Summer of Otsu

| August 5, 2009 | 9 Comments
  • 9 Comments

Otsu
Otsu

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.

Chili powder, lemon zest, salt and honey
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.)

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 noodle salad
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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Category: asian food and drink, recipes, vegetarian and vegan

About the Author ()

Stephanie Hua is the creator of Lick My Spoon, a place for all things delicious. So far she has learned that she very much enjoys salted caramel anything, a good soup dumpling is worth a scalded tongue, and there is no room in life for non-fat cheese and crappy chocolate. Also, a barrel of cheese balls never ends well. Stephanie has been known to choose her company based on how much they can pack it down. Ability to endure cramped quarters, sketchy back alleys, and uncharted paths to seek out that special dish is also a plus in her book. If you fit the criteria, drop a note. You’ll probably get along just fine. Stephanie's writing and photography have been featured in Fodor's Travel, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, Serious Eats, and Sundance Channel. Follow her on Facebook and @lickmyspoon.
  • Caroline

    I made Otsu last night too! It really is a good recipe — I have some of the dressing leftover, so I may make it again tomorrow.

  • http://kimbcurtis.blogspot.com Kim C.

    Gorgeous!

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie Im

    thanks, kim! pretty and delicious — always a winning combo :)

  • http://michaelprocopio.wordpress.com/ Michael Procopio

    This looks really, really excellent. I’m a sucker for soba.

  • Hua

    very good!

    it is really refreshing, light, and tasty :)

  • Jill Tregor

    Hi Stephanie:

    This sounded so delicious that I made it, along with the Steamed Sea Bass with Ginger and Scallion for weekend brunch yesterday. It’s hard to say which dish was more popular–there wasn’t a drop left of either at the end of the meal. Thank you so much for posting such a delicious and easy set of recipes, and for allowing me to keep the kitchen nice and cool on a sunny, hot day!

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie Im

    Michael: thanks! yes, i love soba…the texture is so wonderful.
    hua: yep, found a winner here :)
    Jill: thanks so much for sharing that, Jill! glad the recipes were a hit!

  • Barry

    I live in the city of Otsu, Japan, so the name of this recipe really struck me as being unusual. I had never heard the word “otsu” used to describe food, so I asked my wife and she said the word “otsu” is usually paired with the word “aji”, which means taste. So, if you ever prepare this dish for a Japanese-speaking guest, you might say “otsu na aji”. I’ll try the recipe this week as my family loves soba.

  • http://lickmyspoon.com Stephanie

    Ah, thanks for the edification, Barry! enjoy the recipe!