Cold Soba Salad

This week has been quite the challenge. We launched our #LOVENOTES Suicide Prevention Campaign this past Monday. I generally don’t like to plan events and sale food because it is a lot of work. I had some people cancel on me and had to come up with something with less than 24 hour notice. I wanted to do something nice and easy so I could focus on ensuring the event ran smoothly and everyone enjoyed themselves.
I had planned on covering sautéed cucumbers as a technique this month, as we generally associate cucumbers with being raw. However, they are delicious cooked. Summers in Texas can be extremely hot. At times you want something nice, light and refreshing. I have a passion for Asian Food, specifically Japanese Food. I decided that I was going to make a cold Soba for the campaign launch and what better way to utilize the cooked cucumbers.
I love Asian Cuisine because there is so much depth to the flavor of the food yet everything is fresh, natural and light. For this salad, I precooked the Soba Noodles, sautéed the vegetables in a wok, then tossed everything in a white miso peanut dressing.

Soba Noodles
Soba is a Buckwheat Noodle it can be gluten free but sometimes flour is added to help with elasticity. Typically it is found dry in specialty grocery stores. I have only seen it made fresh when I was working at NOBU. The art of Soba as with any pasta is a beauty. You have to be calm and relaxed, it’s almost as if the noodle can sense your frustration and anxiety and absorbs it. Traditional Soba is served cold with a side of dashi, but I decided it to make this one into a salad for easier serving. Plus it’s delicious.
To make the Soba you bring water to a boil and add salt until it tastes like ocean water as with regular noodles. This allows the pasta to absorb the flavor of the salt. Dry soba cooks in about 5 minutes, it’s pretty quick. Stir immediately to prevent sticking. You want to have some ice water nearby to shock the noodles and stop the cooking. Soba has a lot of starch, it’s recommended that you rinse it a few times to remove it, this prevents the gumminess. I like to toss the soba in a little bit of sesame oil to prevent sticking. Use a small amount as sesame oil is very strong.

Vegetables
I began with the Bok Choy as it takes longest to cook. Bok Choy is a member of the cabbage family. I like to sauté it to start the cooking process then let it steam to finish. The leaves cook fast but you want the root to be nice and tender as well. Separate the leaves from the stem. Sautee the stems first, once tender add in the leaves, a drop of water and let them steam to finish. Once the Bok Choy is done, remove from the wok and reserve.

As with most cooking you want to add depth to the dish by cooking in layers, building upon the foundation of the previous ingredients. This allows the flavors to come together a lot better. I then started with sautéed fresno peppers, once they were nice and soft I added freshly chopped ginger. This method also leaves a nice flavor on the pan to build that foundation of flavor.

Next I threw in the cucumbers until they were cooked but not too soft, then you add in the green onions until they get soft and pliable. Last I added fresh daikon as you still want the crunch but some of that rawness to be removed from the residual heat. Cool all the vegetables and toss in with your noodles. Finish with the dressing, pour the dressing around the side of the bowl not on top of the noodles. If you pour dressing directly on top it will make the noodles soggy. A bowl works best as it allows you to fully incorporate and toss the ingredients in.

Garnish with sliced scallion bottoms and wakame.

White Miso Peanut Dressing
Miso is one of my favorite ingredients to make a dressing with. Umami is the flavor profile that I enjoy the most. For this particular dressing you really only need a few of the Japanese pantry staples: Miso, Rice Wine Vinegar, Soy Sauce, Sesame Oil, and some Sugar (you can also use Honey or Agave). I like to start with the base which is most forgiving, the Peanut Butter. I add in a little miso as the flavor is pretty strong. I balance the flavor with rice wine vinegar for acid, soy sauce for the salt, sesame oil for that depth and sugar or sweetener of your choice. I like to encourage people to experiment, learn and develop their palettes on their own. So I will not include the recipe for this particular dressing but experiment and create a dressing that you enjoy.

Cold Soba Salad
1# Soba Noodles
2 Fresno Peppers- sliced
1 2” Piece Ginger- finely diced
2 Heads Bok Choy- Leaves and Stem separated
2 Cucumbers- We used Row 7 Experimental Cucumbers you can sub with Kirby or (1) Hot House
1 Bunch Scallions- Greens 2” sticks, Whites sliced and reserved for garnish
1 cup Daikon- Julienned
Wakame- Julienned
White Miso Peanut Dressing

Pickling Cucumbers

Pickling Cucumbers

The exact origins of pickling are unknown, but the practice has been around for thousands of years, dating as far back as 2030 BC when cucumbers were pickled in the Tigris Valley of Mesopotamia. The word “pickle” comes from the Dutch “pekel” or northern German “pókel”, meaning “salt” or “brine”— both very important components in the pickling process. Pickling originated as a preservation method.

While you can pickle almost anything from Beets to Swiss chard stems to Strawberries, for the sake of this month’s theme we will focus solely on cucumbers. Pickles are created by immersing fresh fruits or vegetables in an acidic brine, a typical ratio of 2 parts water to 1 part vinegar. The cucumbers sit in the liquid until they are no longer considered raw or vulnerable to spoilage.  Cucumbers commonly come to mind when we think of pickles.

