Cold Soba Salad with Sesame Dressing
Summertime in Japan is all about chilled noodles, and soba noodles are one of my favorites. Most traditional recipes call for preparing a dipping sauce and condiments, but it’s become more common to eat cold soba like a salad by tossing the condiments and sauce together with the noodles.
For this easy Soba Noodle Salad recipe, I’ve tossed the noodles with a light and nutty sesame dressing, making this a refreshing plant-based option for a hot summer day. To make this noodle salad keep your hunger in check, I’ve loaded it up with meaty pan-fried tofu, shiitake mushrooms, and a handful of shelled edamame.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Adding edamame and tofu to this cold noodle salad bulks it up with protein which makes it a satisfying meal that won’t leave you feeling hungry.
- Pan-frying the tofu puffs up the surface of the tofu. Once rehydrated, this fried outer layer takes on a meaty texture that absorbs the flavors of the dressing.
- By rapidly chilling the noodles and removing the excess starch from the surface of the noodles after they’ve been boiled, it preserves their al dente texture while preventing them from sticking together.
Ingredients for Soba Noodle Salad
- Soba – I used matcha soba noodles for this, which makes the noodles vibrant green, but regular soba will work just fine. Just be aware that different brands of soba will have different boiling times, so check your packaging to ensure you don’t overcook the noodles. By the way, if you want to use the same soba I used (as well as the soy sauce and konbu cha), you can buy it here. Most soba is made with a combination of buckwheat and wheat flour, so if you want to make this gluten-free be sure to look for soba that is made with 100% buckwheat flour.
- Soy sauce – Any regular Japanese soy sauce (such as Kikkoman) will work, but I used a brand called Marunaka.
- Toasted sesame oil – Toasted sesame oil has a robust nutty flavor, which gives this dressing its sesame flavor without making it rich and creamy like using sesame paste would. If you don’t want the sesame flavor, you could use a more neutral oil such as rice bran oil or grapeseed oil.
- Maple syrup – This contributes a mild sweetness to the sauce, along with its distinctive nutty flavor. You can substitute other liquid sweeteners if you consider the relative sweetness. For example, honey and agave taste sweeter than maple syrup, so you will need to use less. If you substitute granulated sugar, you’ll want to use 1 teaspoon (instead of 2).
- Konbu cha – Konbu cha literally means “kelp tea,” and it’s generally sold in a powdered form. It is loaded with glutamate, which will lend umami to any food you add it to. This is an optional ingredient, but the sauce will not taste as good without it. Substitutes include konbu dashi granules and MSG, but if you use the latter, I recommend halving or even quartering the amount you add.
- Scallions – Thinly chopped scallions add a pop of color and a mild onion flavor to the soba salad. I used very thin Japanese scallions called bannou-negi, but regular green onions or chives will also work.
- Tofu – Tofu is made using two different processes which affect the firmness and texture of the beancurd. For this recipe, you need to use firm tofu; otherwise, you will not be able to achieve the desired texture.
- Shiitake mushrooms – fresh shiitakes are meaty mushrooms with bucketfuls of umami, which is why they’re such an excellent choice for this dish. If you can find them, maitake mushrooms or even button mushrooms will work.
- Edamame – Edamame are immature soybeans, and in the US, they can be found pre-shelled in the frozen vegetable section of supermarkets. They add a beautiful spring green color to this salad while bumping up the protein content.
- Herbs – I like to garnish my Soba Noodle Salad with fresh herbs like green shiso, mint, celery sprouts, or cilantro. Sesame seeds are another great option for a little extra texture and flavor.
How to Make Soba Noodle Salad
You first want to cut the tofu into half-inch thick squares and drain them on a few sheets of paper towels. You can sprinkle them with salt on both sides to speed up this process.
Then you can put a large pot of water on to boil to cook the buckwheat noodles.
For the sesame dressing, whisk the soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, maple syrup, and konbu cha together in a small bowl until the powder has dissolved.
