One of the reasons that I joined the Daring Kitchen last year was to expand my cooking and baking horizons - to learn about different methods and styles of cooking and to introduce new foods to myself and my family. One of the coolest parts of the challenges is that I know that at least once a month, I will have something on my dinner menu that I, most probably, would not have otherwise tried. This month was one that proved that the decision to join was a good one!
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.
I do not have a lot of experience with Japanese food, so when the challenge was announced, I was a little skeptical. Between my lack of knowledge and my general preference against cold noodles, I was worried that this challenge just wouldn't be for me. But I have tried tempura before, and, let's face it, anything deep-fried is bound to be pretty tasty, so I was hopeful that I might enjoy it.
The first thing that I had to do was locate soba noodles. Soba noodles are thin noodles made from buckwheat flour. As luck would have it, these were actually very easy to find in the International food isle of the food store. They actually had quite a variety to choose from. Having never tried soba noodles before, I wasn't sure which to pick, but finally decided on a package of yam-soba noodles. Sounded interesting, plus they were on sale. Always helpful. Several super daring cooks made their own soba noodles. Maybe one day I will try that... for now, I am okay with these.
Another aspect of the cold soba salad portion of this challenge was to make a dipping sauce for the soba noodles. Our hostess provided us with two sample recipes for dipping sauces, one traditional and one spicy, but both contained ingredients that are either specialized (dashi, mirin) or that I don't generally keep on hand (rice vinegar). I decided to create my own recipe, loosely based on the traditional recipe given, with the ingredients that I had on hand. I combined chicken broth, soy sauce, a bit of brown sugar and a sprinkling of ground ginger in a saucepan, boiled the mixture, then added thinly sliced scallion. I then moved the pot to the back burner and allowed the sauce to cool.
Once the soba salad was underway, it was time to work on the tempura. Tempura is a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried. We are not big seafood eaters in our house, so I knew that we would be sticking with vegetables. We went with broccoli, cauliflower and thin-sliced sweet potatoes.
Vegetables ready, it was time to prepare the tempura batter. The batter is actually super easy and quick to prepare - flour, cornstarch, baking powder, an egg yolk and ice water. The ingredients are barely mixed together with chopsticks, purposely left lumpy, and there you have it. Super quick, super simple. The tricky part was what came next - deep frying. Not that deep frying is overly complicated, but between little miss and little man, coordinating the process can be a little tricky. Which is why we prepared this meal on a weekend. Between me and daddy, we had a good system - set little miss up with her favorite learning website (http://www.starfall.com/, in case you are interested - it is fantastic!) and trade off between the newborn and the frying. The frying process involved dredging the vegetables in flour, dipping them into the batter, then frying them in oil until they are ready, which was actually quite quick.
The final prep-step in preparing our meal was to actually cook the soba noodles. The recipe provided by our hostess involved a process of bringing water to a boil, adding the noodles, then cooling the water and bringing it back to a boil several times. The process sounded interesting, but I thought it would be best to follow the cooking directions on the package for the noodles, on the off chance that the way these noodles were processed would make them not cook properly using the challenge process. Once the noodles were boiled and drained, I set the colander into a bowl of ice water to fully cool the noodles, since, by definition, this is a cold noodle dish.
At last, all of the pieces were in place, and it was time to put together our meal. Since we did not include seafood in our tempura, which would have provided us with the protein for our meal, I quickly scrambled some eggs and cut them into strips to go on top of our soba noodles along side the tempura. We each dressed our noodles in our own bowls with the dipping sauce, then piled on the tempura and egg. The result was a beautiful, colorful bowl that looked very fresh and appetizing.
But the real question was how it would taste. And the answer was great! Daddy, little miss and I all really enjoyed each aspect of this meal - the noodles were great (even cold!), the sauce was just right for us, and the tempura was delicious. All three elements together made for a really delicious meal.
Lisa, thank you so much for this fantastic challenge! I don't know that I ever would have tried soba noodles without it, or that I would have attempted to make my own tempura, and now I am so glad that I did. This is a really great addition to my cooking repertoire, so I thank you for challenging us to do it!
To see the great dishes of the other Daring Cooks, check them out here.
Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day!
6 days ago