Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cold Soba Noodles with Dipping Sauce (Zaru Soba)

I had zaru soba for the first time when I was in middle school.  My mom whipped it up one day, and it instantly became one of my favorites.  So light yet so delicately flavorful.  I was intrigued by the newness of these flavor profiles.  They were so different from the in-yo-face, zingy Korean dishes I knew so well.  After having zaru soba in several restaurants in the states and in Korea, I've found that the best way to enjoy them is at home where you can execute the steps properly.  The flavors are so gentle in zaru soba that each ingredient needs to be prepared with care, especially the noodles.  They need to be washed in cold water to rid them of any starch which can adversely affect the flavor.  Nothing should be boiled rigorously, just simmered delicately.

There are three areas of preparation for this dish - the tsuyu or dipping sauce, the noodles, and the yakumi or condiments.

Tsuyu or dipping sauce
3 cups water
a handful of kombu seaweed (about 2,000 won for a package)
1/2 cup kaishi

Take the seaweed and soak for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.  Then simmer the seaweed in the water for 3-4 minutes.  Add the kaishi or premade tsuyu sauce and simmer 1-2 more minutes.  Set aside and cool.  Chill in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes before serving.

I bought this "Dashi-ma" seaweed at Homeplus for under 2,000 won.
Simmer, don't boil.
100 grams per person of soba noodles

Bring the water to a simmer, not a boil.  The water doesn't need to be salted or oiled.  Drop the soba noodles in and push them down as they soften to make sure they're all immersed in water.  Cook for 5-6 minutes (longer for thicker noodles - check the package for instructions).  Check the noodles for doneness, they should be cooked through.

Square noodles?!!  
Drain the noodles through a colander and return them to the pot to wash by running under cold water.  Take handfuls of noodles and swish them through the water to rid them of excess starch.  Just like washing rice, the noodles are "clean" when the water runs clear.

Take the noodles and serve them in a basket.  Zaru means basket in Japanese which is why these noodles are traditionally served in a basket.  I didn't have a basket except my monster wicker laundry basket (ew), so I used my lettuce spinner basket.

Spankin' clean noodles.
Condiments (any combination of at least two of the following):
chopped green onions
minced fresh garlic
grated wasabi or Korean radish
toasted sesame seeds
shredded seaweed laver
finely sliced sesame leaves

Pour out the tsuyu into individual dipping bowls.  Each person can take their choice of condiments and season their dipping sauces.  Then take some noodles from the basket and dip them in the sauce and eat. Don't soak the noodles; it'll be too salty and overwhelm the noodles.  This dish is best served cold so chill the dipping sauce.  Sometimes I stick an ice cube in there.

I got all my harder-to-find Japanese ingredients at Mono Mart in Seorae Village.

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