With the arrival of longer, warmer days, I'm craving light and refreshing meals – the kind that take advantage of new spring produce and leave plenty of energy for an after-dinner walk to enjoy the extended sunshine and new blossoms around the neighborhood. A soba noodle salad fits the bill, and this one features seasonal gifts like tender asparagus and peppery radishes, watercress, and chives. Rounded out with extra-crispy tofu and a buttery miso dressing, this one-dish vegetarian meal both satisfies and enlivens the palate.
In creating this dish, I used the spring vegetables and herbs available to me; if you have peas, microgreens, or other produce, feel free to make substitutions. The key is to have a nice mix of fresh textures and flavors. The vegetables and herbs are left raw or lightly blanched (this really brings out the color and sweetness of the asparagus), while the soba is cooked, cooled, and tossed with a savory miso and butter sauce. Using green tea- or mugwort-flavored soba gives the dish a verdant boost, but plain buckwheat noodles are just as good.
Ideally, this should be prepared just before eating. If you refrigerate it, the soba noodles will lose their springy texture and the tofu will no longer be so delightfully crispy on the outside/soft on the inside. Fortunately, it doesn't take too long to make, so you'll still have plenty of time to enjoy the new spring sunshine.
Springtime Soba with Miso Sauce
4 ounces medium tofu
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons coconut oil or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons salt
4 ounces asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
4 ounces soba (plain, green tea, or mugwort flavored)
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 teaspoons white miso
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped chives
2 ounces watercress (about 2 cups), tough stems removed
2 small radishes, thinly sliced
Toasted sesame seeds (black or white), for garnish
Set a large pot of water to boil.
Meanwhile, prepare tofu. Rinse and drain tofu, cut into domino-sized pieces, and place between clean kitchen towels (or paper towels) to blot excess liquid. Coat tofu pieces with cornstarch. Heat oil in a skillet and fry tofu until golden on both sides. Remove from skillet and set aside.
When water comes to a boil, add salt and asparagus. Blanch asparagus until bright green and tender (not mushy), about 1-2 minutes. Remove asparagus with a slotted spoon or strainer and run under cold water to stop the cooking process. Set aside.
Return water to a boil, add soba, and cook according to package instructions (about 5 minutes, until al dente). Strain the noodles and run under cold water until completely cool.
In a large bowl, combine melted butter, miso, lemon juice, and chives and whisk until well combined. Add soba and toss to coat.
Arrange soba on two dishes with tofu, asparagus, watercress, and radishes. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve.
(Images: Emily Ho)