Monday, February 14, 2011

Daring Cooks: Cold Soba Salad and Tempura



The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com. 

As a new member this was my first participation and I was a bit nervous as I read through Lisa's challenge. Relief set in as I realized she had provided several recipes, links to videos and numerous organizational tips. It would be fun to visit a local Asian market and shop for some unusual ingredients like shiso (perilla leaves) and lotus root. Clearly success would be all about organization and preparation. Since I would be on a SW road trip during February. I couldn't procrastinate with this challenge.

The soba salad was unexpectedly tasty, with a few simple toppings and dipping sauce flavoring the cooled buckwheat noodles. It was a hit that we'll enjoy again and again. Simple to prepare, the noodles only required a quick cook, followed by a rinse under cold water and a soak to remove the starch. It took more time to browse the noodle selection at Uwajimaya than it did to prepare the noodles. Who knew there were so many choices in the noodle aisle? 

The tempura was more problematic. Batter consistency ranged from too thin to too thick, either refusing to coat an item or clumping and creating a fritter. It was difficult to regulate the oil temperature on an electric range as I cooked item after item. Some items seemed soggy and undercooked while others were browned and crispy. I fried a lot of tempura, but we only ate a fraction of the items - the shrimp and shiso (perilla leaves) were our stand-out favorites. Much more practice is in order, but I'm tempted to leave tempura preparation and it's lingering kitchen odor to the experts and order it at my favorite restaurant instead.  




Thanks, Lisa, for prompting me to step outside of my comfort zone and tackle this challenge. My dinner partner sends you huge thanks as well.
  

Soba Noodle Salad
Based on a Ming Tsai recipe 
Ingredients
4 ounces soba noodles
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons light miso paste
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
1/4 cup canola oil OR walnut oil
1/2 teaspoon Thai fish sauce OR 1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons grated or finely chopped pickled ginger
1/2 cup chopped scallions
2 tablespoons shredded nori (dried kelp)
2 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

Directions
1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the soba noodles and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse briefly under cold running water. Then soak in a bowl of ice water to remove the starch, and drain well again.
2. In a small bowl, combine the rice vinegar with the miso and sugar. Whisk in the sesame oil, canola oil, fish sauce and season with pepper. Stir in the pickled ginger. Add salt to taste, though the fish sauce or soy sauce may be salty enough.
3. Place small portions of sauce in individual bowls, add some noodles and top with scallions, nori shreds and sesame seeds as desired. Toss lightly and enjoy. 

Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura
For the tempura I used the recipe and directions Lisa provided in her challenge post. 

Ingredients
1 egg yolk from a large egg
1 cup iced water
1/2 cup AP flour, plus extra for dredging
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Canola oil
Ice water bath, to chill the tempura batter-filled bowl

Very cold seafood and vegetables, such as:
Shrimp, cleaned, peeled, butterflied
Zucchini, thinly sliced
Sweet potato, peeled, thinly sliced, blanched
Lotus root, peeled, thinly sliced, blanched
Shiso (perilla leaves)
Dipping sauce

Directions
1. Place the iced water into a mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg yolk and gradually pour into the iced water, stirring (preferably with chopsticks) and blending well. Add flour, cornstarch and baking powder all at once, stroke a few times with chopsticks until the ingredients are loosely combined. The batter should be runny and lumpy. Place the bowl of batter in an ice water bath to keep it cold while you are frying the tempura. The batter as well as the vegetables and seafood have to be very cold. The temperature shock between the hot oil and the cold veggies helps to create a crispy tempura.
2. Heat the oil in a large pan or a wok. For vegetables, the oil should be 320°F/160°C; for seafood it should be 340°F/170°C. You can test the oil by dropping a piece of batter into the hot oil. If it sinks a little bit and then immediately rises to the top, the oil is ready.
3. Start with the vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, that won’t leave a strong odor in the oil. Dip them in a shallow bowl of flour to lightly coat them and then dip them into the batter. Slide them into the hot oil, deep frying only a couple of pieces at a time so that the temperature of the oil does not drop.
4. Place finished tempura pieces on a wire rack so that excess oil can drip off. Continue frying the other items, frequently scooping out any bits of batter to keep the oil clean and prevent the oil (and the remaining tempura) from getting a burned flavor.
5. Serve immediately for the best flavor, but they can also be eaten cold.

Note: We used a variety of bottled dipping sauces, but favored a Thai Sweet Chili Sauce.

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