Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sansai Soba (山菜そば)

It's relatively easy to make this when you can source the mountain vegetables in winter.

They are found the fresh section but they come packed in relatively alkaline water. They must be thoroughly washed multiple times before they can be used. The above set up may sound horrible but the CC was shockingly surprised at the excellence of the vegetables. They maintained their textural crispness which was quite amazing.

Japanese cuisine seems to be intimidating but like any other codified cuisine, it relies in practice on a standard set of tricks. These tricks are so general that you can use them to elevate your Italian, Indian or Thai cuisine to the next level once you understand the thrust of the tricks.

This leads up to a fairly general point. In order to get "inside" a different cuisine, you must master its internal grammar. And there is always an internal grammar. You have to use your powers of empathy to enter into an entirely foreign mindset. What lies there will frequently revolutionize your thinking because it will cause you to unlearn all the accreted prejudices of your own life so far.

Enough philosophizing, O CC! How about the recipe, eh?

This is a classic winter one-stop shop. It relies on the precision of individual execution but it's completely straightforward.

The vegetables and the fishcake are simmered in the dashi. (We've talked about dashi being the foundation of Japanese cuisine here.) The soba are cooked until al dente. The whole thing is combined in a bowl with some nori (seen on the right hand side to give textural interest) and many Japanese would happily top it with furikake (although the CC didn't do it.)

Also, this is a relatively more "purist" recipe. The soba means that you are looking for a more "clean" taste. Had the CC been using the relatively prosaic udon, he would've happily added in some miso to get more of that umami. Tradition dictates a cleaner taste for the spare soba.


4 cups dashi
2 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp rice vinegar

2 cups mountain vegetables
6 sheets of nori
1 kamaboko (fish cake)


Cut the fish cake diagonally into elliptical disks.

Simmer the fish cake and vegetable in the dashi with the mirin, vinegear and the soy sauce.

Meanwhile, separately cook the soba until al dente. It must have a bite. Drain immediately and cool in an ice bath.

Add the soba to individual bowls. Top with the dashi, vegetables and fish cake. Serve on the side with the nori sheets cut into triangles.

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