Pickled cucumbers are often lacto-fermented in a saltwater brine. During this process, lactic microbial organisms develop, which turn the naturally occurring sugars of foods into lactic acid.

The recipe below is a simple guide, but the flavor of pickling brine is versatile as long as you maintain the 2:1 ratio of water to vinegar. Once you get the hang of it, you can interchange the vinegar, sugar and spices to fit the flavor profile of your choice. Glass jars work best when pickling cucumbers as the flavor of the brine is absorbed in plastic.

Vinegar: Vinegar is important in the preservation of the Cucumbers because the acidity makes it impossible for the food to spoil. Choose light bodied vinegars as the acid intensifies the longer that the cucumbers sit in the liquid. Apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, wine vinegars such as prosecco, red wine, moscato vinegar, and flavored vinegars such as chipotle vinegar would do well. While white balsamic vinegar is an excellent choice, do not use balsamic vinegar.

Sugar: Sugar serves to balance out the acidity of the vinegar. Each sugar has its own flavor profile, while white is the typical sugar used, you may substitute brown sugar, muscovado sugar, coconut sugar, palm sugar etc.

Spices: The good thing about pickling is that you can add pretty much any spice, again, depending on the flavor profile that you are going for. Also be cognizant of the amount of spice that you are adding. Some spices are pretty heavy and flavorful.

Basic spices include: all spice, bay leaves, celery seed, cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander, cumin, curry powder, fennel seed, juniper berries, mustard seed, peppercorns, and pepper flakes.

Herbs: Herbs also add flavor to the pickling liquid, but you want to use heavier herbs because something light like chives wouldn’t work.

Some basic herbs include: dill, fennel, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, summer savory, and thyme.

Produce: Incorporating flavorful produce also adds a level of depth to your pickling spice.

Some basic flavor enhancers include: chili peppers, garlic cloves, ginger, jalapeños, lemon, and onion.

Basic Pickling Liquid

Ingredients:

4 cups water

2 cups vinegar

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon clove

1 teaspoon allspice

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

2 bay leaves

1 bunch dill

Instructions:

  1. Bring the water and vinegar to a boil; this helps to dissolve the salt and sugar and allows the spices and herbs to release more flavor.
  2. Add in the sugar and salt; stir until it dissolves.
  3. Add your herbs, spices, and produce.
  4. Let sit for 10 minutes. This lets the flavors meld and cools the liquid. (Adding boiling hot liquid in glass can cause it to break.)
  5. Place your cucumbers in a container that will allow them to be completely submerged in liquid. Pour the liquid over and let sit for 2-3 days.  

What are your favorite spices for pickling?

Cucumbers

Cucumbers are the fruit of a plant from Southeast Asia. Cucumbers originated in either India or Thailand.

There are many varieties of cucumbers. English Cucumbers tend to be longer and come shrink-wrapped in plastic. The American variety are round. Gherkin, Dill and pickling cucumbers are picked when immature and firm in order to make pickles.

For this particular recipe I am using Row 7 seeds Experimental Cucumbers which were grown for me by Veg’d Out Urban Farms. These are by far the best cucumbers that I have tasted. The flavor is intensified and the texture, they have the perfect crunch.

When it comes to selecting cucumbers always select a firm cuke with a bright green color. Avoid any bruised cucumbers with soft spots or yellow in color.

Store cucumbers in the fridge, if cut wrap them tightly as they tend to absorb flavors of other foods.

Peak: May-August

Cooking: Pickled, Raw, Sauté, Grilled, Soups (Gazpacho), Salads, Flavored Waters

One of my favorite cucumber salads that I like to make is a Cucumber and Poppy Seed Salad. Its quick, easy, refreshing and delicious. The moscato vinegar provides a quick pickle, while the poppy seeds add an additional crunch. The vinegar and sugar make it the perfect balance of sweet and sour.

Works well with:

Herbs: Basil, Celery Leaves. Chervil, Chive, Cilantro, Dill, Lemon Balm, Lovage, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Scallions, Tarragon, Thyme

Spices: Allspice, Caraway Seeds, Cayenne, Celery Seed, Coriander, Cumin, Pepper (white, black, pink), Red Chili Flakes.

Produce: Bell Peppers, Celery, Chile Peppers, Frisee, Garlic, Horseradish, Jicama, Melon, Lemon, Lime, Onions (Green and Red), Romaine, Shallots, Tomatoes

Dairy: Butter, Buttermilk, Cheese (Feta), Coconut Milk, Cream, Cream Cheese, Crème Fraiche, Sour Cream

Proteins: Seafood: Fish, Salmon, Shrimp, Scallops

Cuisines: Indian, Thai, Asian, Japanese, Greek, Vietnamese

Cucumber and Poppy Seed Salad

1 Cucumber halved, seeded, and sliced ¼”

1 Fresno Chili Pepper halved, seeded and julienned

2 TBS Cilantro chopped

2 TBS Moscato   Vinegar

1 TBS I Love Aceite Olive Oil

1 TBS Poppy Seeds

1 TBS Sugar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat. Let marinate for 10 minutes so that the flavors can absorb.