The weather has been fabulous for spring so far in Toronto. A great time to start riding the bike! Warmer weather, though, brings cooler dishes, which is why I loved this dish. It melds a variety of Asian flavours together with my one of my favourite noodles, soba. The fresh green veggies, including baby bok choy, snow peas and spinach, are lightly steamed, then combined with cool silken tofu in chunks and smothered with a ponzu soy sauce.
But what is ponzu? It is an Asian sauce made from mirin, rice vinegar, bonito flakes and kombu, and occasionally soy-based, with a note of citrus tang from yuzu. But what is yuzu? It is a citrus fruit from East Asia, that looks like a small grapefruit but tastes like grapefruit and mandarin orange. It is difficult to find yuzu here, so it can be substituted with a blend of juices from other citrus fruits (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, etc). There are recipes to make your own ponzu sauce as well but I buy mine from the store.
I have discussed other Asian ingredients and where to find them in Toronto, in previous posts here and here, and ponzu sauce can also be found at Asian markets like Bestwin and T&T. I can’t say I’ve seen it at Loblaws and the like, but I haven’t checked. I found it on amazon as well.
Ponzu sauce is nice as a replacement for soy sauce in many Asian dishes and has the added benefit of less sodium. It is also a great dipping sauce for gyoza (Japanese dumplings).
This dish was adapted from Gourmet (July 2008), and despite having a long ingredient list and many directions, is quite simple to prepare but does leave many dirty dishes to clean. However, it is definitely worth it. You can use an assortment of seasonal Asian vegetables, steam them until crisp but retain their colour (blanch them if you are incredibly worried, but I chose not to dip anything into ice water and it was fine). The noodles can be cooked under the steaming vegetables, to save time. The sauce is nice but the ponzu flavour is not overwhelming. If you cannot find the ponzu sauce, substitute it with a bit more soy sauce, or omit completely. It makes a lot of sauce, which is tasty but could likely also be decreased by 3/4 or more. The crowning touch is the chilled silken tofu which melts in your mouth and brings that coolness to your palate. I found the dish best when served completely chilled the next day as leftovers, when the sauce is added just before serving.
I am submitting this glorious spring dish to a few places this time: my second submission to Health Nut Challenge 5 featuring Cruciferous Vegetables, hosted by Yasmeen Health Nut, to Presto Pasta Nights hosted by Thyme for Cooking and to Ivonne at Cream Puffs in Venice for Magazine Mondays.
Chilled Soba with Baby Bok Choy, Snow Peas, Spinach and Tofu
For the sauce:
2 cups dashi or next 3 ingredients:
1 large dried shiitake mushroom
2 1/2 cups water
8 (1-inch) pieces kombu (dried kelp)
For the soba:
1 pound snow peas, trimmed
1 pound baby bok choy, halved
6-10 ounces baby spinach
1 pound dried soba noodles
1 (14- to 18-ounce) package silken tofu
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, divided
2 tablespoons thin matchsticks/grated peeled ginger
Make the sauce:
1. If not using instant dashi, simmer mushroom in water in a small saucepan, covered, 15 minutes. Add kombu and barely simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a large glass measure, pressing on and discarding solids. Return 2 cups liquid (add water if necessary) to saucepan.
2. Add soy sauce, mirin, ponzu, sugar and bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in sesame oil, then cool. Note: Sauce can be made 3 days ahead and chilled.
Cook the noodles and vegetables:
1. Steam (or blanch) snow peas over a large pot of unsalted boiling water until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large colander set in ice bath to stop cooking (I skipped this). Lift colander to drain. Transfer snow peas to a bowl.
2. Steam baby bok choy for approximately 4 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a large colander set in ice bath to stop cooking (I skipped this). Lift colander to drain. Transfer to a bowl with snow peas.
3. Meanwhile, return water to a boil. Blanch or steam spinach until just wilted, about 30 seconds, then cool and drain in same manner. Squeeze out excess water. Add to snow peas.
4. If you can manage all that steaming at once, try to boil your soba noodles as per the package directions (likely 6-8 minutes once water returns to a boil) under the steamer, stirring occasionally, until tender. Drain in colander and rinse with cold water. Cool in ice bath until very cold (add more ice to water as necessary, but I still skipped this step). Drain well.
5. Carefully drain tofu and pat dry. Cut into 3/4-inch cubes.
6. Whisk sauce, then pour 1 1/2 cups sauce into a large bowl. Add noodles, snow peas, baby bok choy, spinach, and half of scallions and toss. Serve in shallow bowls, topped with tofu, remaining scallions, and ginger. Drizzle with some of remaining sauce and serve remainder on the side.