Noodle salads have a lot going for them: they’re simple to throw together, versatile in terms of ingredients – vegetables, meats/meat alternatives and dressings, and they also keep really well for make-ahead meals. Any kind of noodle will work here but I’m partial to soba for its distinct nutty flavour. Try and find the Japanese kind if you can. They are a darker shade of brown and come tied up in cute bundles. Aside from their aesthetic appeal, they have a more wholesome texture and hold their shape better upon cooking compared to the generic brands (most of which I doubt are even buckwheat?)
Either way, the main flavour component is the dressing. We want balance in terms of flavour and texture. I’ve used an assortment of ingredients here, the main part of which borrows from the Middle Eastern palate – Tahini! Sounds strange to use a Middle Eastern ingredient in what is essentially an Asian dish, but isn’t sesame a significant feature in both cuisines? (I use peanut butter in a similar fashion in this noodle dish.) Another wildcard ingredient, albeit Asian, is Hoisin. And maple syrup. Sugar/honey would be a more common choice here, but Hoisin and maple syrup add depth along with sweetness.
Speaking of wildcard ingredients – mangoes! We’re covering all our flavour bases here. You get creaminess and nuttiness from tahini, sweetness from maple syrup and Hoisin, heat from chilli oil, and freshness from mangoes. The mangoes are what really make the dish if you ask me. I apologize for posting this at a time when they’re all but disappearing from the markets, but it’s the best time to buy those not-so-popular varieties that aren’t great to eat as is. Any kind would work here. Also sub with chicken or prawns if you don’t want to take the tofu route.
SOBA NOODLES WITH TOFU AND MANGO
- 250 grams soba noodles
- 200 grams tofu, cubed
- 1 ½ cups mangoes, cubed
- 1 red pepper, sliced into strips
- 150 grams mushrooms, sliced
- 1 ½ cups broccoli, cut into florets
- 10 spring onions, chopped
- 7 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
- 2 green chillies, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons oil (+ 2 teaspoons for the tofu)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- Salt, to taste
- ¼ cup tahini
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
- 2 tablespoons chilli oil (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 ½ tablespoons Hoisin sauce
- ¼ teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
- Cook the noodles as per packet instructions. When the noodles are almost done cooking, add the broccoli florets to the same pot and cook for about 2 mins. Drain them both out together.
- Stir together all the ingredients listed under ‘dressing’. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside.
- Add sesame seeds to a large wok/pan and toast until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove and set aside. (Use the same wok you're going to toss your noodles in.)
- Add the tofu to the same wok with a little drizzle of oil. Fry until browned on all sides. Remove and set aside.
- Add oil to the same wok and sauté spring onions (the bottom parts), ginger, garlic and green chillies until lightly browned. Add red peppers and cook for a few mins. Tip in the mushrooms and cook for a few more mins.
- Add the drained noodles and broccoli to the wok and stir in the dressing. Toss to coat. If it appears too dry, add a little hot water and stir through. It will dry out a little as it sits so use water accordingly. Take off the heat and stir in the lime juice.
- Top the noodles with tofu and mangoes and sprinkle over sesame seeds and spring onion tops. Serve hot or at room temperature.