The day before yesterday we have wondered around town with our jackets off, enjoying sunshine and the two markets that happened concurrently within walking distance of each other – the Medieval Market at Toivolan Vanha Piha and the Harvest Market at the harbor area. The leaves had just started to turn, the sky was blue, and it felt like early autumn.
Only a day later, the autumn is no longer ‘early’. Heavy cloud cover has rolled in, the rain has been falling in a steady drip since last night, and the forecast is for below-freezing temperatures overnight. The heating elements have come on – we have municipal heating, as do most apartment-dwelling Scandinavians, so it’s not under our control, but they are generally on the ball with having them on when it’s getting or about to get colder. I drag my Cymbidium off the balcony back indoors (it’s an orchid, after all, and for all it likes to be near-frozen at nights, it’s only near-frozen that it likes), and contemplate both, lunch and my lack of desire to set foot outdoors today.
Luckily for me, I’ve recently been to the Asian market in town, and have picked up a couple of packets of soba noodles – one of my favorite standby foods. Why? Because, other than being easy to make and remarkably delicious, with bright, cheerful flavors that are great at negating the grey muck that is the view outside, it also requires only a single ingredient that isn’t a pantry staple (green onions aka scallions aka salad onions), and can go well with just about any protein (shreds of stir-fried pork or chicken, or yesterday’s leftovers, or some sliced and fried sausage), or actually any substantial vegetable such as slices of winter squash or aubergine. What’s not to like? And you know, though I make no secret of being a carnivore, I make no apologies for this dish being entirely vegan, and thus, obviously also vegetarian-friendly. To paraphrase a Nemi comic strip I’ve seen ages ago, I like yummy vegetarian food, not … well, you know, those vegetarian things that often look like compost or worse.
The whole thing comes together in less than 20 minutes from start to finish, using two burners (one for pot to boil the noodles, and one for a pan to heat up or fry whatever you want to eat with them).
What you will need:
- 2 portions of dried soba noodles (they come pre-wrapped in single-portion bundles inside the packs, usually)
- 2-3 tbsp good medium soy sauce (I like Kikkoman original but use what you enjoy)
- 1 tbsp rice or apple or white wine vinegar
- 1-2 tbsp toasted sesame oil and 1tsp of chili oil (optional), or 1/2 tsp chili flakes (also optional)
- 1 clove of pressed or finely minced garlic (optional)
- 1-2 tbsp raw sesame seeds
- 2-3 scallions, washed, roots and dry top tips trimmed, and sliced very finely in their entirety
- A little leftover meat, sausage, chicken, or thinly sliced vegetable such as aubergine or winter squash – whatever you prefer. I had an aubergine so that is what I used (one medium one works well for 2 people), and it does have a couple of advantages here – it is very fast to prepare on a near-dry pan, and it’s easy to eat with chopsticks.
What you do:
- Set a pot with 1.5-3L of salted water to boil
- Preheat a frying pan to high. If yours is nonstick, you can do so without any oil here – not that I’m against oil but aubergines don’t normally need much to turn out well.
- While water boils and pan heats, slice your scallions and put into a small serving dish. Take to the table.
- In a medium salad or serving bowl, mix the soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil (garlic, chili oil or chili flakes if using any of those) with a fork and set aside as well.
- Put the aubergine slices into the pan in a single layer and let brown on both sides, flipping once or twice as necessary. You can drizzle a tiny little bit of oil over them as they cook. I usually do this in 2 batches/one medium aubergine in my large nonstick pan.
- When water boils, add the soba and cook according to package directions (cooking times vary).
- Drain the soba and rinse if necessary, then add to the bowl with sauce and toss to coat.
- Finish frying your aubergine (or whatever you are using). Wipe the pan if needed (aubergines tend to leave it clean and dry), return to the stove and turn heat down to medium. Toss the sesame seeds into the dry pan and toast for a few seconds until aromatic and just beginning to turn golden. Remove from pan to a small bowl immediately because they can burn very quickly.
- Take everything to the table, toss the soba again, and plate it. Garnish generously with sliced scallions and leave remainder on the table for people to serve themselves as they eat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and serve the aubergine alongside.
To me, this is the sort of lunch that warms but sits lightly on the stomach, and certainly allows for a heavier, cold-weather dinner later, which, when the rain just keeps dripping in the barely-there light, is an advantage all in itself!