To fry the tofu, dry the tops with paper towels, and pre-heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan and spread the tofu into a single layer in the pan (be careful as the oil may spatter). Fry the tofu on one side for about two minutes or until it starts to brown. Then, flip it over and fry the second side. Continue flipping the tofu every 2 minutes until the outside is golden brown and crisp.
Stack the tofu on one side of the pan and add the sliced shiitakes in a single layer. Brown them on one side, flip them over and then arrange the tofu on top of the mushrooms. The steam from the shiitakes will soften the crisp sides of the tofu, giving it the firm, meaty texture we’re looking for.
Once the mushrooms are nice and browned, drizzle a tablespoon of soy sauce all over everything and toss to glaze the ingredients evenly. Set the pan aside.
Your water should be at a full boil now, so add the soba noodles and set a timer for the time specified on the package.
When the timer goes off, drain the noodles in a strainer and wash them in a few bowls of cold water to chill them. Use your hand to agitate the noodles in the water to make the noodles shed any excess starch on their surface. This is important, or your noodles will stick together. Once the soba is cold, drain them and shake the strainer coming to a halting stop to get as much water out as possible.
Toss the soba with the sesame sauce, edamame, and scallions in a large bowl. Then, add in the tofu and shiitake mushrooms. Mix to combine, and then serve the Soba Noodle Salad garnished with celery sprouts.
Variations of Soba Noodle Salad
This recipe is pretty flexible, and there are many ways you can customize it. For the dressing, you can spice it up with some red pepper flakes, ginger, or garlic, and if you want to make it even more refreshing, some rice vinegar, lemon, or lime juice can be added for some tanginess.
I wanted to make this meatless, but you could add other proteins or bulk it up with other veggies like cucumber, carrots, or bell peppers.
Other Cold Noodle Recipes
Soba means “buckwheat” in Japanese, and it’s also used to refer to long thin noodles that are usually made with the namesake ingredient (though there are exceptions). Soba noodles are traditionally eaten in hot soup or chilled with a dipping sauce, but in modern times they can also be tossed with veggies and a dressing to make a refreshing salad.
Yes, this noodle salad is both vegan and vegetarian, but it’s loaded with umami and protein, making it omnivore friendly as well.
Yes, this will keep in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours, so you can prepare the salad and store it in sealed container in the fridge. Don’t garnish it until you are ready to serve it the next day. Similarly if you end up with leftovers, I recommend removing the garnish before you store it.
- 200 grams firm tofu
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 150 grams shiitake mushrooms (cleaned and sliced)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 200 grams soba noodles
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon konbu cha
- 30 grams scallions (chopped)
- 65 grams shelled edamame
- Celery sprouts
- Slice the tofu into 1/2-inch thick squares and then place the pieces in a single layer on a tray lined with a few sheets of paper towels. Sprinkle both sides of the tofu with the salt and let the tofu sweat while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- To make the sesame sauce for the soba, whisk together the soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, maple syrup, and konbu cha.
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Pat the tofu tops dry, and place the tofu in a single layer in the pan. Fry the tofu until it starts to brown on one side (about 2 minutes), and then flip it and brown the second side. Repeat until the tofu is golden brown and crisp on both sides.
- Push the tofu to the side of the pan and add the sliced shiitake mushrooms in a single layer. Let them brown on one side before flipping them over.
- Rearrange the tofu on top of the mushrooms and let it steam to soften.
- When the mushrooms are nice and browned, drizzle on the soy sauce and toss together with the tofu and shiitakes to coat evenly. Remove the pan from the heat.
- Boil the soba noodles according to the time on the package.
- When the soba is done, drain it and then chill it in a few changes of cold tap water. Use your hand to agitate the noodles to strip off any excess starch on the surface of the noodles. Drain the soba well by shaking it in a strainer.
- Add the soba noodles, edamame, scallions, and dressing to a bowl and toss with tongs to coat the noodles in an even layer of sauce.
- Add the tofu and shiitake and mix to distribute evenly.
- Serve the Soba Noodle Salad topped with some sprouts for garnish.