The other day I went to a dinner party, and the topic of Los Angeles came up. That's when I realized it's been a full decade since I lived in L.A.; I moved back East in 2013. I cherish my time in that city, when I felt young and frisky, especially enthusiastic and ambitious, more optimistic - or maybe just more naive.
After growing up in Chicago and spending my early 20s in New York City, I moved to Los Angeles in 2006 and encountered what felt like another planet. It took me awhile to settle into the city's rhythms and to embrace its unique perspectives, but once I did, I grew to love it: long drives, local produce, taco trucks, mountain hikes, Hollywood gloss, beach days, surfer lingo and even - even! - the green juice. In fact, it's the verdant vibes of green juice, that now-ubiquitous Southern California staple of blended or juiced green vegetables and herbs, that inspired this recipe for Green Sesame Soba Noodles.
It started as a bowl of soba noodles dressed with sesame oil that I made for lunch one day. The next day, I mixed a sauce of sesame paste, lime juice and sliced scallions. At the last moment, I topped it with a pile of spinach and cilantro. As I ate it, I realized that the toppings might be even better if I put them in a blender. When I tried it, I ended up with a rough green-juice-tahini-sauce mash-up. It was pretty good, but something was missing.
I added soy sauce and garlic to perk things up. That worked, but something was still off. It wasn't until one of my editors, Olga Massov, suggested I try adding a touch of sweetness that the sauce's flavor clicked into place. A spoonful of maple syrup smoothed out the harsh taste of the garlic and scallions, softened the grassy cilantro, and enhanced the spinach's natural sweetness.
Drizzled over freshly cooked soba, it made a sesame noodle bowl that sings of spring. Perhaps the best compliment came when food stylist Nicola Davis made it. After one taste she pulled me aside and gushed: "I could eat this straight off a spoon - never mind the noodles!"
While the sauce is great over soba, it works just as well as a salad dressing or a sauce for seared or roasted chicken or fish. Swirl it into plain yogurt for a simple snack, or drizzle it over roasted carrots or sweet potatoes for a side dish. Think of it as a workhorse, a real green machine.
Green Sesame Soba Noodles
Active time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
2 to 3 servings
- If you're out of soba any other noodle will work. Spinach pasta might be nice.
- Instead of baby spinach, baby kale or arugula would work.
- If you don't care for garlic omit it.
Fine salt (optional)
2 packed cups (2 ounces) baby spinach
1/2 bunch (1 ounce) fresh cilantro leaves and stems
1/3 cup tahini or sesame paste
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (from 2 limes), plus more to taste
1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
3 whole scallions, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon soy sauce, preferably low-sodium
1 tablespoon maple syrup or honey
1 (8- to 10-ounce) package dried soba noodles, preferably 100 percent buckwheat
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and salt it, if desired.
Meanwhile, in a blender, preferably a high-speed one, combine the spinach, cilantro, tahini, lime juice, water, scallions, garlic, soy sauce, and maple syrup or honey. Blend until combined and flecks of green splatter the interior. Stop the blender to scrape down the pitcher. If the sauce is too thick, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue blending until a smooth, green sauce forms. Taste, and add more lime juice, if desired.
Add the soba to the boiling water and give the noodles a quick stir. Boil until just tender, about 3 minutes. Drain, transfer to a large bowl and immediately toss with the sesame oil until well coated.
Just before serving, divide the noodles among plates or shallow bowls and drizzle with the sauce. Serve warm, with sesame seeds sprinkled over the top, if desired.
Nutritional information per serving (1 1/3 cup noodles, generous 1/3 cup sauce), based on 3. Calories: 531; Total Fat: 24 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 830 mg; Carbohydrates: 71 g; Dietary Fiber: 4 g; Sugar: 5 g; Protein: 17 g. This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian's or nutritionist's advice.