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Chilled Soba Noodle Salad

By Annie Petito Published

Try these earthy Japanese buckwheat noodles with a lush miso dressing and colorful, crisp raw vegetables.

Hearty, flavorful soba noodles are a staple of Japanese cooking. Made from buckwheat, the seed of a flowering plant closely related to rhubarb and sorrel, these noodles boast an earthy taste and a slightly chewy texture.

Soba noodles can be slurped up along with hot broth, but they also are often enjoyed in a spare bamboo-tray presentation featuring twists of chilled noodles; a dipping sauce made with soy sauce, mirin, and rice vinegar; a dab of wasabi on the side; and shredded toasted nori (dried seaweed). The simple dish, called zaru soba, is a beautiful way to showcase the noodles’ earthy, nutty-sweet flavor and resilient chew.

There are also nontraditional recipes that take the concept and turn it into a more casual one-bowl noodle salad fleshed out with crisp vegetables and a flavorful dressing in place of the dipping sauce. The dish would be just right to tote to work for lunch or pair with salmon or tofu (and perhaps a glass of sake) as a light, refreshing dinner.

We preferred soba noodles that were made with both buckwheat flour and wheat flour. They have a milder taste and, because of the gluten contributed by the wheat, a more resilient texture.

Sleuthing Soba

There are a couple of types of soba noodles that are easy to find in the United States. Pure buckwheat soba has a deep chestnut color, a pronounced (but pleasant) bitterness, and a coarse texture. Because buckwheat lacks gluten, these noodles can be quite fragile when dry and are less springy when boiled. The other commonly available type replaces some of the buckwheat flour with wheat flour. In taste tests, we preferred this type for its milder taste and, because of the gluten contributed by the wheat, its more resilient texture.

Soba is traditionally boiled in unsalted water since it is served with a highly seasoned sauce or dressing.

To cook the soba, I brought a large pot of unsalted water to a boil. Salt is typically not added to the cooking water for soba because manufacturers sometimes add salt to the noodles and because the soba is usually paired with a highly seasoned dressing or sauce.

Once the water was boiling, I added 8 ounces of soba noodles and gave them a quick stir to ensure that they were submerged and to prevent sticking. Because soba varies so much from brand to brand, recommended boiling times range from 3 to 10 minutes. Ultimately, I found that it was best to follow the timing on the individual packages. Because soba noodles are more delicate than the typical wheat pasta, it was important to check them early and often during cooking.

Once they were tender but still retained their chew, I drained the noodles in a colander and promptly ran them under cold water until they felt slick. Rinsing is essential to stop further cooking and cool the noodles; it also removes sticky surface starch, helping the noodles remain distinct and separate.

Secrets to Stellar Soba Noodle Salad

1. Buy soba that lists wheat flour along with buckwheat flour on the ingredient list. This type has a milder flavor than the pure buckwheat style, and because of the gluten contributed by the wheat, it boasts a more resilient texture and a nutty-sweet taste.

2. Don’t salt the water since the soba is served with a highly seasoned dressing and the noodles themselves may have been salted during manufacturing.

3. Follow package directions for timing since brands vary widely. Check the noodles for doneness early and often.

4. Rinse the noodles with lots of cold water after draining them to stop cooking and remove excess surface starch that could cause clumping.

Using My Noodle

With my soba ready to go, I whisked together a quick dressing inspired by the zaru soba dipping sauce. To soy sauce and salty-sweet mirin (see “Mirin”), I added nutty toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds, grated fresh ginger for zing, and red pepper flakes for a bit of heat.

When I tossed this mixture with the chilled soba, the soy dominated, and the thin dressing slid right off the noodles. So for my next batch, I reached for white miso thinned with a little water in place of the soy sauce. The thick, mildly sweet, umami-rich miso made for a velvety dressing that clung lightly to the soba and didn’t obscure its subtleties. Next, I sliced up a medley of raw vegetables: clean, cool cucumber; peppery red radishes; scallions; and snow peas.

Vegetable Prep School

Here’s how to strategically cut the vegetables into shapes that will get tangled in the noodles versus drop to the bottom of the bowl.

  • Cucumber

    Quarter lengthwise, seed, and slice thin on bias.

  • Scallions

    Slice white and green parts thin on bias.

  • Radishes

    Trim ends, halve, and slice into thin half-moons.

  • Snow Peas

    Remove strings and cut lengthwise into matchsticks.

To help keep the vegetables from collecting at the bottom of the bowl, I cut them into shapes and sizes that would get entwined in the noodles (see “Vegetable Prep School”). I noticed that the cucumbers shed a bit of water when I tossed them with the dressed noodles, so I decreased the water in the dressing by 1 tablespoon.  

To finish the salad, we toast sheets of nori, a dried seaweed, over a low flame on a gas burner.
The easiest way to cut the toasted nori into thin strips is to use kitchen shears.

Finally, in a nod to how cold soba noodles are traditionally enjoyed, I added strips of toasted nori to my salad. Their understated briny taste was the perfect finishing touch to the earthy, perfectly cooked noodles; sweet-savory dressing; and cool, crunchy vegetables.

The soba salad, chock-full of raw vegetables, can be served as a side dish or as a light main course paired with salmon, shrimp, tofu, or chicken.

Recipe Chilled Soba Noodles with Cucumber, Snow Peas, and Radishes

Try these earthy Japanese buckwheat noodles with a lush miso dressing and colorful, crisp raw vegetables.

Recipe Chilled Soba Noodles with Cucumber, Snow Peas, and Radishes for Two

Try these earthy Japanese buckwheat noodles with a lush miso dressing and colorful, crisp raw vegetables.

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JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.