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Soba Noodles with Asian Pears

(recipe, Carrie Floyd)


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Introduction

I recently picked up several pounds of Asian pears, and as I watched them dwindle from the fruit bowl — such great fall snacks! — contemplated cooking them. I combed through various cookbooks and trusted food sites, but was struck by the paucity of ideas. Some sources discouraged cooking them; others offered pedestrian choices. Don't get me wrong; I'm sure slices of Asian pears are delicious substitutes for apples and pears in a mixed green salad with blue cheese and nuts. But I was looking to highlight the alluring taste and texture — vaguely spicy, juicy, crunchy — of a perfectly ripe Asian pear, not simply fold it into an already familiar salad. So I started thinking about what flavors would complement the fruit: ginger, lemon, maybe sesame. The combination of those flavors had me turning over soba noodles in my mind, and I decided to make a noodle salad spotlighting the crunchy, slightly sweet pear. Now I just had to fill in the blanks to flesh out a dish that would be complete in and of itself — a meal in a bowl. Tofu for protein, dark leafy greens, some green onions for zing. And so this dish was born. I liked it so much I had two bowls for dinner. The next day I had another bowl for lunch at a time that is more closely associated with breakfast. The little bit that was left over, I hid in the back of the fridge for a final snack. Nicer people share their goodies, I know, but sometimes a cook has to feed herself exactly what she wants. And what I want is more of this!

Ingredients

  1. 10 oz. soba noodles
  2. 12 oz. extra-firm tofu
  3. Salt
  4. Vegetable oil
Dressing
  1. 1 medium shallot, minced
  2. 1 knob of ginger (1 inch long), peeled and minced
  3. 1 Tbsp. apple-cider vinegar
  4. 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  5. 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  6. 1 tsp. honey
  7. 1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  8. ¼ cup plus 1 Tbsp. safflower oil (or another mild vegetable oil of your choice)
To finish the salad
  1. 1 bunch of green onions, cut lengthwise into matchsticks
  2. 2 large or 3 medium Asian pears, cut into matchsticks
  3. 2 to 4 cups baby arugula or spinach
  4. ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds (I prefer the brown, unhulled seeds)

Steps

  1. Cook the noodles: Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the noodles. (While the water heats up, prepare the tofu as directed in the next step.) Once the water is boiling, cook the soba noodles according the package directions. Rinse under cold water and drain; set aside.
  2. Cook the tofu: Drain the tofu and pat it dry. Cut the block lengthwise into three slabs, then cut each slab into matchsticks. Heat a large skillet and add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom. Once hot, add the tofu, sprinkle with salt, and cook over medium-high heat until browned on one side; depending on the size of the skillet, you may have to cook the tofu in two batches. Gently turn or flip with a pancake turner, and continue cooking until the tofu sticks are golden brown on most sides. Remove the tofu to a plate and set aside.
  3. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, place the shallot, ginger, vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, honey, and sesame oil. Whisk until smooth. Slowly add the safflower oil, whisking all the while, until all the oil has been added and the dressing is smooth. Set aside.
  4. Prepare the rest of the salad ingredients: Cut the onions and Asian pears, wash and dry the arugula or spinach, and toast the sesame seeds (see Note, below).
  5. Assemble the salad: Toss the noodles with half of the dressing in a large shallow bowl. Add the fried tofu sticks, green onions, Asian pears, and arugula or spinach, and toss together very gently. (You can also serve the noodles over a bed of greens.) Taste and add more dressing if you like (any leftover dressing is delicious tossed with mixed greens on another day). Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds over the top and serve at room temperature; chilled leftovers are tasty too.

Note

To toast sesame seeds: Place the seeds in a skillet over medium heat and cook until they begin to pop and brown (about a minute), shaking or stirring often.