the tempura batter…
Tempura batter works best when it is very cold. Although it’s a bit hard to tell…pictured above is a clear mixing bowl set atop some ice water in a metal mixing bowl.
1 egg yolk from a large egg
1 cup (240 ml) iced water (or
½ cup (120 ml) (70 gm) (2½ oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dredging
½ cup (120 ml) (70 gm) (2½ oz) cornflour (also called cornstarch)
½ teaspoon (2½ ml) (2½ gm) (0.09 oz) baking powder
oil, for deep-frying preferably vegetable
ice water bath, for the tempura batter (a larger bowl than what will be used for the tempura should be used. Fill the large bowl with ice and some water, set aside)
Place the iced water into a mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg yolk and gradually pour into the iced water, stirring (preferably with chopsticks) and blending well.
Add flours and baking powder all at once, stroke a few times with chopsticks until the ingredients are loosely combined. The batter should be runny and lumpy. Place the bowl of batter in an ice water bath to keep it cold while you are frying the tempura. The batter as well as the vegetables and seafood have to be very cold. The temperature shock between the hot oil and the cold veggies help create a crispy tempura.
Heat the oil in a large pan or a wok. For vegetables, the oil should be between 320° and 345°F. You can test the oil by dropping a piece of batter into the hot oil. If it sinks a little bit and then immediately rises to the top, the oil is ready. I used an electric fondue pot, which has a variable temperature dial. I checked to make sure the oil was hot enough with a thermometer.
Start with the vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, which won’t leave a strong odor in the oil. Dip them in a shallow bowl of flour to lightly coat them and then dip them into the batter. Slide them into the hot oil, deep-frying only a couple of pieces at a time so that the temperature of the oil does not drop.
Place finished tempura pieces on a wire rack so that excess oil can drip off. Continue frying the other items, frequently scooping out any bits of batter to keep the oil clean and prevent the oil (and the remaining tempura) from getting a burned flavor.
Serve immediately for the best flavor, but they can also be eaten cold.
A quick dipping sauce can be made with garlic paste, soy sauce and ponzu, and if you like it spicy, add a small dollop of Sriracha! We enjoyed the tempura with a crisp white wine with some acidity to it, which is always great with fried food.
We made sure to gobble all the tempura while it was still hot and crispy, so we saved the soba for our second course.
Besides the broth, there is an additional dipping sauce for the soba.
¾ cup green onions finely sliced
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon English mustard powder
1 tablespoon grape-seed oil or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste – roughly 1/3 a teaspoon of each
Shake all the ingredients together in a covered container. Once the salt has dissolved, add and shake in 2 tablespoons of water and season again if needed.
All the ingredients should be chilled or room temperature. To build your dish, pile noodles into a bowl. Spoon 1/4 to a 1/2 cup of the broth over the noodles, and then begin adding toppings per your tastes. I used julienned cucumber, nori strips, edamame, green onions and a dot of Sriracha. Serve with the dipping sauce on the side, grab noodles with chopsticks, dip into sauce, and then slurp it all up.