The word 'soba' means both 'buckwheat' and 'noodle' in Japanese. In traditional Japanese diet, soba noodles are led only by rice as a go-to grain of choice. Buckwheat is a seed, not a grass or a grain. It got it's name in part because of how the seed was utilized - as wheat. It's history is long, with first evidence around 6000 BCE in China, and incredibly, it's the world's highest elevation crop, cultivated in the Yunnan province on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau, which - 14,800 feet in elevation - is called 'the roof of the world'.
Their ability to grow up in the sky adds to my existing sense that there's something special about buckwheat. To me, buckwheat noodles feel like the earth. Unlike regular white wheat pasta, their dark speckled grey hue is the color of something found in nature, like sand or the branch of a tree. Their flavor is nutty and earthy. Their texture firm, but yielding. I love the delicacy of their flat edges, the lightness of each noodle. They are grounding to all senses. Actual buckwheat flour has a consistency that makes me want to swim in it, and a color that I want to decorate my whole house in. The seeds are shaped like perfect little triangles and often used for porridge.
The hand production of soba noodles is a labor of patience and repetition, a lesson in mindfulness and following instincts. Masters of the trade are trained in precision and take great care to 'adjust their dough according to the humidity in the air, according to the variety of buckwheat, according to the grind of the flour.'
In "The Art of Homemade Soba Noodles" (Saveur, Francis Lam, February 2016), artisan soba maker Sonoko Sakai describes her house as a 'buckwheat monastery'. At her Los Angeles residence, Sakai 'teaches the meditation of noodle making... work(ing) in elegant, nearly ritualistic movements...and committ(ing) herself to the intimacy, the humanness, the smallness of a simple craft that you make, serve, and watch disappear over and over again.' Making soba noodles by hand involves many steps of kneading, forming, rolling, flattening, all requiring great attention to detail and extensive practice, eventually establishing a somewhat meditative state, where the mind is at rest and the body performs the ritualistic work without prompt.
'Soba saved me', Sakai says of the passion she found after leaving behind a career as a producer and buyer in the film world.
This salad is light and refreshing, a lovely choice for a summer day. The noodles are tossed in a combination of coconut oil, miso, sesame oil, maple syrup, and tamari, and then folded together with spring onions, sweet peas, arugula and fresh herbs, topped with lime juice and sesame seeds. It's easy to make and will leave you feeling fresh and maybe even zen.
A note on soba noodles:
Most soba noodles that you'll find at the supermarket are made of both wheat and buckwheat. I find my 100% buckwheat flour noodles at my local Asian grocery. Sometimes farmer's markets carry them. You can also make your own. All buckwheat noodles tend to be darker in color and stronger in flavor. Do be aware of the ingredients when you buy, especially if you're following a gluten-free diet. When you get the full buckwheat experience, you are getting loads of protein, fiber, B vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium
1 pack soba noodles
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon miso paste
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
4 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tamari
1/2 cup sweet peas
1 large handful arugula
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade cut
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
juice of half a lime
Heat a large pot of water for the noodles. In the meantime, add the coconut oil to a saucepan and once hot, stir in the garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes until softened. Whisk in the miso paste. Add the green onions and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat. Stir in the sesame oil, maple syrup, red chili pepper flakes, and tamari.
Once boiling, add the soba noodles to the water. They should only take 4 minutes to cook. With 1 minute remaining in cooking time, add your sweet peas (if frozen). Drain and rinse under cool water to prevent the noodles from sticking. Transfer the noodles and peas to the warm saucepan and toss with the miso sesame mixture. Fold in arugula, basil and cilantro. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with sesame seeds and lime juice.
Serve with sliced avocado and fresh basil leaves.