#5 Soba with wakame

Sometimes there are plans and expectations, hopes and ambitions, dreams. And then there are the times when harsh reality intervenes.

This last week has, unfortunately, been just such a time.

I had hoped to tantalize your appetites with a recipe for hot noodles in a savory broth.

I had aspirations for elegant discursions on the new-to-me range of sea vegetables we’re finding at the grocery store these days, an insightful overview of the benefits and potential hazards of these vegetables, and perhaps even an intriguing segue to the role of these vegetables in Iceland’s reviving economy.

I even had dreams of writing a sentence — maybe two! — without a single parenthetical remark, a single em-dash,  or one lousy embedded clause.

 Well, dream on, darlings, dream on: the week had other plans for me.

 Like everyone else I know, we’ve had some pretty extreme weather, which with the resulting unplowed and impassable roads, has left us more confined to home than usual. The bigger issue, though, has been the bevy of contractors drifting through our house. I am grateful for them — don’t get me wrong — after two weeks of the house hovering around 60 degrees, I am totally up for whatever it takes to restore full heating capacity to the house. It’s just that erratic arrivals and the random pounding and drilling as they adapted our ductwork and in floor heating to our new furnace have made routines hard to stick to.

And then there was the recipe I had selected for this week. When I finally had the chance to really look at it, I realized — cucumbers? radish sprouts? — this was not the savory broth-y noodle dish of my wintertime fantasies, but a noodle salad, a cool and refreshing accompaniment to a grilled chicken or a crisp summer salad. It was going to require a shopping trip to make. And, did I mention it already? Shopping excursions were hard to come by last week.

The truth is, I have historically been a little squeamish about seaweed. It seems slimy. It makes me nervous. While I like it just fine toasted and wrapped around my favorite sushi, in anything else — like miso soup, for example — I tend to leave it behind, stuck to the sides of the bowl, accidental-like.

And the reaction of the carnivore I live with did not help matters: “Do you really think I’m going to eat THAT?” he said, after I described the recipe.

All this to say: it was with some trepidation that I approached this week’s project; one reason  I made only half the recipe.

Was it as bad as I feared? Not at all. Although it certainly wasn’t the slurpy bowl of noodles I had dreamed of, it was pretty darned delicious… kind of like all my favorite sushi flavors in a bowl: the wakame brought the hint of the ocean, perfectly complemented by the cool, refreshing notes of the grated cucumber. Instead of rice, there was the sweet earthiness of the buckwheat soba noodles. Combine it all with a dressing that included Ottolenghi’s quadrumvirate of  chiles and lime, cilantro and mint, along with smoky undertones of toasted sesame oil and a nice amount of ginger, and you have a side dish that is surprisingly compelling. Even the naysayers in our household enjoyed a bite or two, begrudgingly admitting that it was pretty good. I might be tempted to  make this one again… in the spring, when radish sprouts are finally in season.

It is easy to make, too. On the Ottolenghi Perceived Exertion Scale, about a one: took me less than hour from start up to clean-up to pull the whole thing off: just cook noodles, soak wakame, grate the cucumber, and make the dressing, and you are very nearly done.


The amount of wakame called for seemed outrageously excessive. I soaked less than half of what the recipe called for, and of that, I used less than a third. It seemed like plenty — more than plenty– to provide that clean flavor of fresh seawater that was a perfect complement to the grated cucumber.

 This recipe calls for 1/2 tablespoon of palm sugar, which I almost let myself get talked into buying because one site described it as possessing the flavors of butterscotch and caramel, which, as you all know, are flavors I CANNOT resist.  But, after seeing it at nearly $5 pound, I decided to use brown sugar instead, and I think it worked just fine.

I could not find radish sprouts and used shavings of daikon radish instead. Next time, if I can’t find the sprouts, I would probably go with watercress or some other peppery green instead. The daikon was too sweet and the shaving disappeared into the salad. I ended up giving this a squirt of sriracha to perk it up a bit.

Next week: a preview of Valentine’s Day with this bittersweet salad (162)





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