Otsu is a cold soba (buckwheat) noodle salad named, I believe, for a city in Japan. I had seen a couple references to it, and so when I saw fresh buckwheat noodles at the Asian market, I picked up a package, thinking it would make a nice summery dinner. Unfortunately we haven’t seen any sign of summer since then.
Once in awhile, maybe a few times a year, I crave tofu. Identifiable tofu, that is – not blended into a smoothie or peanut sauce. Done right, marinated perhaps but always well crisped – caramelized, even – in a hot pan, tofu can be delicious. The key to giving your tofu a nice outer crust is to start with a firm variety, then press as much excess liquid out as you can. To do this, sandwich it between a couple layers of good paper towel (not the wussy stuff) and put a skillet or something heavy on top to weigh it down for awhile. The longer you press it, the drier it will become, which will allow it to crisp up nicely.
The dressing is a melange of a bunch of recipes I looked up; as I was shaking it together in its jar it occurred to me that it could do double duty as a marinade for the tofu. So I poured some over my slab of tofu and stuck it in the fridge. (As it turned out, it marinated for more than a day, due to our spontaneous shawarma yesterday.)
This is one of those meals that can be classified as real fast food. (Hey – perhaps that should be a recipe category?) The noodles boil in 3-4 minutes, as long as it takes to fry the tofu, which since it’s already cooked only needs to brown on the outside. Slice some cucumber and shake up your dressing, and you’re good to go.
To quote Mike: “I really liked it. I’m not kidding, that was the first time I sort of actually enjoyed tofu.”
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. sesame oil
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. sugar or honey
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
a squirt of hot chile sauce (the red stuff in the squeeze bottle) – optional
about 1/2 lb. (8 oz.) fresh or dried soba (buckwheat) noodles, or as much as you think you’ll need
about a third of a cucumber, halved and sliced
a green onion or two, chopped
half a package of firm tofu
canola or sesame oil, for cooking
as much chopped fresh cilantro as you like
sesame seeds, toasted
To make the dressing, shake all the ingredients up in a jar. If you like, pour some over your slab of tofu and let it sit for a couple hours or up to a couple days. If you want to press it, do it after it comes out of the marinade.
Cook the soba noodles according to package directions, then run them under cold water to cool them down and drain them well. Add the cucumber and green onion, drizzle with about half the dressing, toss and divide among your bowls.
Cut the tofu into about 1″ squares (or bite-sized pieces) and heat a drizzle of oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the tofu and brown on both (or all) sides. Divide the crispy tofu among the bowls, top with cilantro and sesame seeds, and drizzle with extra dressing. Serve immediately.