My apartment was a furnace this Memorial Day weekend. We spent Saturday at P.C. Richards buying air conditioners but they can’t be installed until Wednesday. The thought of cooking anything (let alone making french fries!) made my face burn with anxiety. Just looking at the oven made me sweat. We ate pizza and Chinese food and Mexican food and anything we didn’t have to make ourselves. And yet tonight, I missed cooking. And our apartment had cooled down a tiny bit. A voice called to me, a familiar voice, a voice that tickled my ears just a few weeks ago in San Francisco. The voice was Heidi Swanson’s and she was calling to me from the cover of her gorgeous new cookbook Super Natural Cooking. She told me to make Otsu.
Heidi says on page 62, “Unlike many pasta recipes that leave you feeling weighed down and sluggish, this one makes for a healthy, invigorating, and energizing meal that will quickly become a favorite.” I liked it because it involved cold noodles in a spicy sauce–a heavenly idea for such a hot apartment.
At first, I went to Key Foods searching out soba noodles and tofu but not wanting to get beat up asking the manager where I could find the tofu, I moved to the more high end store on Union Street, Union Market. There I found most of the ingredients I needed, though not quite to Heidi’s specifications. (Heidi specifies extra-firm nigari tofu, I could only find the kind you see here–next to the Soba noodles):
Heidi says to use 1/3 cup shoyu sauce but I only had soy sauce, and that worked fine. (I’ll keep my eyes peeled for shoyu sauce the next time I’m in Manhattan–apparently it’s more complex than just regular soy.)
I just e-mailed Heidi to tell her how much I loved the recipe and she e-mailed me back and said I could share it with all of you right here. How generous! Here’s how to cool down, then, as you burn up in the coming summer months. You will need:
For the dressing:
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup unseasoned brown rice vinegar
1/3 cup shoyu sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
For the rest:
12 ounces dried soba noodles
12 ounces extra-firm nigari tofu
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and thinly sliced
1 small handful of cilantro, coarsely chopped, for garnish
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds for garnish
Heidi instructs, in the book: “To make the dressing, combine the zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and shoyu and pulse to combine. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils.
“Cook the soba in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender” (Note from Adam: this took literally three minutes, despite the package saying seven minutes–taste the noodles as they cook!) “then drain and rinse under cold running water. While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut into rectangles roughly the size of your thumb (1/2 inch thick and 1 inch long).”
“Cook the tofu in a dry nonstick (or well seasoned) skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side.”
“Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy.”
[Side Note: when I did improv in college, we used to do warm-up exercises where we’d all lay on the floor and our leader would say something and we’d all repeat it back. I remember one of my favorite leaders–or, more accurately, our Emperor–David would have us repeat back: “Look at my beautiful bouncy hair!” (Trust me, that’s funny to be in a group of people all laying on the floor yelling out, “Look at my beautiful bouncy hair.”) Which is all to say that reading Heidi’s instruction there, I was tempted to yell out: “Look at my beautiful bouncy tofu!” Aren’t you glad I took the time to write this side note?]
“In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, the 1/4 cup cilantro, green onions, cucumber and about 2/3 cup of the dressing and toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve on a platter, garnished with the cilantro sprigs and toasted sesame seeds. Serves 4 to 6.”
There were only three of us and we devoured this thoroughly. Craig came home and asked what was for dinner and I said, “Cold noodles” and he gave me a look as if to say, “Are you for real?” Yet, after he lifted his portion into his bowl and took his first bite, his face lit up: “Mmmm!” he sang out, delighted. “I didn’t realize it was going to have so much flavor!”
I told this to Heidi and she says, “Yay! This is one of my all-time favorite recipes in the book.”
Which is all to say: it’s summer. Why eat something hot? Eat otsu–beautiful, bouncy otsu–and be happy.