Zaru Soba: Chilled Buckwheat Noodles with Seared Scallops and Ikura

Buckwheat soba w seared scallops & ikura_n

Chilled buckwheat noodles topped with whatever imagination and taste comes up with and served with tsuyu dipping sauce combines the terms “gourmet” with “healthful.” Recipes follow.

A favorite food memory from the days I spent in Japan is the combination of sultry summer afternoons and lunches of refreshingly chilled buckwheat noodles. The first time I was served zaru soba in a Japanese restaurant, I knew I’d begun a life-long love affair.

Soba refers to thin noodles made from buckwheat, which in Japan is mainly grown in Hokkaido. Zaru refers to a seive-like bambo tray the soba is often served on, although these days it is popular to drain the soba in a colander and to then place the noodles on a tray or dish. Often served plain or with thin strips of nori and perhaps toasted sesame seeds, the noodles are almost always served with tsuyu, dashi, mirin and sweetened soy sauce mixture. The mixture is typically refrigerated or chilled with ice, and just prior to serving wasabi and scallions can be mixed in. Chopsticks are used to gather up a portion of soba which is then dipped into the tsuyu and, at least in Japan, the noodles are eaten with loud, appreciative slurps.

Buckwheat soba w seared scallops & ikura close_n

In addition to being tasty and very simple to make, soba is an especially healthful food. Easy to digest and packed with energy, soba contains all eight essential amino acids as well as antioxidants and important nutrients such as thiamine.

Soba and tsuyu are available at Asian grocers and in the Asian sections of many grocery stores. Tsuyu can be fairly easily made from scratch, provided you have on hand the necessary kombu, katsuo (bonito) flakes, mirin and soy sauce. Cooking up a serving or two of zaru soba – or several – for lunch or a light dinner is a breeze.

Zaru Soba with Seared Scallops and Ikura (for 2 servings)

Soba Ingredients:

  1. Two serving’s worth of soba (It generally comes packages with ribbons used to tie off serving-sized bundles.)
  2. Water to boil the soba
  3. Salt

Prepare according to package instructions much as you would pasta. Drain cooked soba in a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water, using your hand or tongs to toss. Place rinsed, drained soba on plates, top with seared scallops, ikura and strips of nori and serve.

Seared Scallop Medallions

Directions:

  1. Select 4 large sea scallops. Cut them into medallions (approximately 1/8 inch (o.3 cm) thick.
  2. Dust medallions with seasonings of your choice. (We like a mixture of sesame seeds, chili pepper, powdered garlic, cinnamon and nutmeg. Commercially prepared Thai seasoning blends work very well.)
  3. In a frying pan, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat till a drop of water placed in the pan sizzles. Sear medallions on each side for just a few seconds. Use tongs or chopsticks to flip.
  4. Immediately remove medallions to a cool plate. Cover and refrigerate if they are to be used later.

ikura cured salmon eggs_nTo create sushi grade ikura in your own kitchen, see our article Ikura: Curing Salmon Eggs

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Alaskan Shrimp Harumaki with Lime-Infused Ponzu Dipping Sauce

Arctic Anpan Two Ways: Sweet Azuki and Caribou Cha Sui

Alaskan Shrimp Harumaki with Lime-Infused Ponzu Dipping Sauce

Harumaki w shrimp 2_n

Harumaki (spring rolls) are a fun, tasty, easy-to-make appetizer or side dish. Both the wrappers and the filling can be modified to suit just about any taste. Recipes follow.

So named because they were a traditional part of Chinese New Year and a celebration of the coming spring, originally spring rolls were filled with vegetables and shaped like gold bars; thus they were a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. When Chinese immigrants brought this popular food to Japan, the name was directly translated to haru (spring) maki (roll). These days spring rolls are part of menus the world over, in part because they easily lend themselves to fusion cooking.

Our contribution to a recent dinner party was harumaki filled with sweet Alaskan shrimp, shitake mushrooms and fennel, which we’d recently been presented as a gift. These ingredients were arranged on a piece of nori (dried seaweed) and rolled up in thin squares of one of our favorite pasta doughs. Served hot from the deep fryer along with a lime-infused Ponzu dipping sauce, they were a big hit.

The Alaskan shrimp we use in our recipes are usually pink, coon stripe or side stripe shrimp – species often served in sushi restaurants as ama-ebi (sweet shrimp). The pinks and side stripes in particular have a distinctively sweet flavor.

