Cold Chinese sesame noodles often include peanut butter in the sauce. Otsu, on the other hand, is a Japanese version that's actually based on sesame paste. I make a lively sauce with sweet and regular soy sauce, ginger, citrus, and spices, and load up the noodles up with tofu, eggplant, and cucumbers. The result is a cold dish that is a huge hit with kids as well as adults and is easy to make ahead for summer barbecues.
See page 222 for information about long pepper, which adds an amazing floral kick to the sauce. You'll also find suggestions there for substitutions if you don't have the long pepper
FOR THE SAUCE
- 1⁄4 cup toasted sesame paste (tahini)
- 2 tablespoons tamari or other soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) or 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- Juice and grated zest from half a lemon (or yuzu or lime)
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 teaspoon or more sriracha or similar thick Asian chile sauce, or 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 piece long pepper (optional), crushed in a mortar and pestle
FOR THE NOODLES
- 9 ounces plain buckwheat soba (Japanese noodles)
- 1 heavy eggplant (about 11⁄2 pounds), sliced into 1⁄2-inch rounds
- 1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
- 8 ounces extra-firm tofu
- 1⁄3 cup toasted sesame seeds
- 1 English cucumber, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
- Half a head of iceberg lettuce for serving, leaves pulled apart
- 2 scallions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
- Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
- Freshly ground black pepper
1. For the sauce: Combine the tahini, tamari, sweet soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, sriracha, pepper, and long pepper, if using, in a small bowl and whisk until smooth (or you can use a mini food processor). Let the sauce rest so the flavors can develop while you make the noodles and vegetables.
2. For the noodles: Prepare the noodles according to the package directions, typically by boiling about 4 minutes. Don't let them overcook. Rinse in cool water and drain.
3. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat the broiler. Brush the eggplant with 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil and grill or broil until deep brown on both sides and thoroughly tender. Let cool, then slice the rounds into approximately 1 x 2-inch pieces.
4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet over high heat. Slice the tofu into approximately 2 x 1 x 3⁄4-inch rectangles, dry thoroughly with a paper towel, and sauté in a single layer until nicely browned on both sides, about 5 minutes total.
5. Taste and adjust the sauce. Does it need more salt? More citrus? More heat? Is it too thick? You want a fairly liquid texture, not pasty, and it should be highly flavored. If it's too thick but has plenty of flavor, use a little cool water to thin it out.
6. In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, sauce (reserving 2 tablespoons), sesame seeds (reserving 1 tablespoon), cucumber, eggplant, and tofu.
7. To serve, line a bowl or platter with the iceberg lettuce and mound the noodles on top. It can be hard to get the vegetables to mix in, so you may need to distribute them a bit with your tongs. Top with (in order): the reserved sauce, the scallions, the remaining sesame seeds, a couple pinches of salt, and a grind of black pepper.
From Herbivoracious by Michael Natkin. Copyright 2012 by Michael Natkin. Excerpted by permission of Harvard Common Press.