Thursday, October 19, 2017

Black Sesame Otsu with Soba Noodles and Tofu

The first thing I noticed about Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook was the variety among the recipes. When I started flipping through my review copy, it was immediately clear that there are a lot of different styles and cultural influences here, and I like that a lot about it. The recipes are all tried and true favorites from women who have been featured in or have inspired the makers of Cherry Bombe magazine. And, several of the recipes are family favorites rather than trendy dishes from the latest restaurant menus. The chapters are organized by Mains, Soups and Salads, Sides, Apps Snacks and Sips, Cookies Cakes and Pies, and Sweet Treats. I’ll be watching for the first local beets of fall so I can try the Pink Spaghetti with Beet and Ricotta Sauce by Elettra Wiedemann of Impatient Foodie. Jessico Koslow contributed the Lemongrass and Ginger-Brined Chicken that looks fantastic with a simple arugula salad. The “Million Ingredient” Autumn Salad from Naomi Starkman of Civil Eats includes delicata squash, persimmons, and pomegranate seeds and would be great on a Thanksgiving menu. Speaking of fall menus, the Pumpkin-Swirled Mashed Potatoes with Vegan Rosemary Gravy looks like a delicious way to celebrate the season. For a twist on a classic cocktail, Gail Simmons’ Charred Pineapple Margarita is on my to-try list. And, the Candied Grapefruit Pops, involving grapefruit segments skewered on sticks and dipped into caramelized sugar, looks like such a fun citrusy treat. I started cooking from the book with the Black Sesame Otsu with Soba Noodles and Tofu from Heidi Swanson because the unique black sesame paste drew me in. 

That paste is sort of like pesto but taken in a different direction. Pine nuts and sunflower seeds were toasted in a dry pan on the stove. Black sesame seeds were added to toast briefly at the end. The nuts and seeds were crushed in a mini food processor, but a mortar and pestle would also work. Shoyu, mirin, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and some ground cayenne pepper were added. Drained tofu was to be cut into sticks and browned in olive oil in a skillet. My preferred method for browning tofu has for years been broiling. I toss the tofu pieces with oil, season them, and arrange them on a sheet pan. I place the sheet pan under the broiler, and every four minutes or so, I turn each piece of tofu so an uncooked side faces up until all sides are browned. The browned tofu was set aside while the soba noodles were boiled. Some of the water from boiling the noodles was used to thin some of the black sesame paste. A big spoonful of the sesame paste was set aside to use as garnish. The drained, rinsed, and drained again noodles were tossed with the thinned sesame paste and sliced green onions. The noodles were served with tofu pieces, more sliced green onions, and a dollop of the reserved sesame paste. 

I appreciated this recipe’s use of a couple of very Italian techniques that were reinterpreted with Asian flavors. The sesame paste paired nicely with the soba, and the notes in the book suggest several other uses as well such as serving it with spinach, roasted potatoes, or broccoli. I’d like to try all of those ideas. Or, I might revel in the variety by turning to a recipe found a couple of pages later which is a Caesar Brussels Salad. There’s a lot to explore here.  

Black Sesame Otosu with Soba Noodles and Tofu
Reprinted from Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook. Copyright © 2017 by Cherry Bombe, Inc. Photography by Alpha Smoot. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

This unique soba noodle salad is refreshing and distinctly Heidi. The writer-photographer-globetrotter-shopkeeper has a knack for creating meditative meals that touch on her travels and delight the taste buds in the subtlest way. Her inspiration here was a dish she discovered at a tiny restaurant in San Francisco, her home base. The umami-packed black sesame paste that flavors this salad can be made a few days in advance and also tastes great on spinach, roasted potatoes, broccoli, and other veggies. 

Makes 4 servings 

1 teaspoon pine nuts 
1 teaspoon hulled sunflower seeds 
1/2 cup black sesame seeds 
1 1/2 tablespoons organic cane sugar 
1 1/2 tablespoons shoyu, tamari, or soy sauce 
1 1/2 teaspoons mirin 
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil 
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar 
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
Fine sea salt 
12 ounces soba noodles 
12 ounces extra-firm tofu 
Olive oil 
1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced 

Toast the pine nuts and sunflower seeds in a large skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan regularly, until golden, about 3 minutes. Add the sesame seeds to the pan and toast for a minute or so. Remove from the heat as soon as you smell a hint of toasted sesame. Transfer the nuts and seeds to a mortar and crush with a pestle; the texture should be like black sand. (Alternatively, you can use a mini food processor.) Stir in the sugar, shoyu, mirin, sesame oil, vinegar, and cayenne. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed. Set aside. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously, add the soba, and cook according to the package instructions until tender. When done, reserve some of the cooking water and drain the noodles. Rinse the noodles under cold running water. 

While the noodles are cooking, drain the tofu, pat dry with a paper towel, and cut into matchstick-size slivers. Season the tofu with a pinch of salt and toss with a small amount of olive oil. Cook the tofu in a large skillet over medium-high heat, tossing every few minutes, until browned on all sides. 

Reserve a heaping tablespoon of the sesame paste, then thin the rest with 1/3 cup of the reserved noodle cooking water. In a large bowl, toss the soba, half the scallions, and the sesame paste until well combined. Add the tofu and gently toss again. Serve topped with a dollop of the reserved sesame paste and the remaining scallions.

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  1. I love that black sesame paste. This is a wonderful vegetarian meal.

  2. That looks so good! The black sesame paste is awesome.



  3. What a sensational meal Lisa, I really love this!!

  4. The “Million Ingredient” Autumn Salad sounds intriguing! I'm always looking for great, seasonal salads with fab flavor. I had automatically discounted this cookbook, with your review I'll give it more thought!

  5. what a timely creation. :) it's properly dark and would be so interesting to taste!

  6. Sounds like a neat cookbook. We have a ton of rosemary and have been playing with that a lot lately. The gravy sounds wonderful!


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