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.
While I am a fan of Japanese cuisine, truthfully, it’s something that has rarely made an appearance in my kitchen. I’ve made sushi before, but that’s about the extent of my experience. However, I was excited about this challenge – tempura is a tricky beast, and I thought this would be a wonderful chance to tackle it. As for cold soba salad – I was game for that! I’ve made soba a few times before, most successfully in a dish called ostu. It’s been a while though, and this was a new recipe, so it was also exciting.
How did I make the tempura gluten-free? This was perhaps one of the easiest adjustments so far with my Daring Cooks’ challenges. The original recipe called for a 1/2 cup of regular flour and 1/2 cup of cornstarch - so I substituted 1/2 cup of sweet white rice flour and 1/2 cup of tapioca starch. It came out beautifully – airy and crisp. We enjoyed sweet potatoes, green beans, and shrimp, dipped in the spicy dipping sauce (made gluten-free easily by substituting gluten-free soy sauce), and there wasn’t a bit left. While I loved this Japanese-style, I can easily imagine taking the tempura batter “process” over to other cuisines (onion rings, anyone?).
The soba salad was also delicious, so much so, I think I enjoyed it even more than the tempura. I served ours with a dashi sauce, green onions, eggs, grated daikon radish, pickled ginger, and some toasted nori. I am having leftovers for lunch today, and am pretty darn excited about it, if I do say so. While finding 100% buckwheat soba isn’t easy (I had to visit Whole Foods – most soba in the American groceries is a blend of wheat and buckwheat flour), I am definitely going to pick up some more when I find it again. I love the nutty, earthy flavor of the noodles.
All in all, another delicious Daring Cooks’ challenge completed! What’s even better – this has inspired me to dig further into Japanese cuisine. I’m overdue for an adventure!
1 egg yolk
1 c iced water
1/2 c sweet white rice flour
1/2 c tapioca starch
1/2 t baking powder
Oil for deep frying
Ice water bath, for the tempura batter
Very cold vegetables and seafood – you can choose from: blanched and cooled sweet potato slices, green beans, mushrooms, carrots, pumpkin, onions, shrimp, etc.
Place the iced water in a mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg yolk and gradually pour into the iced water, stirring (preferably with chopsticks) and blending well. Add flours 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 help create a crispy tempura. 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. It is more difficult to maintain a steady temperature and produce consistent tempura if you don’t have a thermometer, but it can be done. 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. 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. 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. Serve immediately for best flavor.
Gluten-Free Spicy Dipping Sauce
¾ c spring onions/green onions/scallions, finely chopped
3 T gluten-free soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
½ t agave nectar
¼ t English mustard powder
1 T grape-seed oil
1 T sesame oil
1/2 t ground black pepper
Shake all the ingredients together in a covered container. Once the salt has dissolved, add and shake in 2 tablespoons of water and season again if needed.
Gluten-Free Soba Salad
2 quarts + 1 c cold water, divided
12 oz 100% buckwheat noodles
Cooking the noodles:
- Heat 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the noodles a small bundle at a time, stirring gently to separate. When the water returns to a full boil, add 1 cup of cold water. Repeat this twice. When the water returns to a full boil, check the noodles for doneness. You want to cook them until they are firm-tender. Do not overcook them.
- Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse well under cold running water until the noodles are cool. This not only stops the cooking process, but also removes the starch from the noodles. This is an essential part of soba noodle making. Once the noodles are cool, drain them and cover them with a damp kitchen towel and set them aside allowing them to cool completely.
Mentsuyu – Traditional dipping sauce
1/3 c gluten-free soy sauce
1/3 c mirin (sweet rice wine)
Put mirin in a sauce pan and heat gently. Add soy sauce and dashi soup stock in the pan and bring to a boil. Take off the heat and cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.
I served the soba noodles by placing some cold noodles in a bowl, and ladling some of the sauce over. I topped with crumbled nori, egg omelet strips, grated raw daikon radish, pickled ginger, and some green onions. You can top with any of the following: thin omelet strips, boiled chicken breasts, ham, cucumber, boiled bean sprouts, tomatoes, toasted nori, green onions, wasabi powder, grated daikon, pickled ginger, etc. Everything should be finely grated, diced, or julienned.