Unlike noodles made from white bleached flour, Japanese soba, made from buckwheat flour, has an earthy flavor and color. It is possible to make your own soba noodles from scratch as buckwheat flour is readily available in whole foods markets, but it takes great practice to develop the skill to create good soba noodles. There is much to know about the wheat harvested from different seasons, what is just the right amount of liquid to add (which depends upon the flour characteristics), knowing the right dough consistency from feel, making sure no air bubbles exist within the dough. The Japanese elevate noodle-making to a lifelong apprenticeship.
As for me, I rely on good brands of packaged, dried soba so I can enjoy eating it right away. And I do--not only on New Year’s Eve either. But the Japanese are sure to eat soba especially on this night for many reasons. The Japanese word “soba” is a homophone for “near” while toshikoshi means “end of the year.” Also, soba is simple to prepare during a very busy time of preparing for the New Year festivities. Most households are scurrying about to cook osechi meals for the next several days when cooking is shunned, giving the house a thorough cleaning and hanging good luck decorations.
One can buy even the broth concentrate in bottles but since you’re paying mostly for water, try to make your own. Most Japanese prefer cold soba because the noodles tend to absorb too much of the hot broth and loses some of its textural integrity. But I like it hot too and figure that I eat them quickly before the noodles can absorb the broth anyway! If eaten cold, the noodles are served separately from the dipping sauce.
Soba may be served in hot broth with only a bit of shredded nori on top, but I really love the many toppings you can add like fried tenkasu bits (the crunchy batter used to coat tempura), grated daikon radish, sliced scallions and kamaboko.
1 pkg. soba noodles, boiled and drained
6 cups water
2 cups katsuobushi (bonito flakes)*
1 two-inch strip dashi konbu (kelp)*
1 Tbsp. dried shrimp*
¼ cup soy sauce
4 Tbsp. mirin
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. ajinomoto or Accent flavor enhancer
Optional toppings: tenkasu, grated daikon radish, sliced scallions, kamaboko, cooked aburage, sliced hard-boiled eggs, shredded nori
Bring water and konbu to a broil in a large pot. Sprinkle on katsuobushi and dried shrimp and lower the heat. Do not boil the bonito flakes. Allow them to settle to the bottom of the pot and barely simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain in a cheesecloth, reserving the liquid. Reserve the wet flakes for a second broth called nidashi later.
Pour the broth into another pot. Add soy sauce, sugar and ajinomoto. Place soba noodles in serving bowls, pour in hot broth and either arrange toppings over noodles or allow guests to select their own toppings at the table. Serve immediately.
*You may substitute a dashi-no-moto powder which is an instant broth powder or use a bottled liquid broth concentrate. Follow package instructions for the quantity desired. Simply add the right amount of powder or concentrate to hot water and simmer.
A zaru is a small bamboo plate that is like a sieve. Zaru means sieve. Cooked chilled soba is served on a zaru with a small cup of chilled concentrated dipping sauce. You pick up noodles with your chopsticks, swirl them around in the dipping sauce and eat.
4 cups dashi
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
2 Tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. grated ginger and garlic, optional
Combine all ingredients and chill before servings. Prepare soba as directed on package like any other pasta. Drain and serve on a zaru or separate bowl for each guest. Pour dipping sauce in individual cups to serve alongside the soba.
Tsukimi means “viewing the moon” and that is what you’ll be doing as the golden egg poaches gently in your bowl of hot broth.
Prepare soba and broth as in the Toshikoshi recipe, except just before serving, crack a raw egg over the noodles and hot broth. Be sure the broth is steaming hot so it will poach the egg.
A note about raw eggs: Studies show that the dangerous salmonella bacteria found on eggs come from the chicken as the egg is laid. The salmonella bacteria are not inside the egg but on the outer shell. In order to consume raw eggs safely, wash raw eggs while in the shells with a brief dip in light cold bleach water (1 tsp. per quart) before storing in the refrigerator.