Alaska Shrimp Harumaki (for eight, two-bite rolls)

Ingredients:

  • 2 to 4 shitake mushrooms
  • nori (dried seaweed) rectangles approximately 2 1/2″ x 3 “
  • 8 wrappers 3″ x 3″ (we used pasta dough). (Ready-made egg roll wrappers are available in most grocery stores.)
  • 8 ounces shrimp, shelled and veins removed
  • fresh fennel leaves – enough for each roll
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • olive oil
  • water (to help seal the wrappers)

Directions:

  1. Cut the mushrooms into 1/4 inch slices.
  2. If shrimp are small, use whole. Otherwise cut into 1 to 2 inch pieces
  3. In a bowl, toss together the mushrooms, shrimp, lime juice, ground pepper and sea salt.
  4. Place 1 tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and heat over medium heat till oil sizzles when a drop of water is added. Add the shrimp mixture, stirring frequently for about 90 seconds. Remove from heat and return mixture to bowl to avoid overcooking.
  5. Place one piece of nori in center of each wrapper. (Prevent nori from breaking by first dipping in water.) Place shrimp mixture and fennel in center of nori.
  6. To wrap: Position square so that one corner is toward you. Fold this corner over the filling. Next fold the right and left corners over the filling. Then roll wrapper toward top (remaining) corner as you would a burrito.
  7. Seal by slightly moistening the last corner and gentle pressing closed. Seal well to prevent oil from leaking in during deep frying.
  8. In a deep fryer or sufficiently large pot: Add enough frying oil (we use light olive oil or canola oil) so that rolls will be completely submersed. Bring oil to 350°F. Place rolls into oil and cook until wraps are golden brown. Do not overcrowd. Remove and drain on a plate covered with paper towel.
  9. Serve immediately with ponzu dipping sauce.

Harumaki w shrimp 1_n

Lime-Infused Ponzu Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • small square (about 3/4 inch) konbu (dried kelp)

Directions:

  1. Mix the ingredients together in a non-reactive container and let rest for 8 hours.
  2. Remove konbu.
  3. Combine the following dried ingredients to make 1 tbsp: onion, garlic, chili pepper, cilantro. Or use fresh ingredients.

Pasta Wrappers

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup semolina
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • water

Directions:

  1. In a bowl, combine the ingredients with a fork.
  2. Add 1 tbsp water. Continue combining. Consistency of dough should be as dry scrambled eggs. Add more water 1 tbsp at a time as necessary.
  3. Kneed dough by hand till it forms a ball. Wrap ball in plastic (or cover container tightly) and let rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Finish processing into squares using a manual pasta machine.

Sweet, Smooth, Delicious Azuki Bean Paste

Azuki paste and azuki beans_n

Popular in Japan, sweetened azuki beans are a key ingredient in sumptuous desserts and baked goods. (The above photo marks the debut of our new Nikon D800.)

Many years ago, I lived in San Francisco. Walking along shopping streets lined with boutiques, a waft of warm vanilla  drew me into a tiny shop with just two tables. Behind the counter was very large crepe pan and a chalkboard menu filled with tempting daily specials. I was drawn to the vanilla crepe stuffed with red bean paste and topped with green tea ice cream. The textures, sweetness and interplay of flavors made for a satisfying dessert for a die-hard sweet tooth.

Many years later, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, supplied with dried azuki beans from a speciality shop in Anchorage, I was ready to try my hand at homemade azuki bean paste. It came out perfect and was featured in anpan (Japanese-style steamed rolls) to rave reviews. We can’t wait to try this paste in our own crepes.

Azuki Bean Paste

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried adzuki beans
  • 5 cups water
  • 1  1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • pinch salt

Directions

  1. Soak dried beans overnight. Make sure beans are generously covered in several inches of water, as the water will be absorbed.
  2. The following morning, pour beans into a colander and rinse thoroughly with cold water.
  3. Place beans in a large pot along with 5 cups of water.
  4. Bring water to a boil over high heat.
  5. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1  1/2 hours. Beans should be soft.
  6. Put a wire strainer over a bowl.
  7. Pour beans and liquid into strainer. Strainer should be low enough that beans are partially immersed in water.
  8. Using a wooden spoon, smash beans through strainer into water. Skins should remain in the strainer.
  9. Line a bowl with cheesecloth and pour strained beans and liquid into cheesecloth.
  10. Draw up edges of cheesecloth and squeeze out excess liquid.
  11. Put squeezed out bean paste back into pot.
  12. Add sugar and salt to the beans and stir mixture over low heat. Continue stirring until mixture is glossy and has the consistency of mashed potatoes.
  13. Store in refrigerator.

See also: Arctic Anpan 2 Ways: Sweet Azuki Paste and Caribou Cha Sui