It’s December 1. Hard to type, even harder to comprehend. And I’ve already hit the wall. Thanksgiving is done, Black Friday has passed, lights are twinkling, holiday songs are playing, and it’s even snowing tonight. But I’ve had enough today. I feel like I haven’t had time to process it all. The panic is starting to set in, before I actually knew I was panicking! It’s a tough one this year. For all of us. I saw a lot of worried faces this weekend. A lot of “deer in the headlights” expressions walking through the decorated stores, almost like they couldn’t believe this was happening. I know people are worried, it seems about almost everything. Many shoulders are feeling the burden of the uncertain and frankly a bit frightening times we’re living right now. But we’re resilient, people, we really are. We’ll smile, we’ll give thanks again for what we have, we’ll give a helping hand to another in need. We’ll hear that version of “Santa Baby” playing on the radio that makes us laugh, we’ll get the schedules figured out so we can fit almost everything in, our families and friends will hug and kiss us, the wine will warm us, and all will be okay. It will, that’s who we are.
But today, I had enough of the holiday food. I couldn’t bear another cream laden, butter stuffed, maple, marshmallow, pumpkin covered morsel. I know, I know, there is so much more to come. And I will be held accountable by many I’m sure of being a contributor to multiple buttons popping and ” Deep breath, pull tight, there! It fits!” moments. Guilty. You will be too. But tonight I needed something different. My cells couldn’t breathe. My little tiny taste buds went on strike. I want something zingy and fresh. Something spicy with different textures. Somehow with 20 degrees and snow outside, salad wasn’t calling my name. But this was. Lime-soy Soba noodles. Vegetables, one roasted, one wilted, a couple barely warm, one raw. Garlic chile paste to gently burn those taste buds back into action. Healthy. Light but filling! No fat! (ok, well only 1 teaspoon, shhh.) Sheesh! I’m starting to sound like Jack LaLane! You too can do 100 one-handed push ups after eating this meal! 200 if you juice it! Ha. Slight exaggeration. Ok. Huge. You won’t be able to do any push up unless you could before this dish, and you’re not going to jump up from the table and start singing “Here I am to save the day!”. But, but…….you might feel a little lighter in spirit. And I promise, in the midst of all the holiday cakes and pies, drinks and nibbles, shots and sauces we have coming I’ll keep putting these kind of recipes in there. Something to wake us up, shake it loose, so we can get back to sugar covered gingerbread with a smile.
So to start, look in your fridge and see what kind of veg you have. I had a handful of fresh spinach, 1/2 each of red and yellow peppers, 2 small zucchini, a lone carrot. All in all, a rather colorful bunch. Just what I needed. And, it cleaned out a drawer, bonus! What you’re going to need on hand is soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic chile paste, limes, vegetable oil, salt and pepper, and 1 small bit of honey. Oh, and soba noodles. Buckwheat soba noodles.
1/4 cup of soy sauce (I use Tamari low sodium, but any low sodium will do fine)
1 teaspoon of fish sauce
3 tablespoons of lime juice
1 teaspoon of garlic chile paste
1/2 teaspoon of honey
2 small zucchini, halved and sliced
1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
1 cup of loosely packed, thinly sliced spinach
1/4 cup each of finely diced red and yellow pepper
1 small carrot, grated.
3 oz. of soba noodles (See note)
Heat your oven to 400. Get a small sheet pan and pour the 1 teaspoon of oil on the sheet pan. Using clean fingers, rub it all over the bottom of the sheet pan. Dump the cut zucchini on it, salt and pepper it, and rub it all over the pan several time, distributing the salt and picking up bits of the oil. Put it into the hot oven and check every ten minutes or so until the zucchini is slightly browned on one side and cooked through. Remove from pan and put aside.
In a small fry pan, put the spinach, 1 teaspoon of water and the diced peppers. Cook on medium high until the water evaporates and the spinach is wilted. The peppers should be just barely warmed through. This shouldn’t take more than 3 or 4 minutes.
Bring a skillet with a couple of quarts of salted water to a full boil, put in the soba noodles. Stir to make sure they’re not stuck together and cook for 3 minutes. Try one, it should be cooked but still al dente. They cook fast. Pour into a colander and run cool water over the soba, using your fingers to separate and rinse them. This should be done for several minutes. It’s kind of fun, playing with your food. Feels lovely, slippery. There is so much starch in these noodles that you need to wash it off and firm them so they will stay individual and not clump together.
Mix the soy, lime, chile paste, honey, and fish sauce together. Give it a taste. Is it too tart? Carefully add a bit more honey. Is it not hot enough for you? Add more chile paste, carefully. Taste after each addition until it’s where you like it. It should be bright and tangy, with a bit of heat. You shouldn’t taste honey, it’s just there to balance the lime and soy. You won’t be able to taste the fish sauce at all, but it adds a “something” that’s very necessary.
Return noodles, all vegetables, including grated carrot (reserve a bit to sprinkle over the top), and sauce to the skillet and toss gently until warmed through. Serve. You can serve it with chile paste or sirracha on the side if you like more heat. Just enjoy it.
Not a very pretty picture to be sure, but I still think you’ll enjoy this dish. The soba has a soft, slightly nutty flavor that pairs well with the acid and spice. The zucchini are soft and rich, the peppers still bright and fresh, and the carrot lends its sweetness and crunch throughout. I’ve done variations on this dish with chicken or shrimp added, used the vegetables I had in the fridge. I find that cooking the veggies and then cooking the sauce, noodles and veggies again makes it seem warmer, more like a winter dish. When I make this in the summer, I don’t usually cook the vegetables, just use them fresh, and I’ll warm the noodles for minute in the skillet, then pour the sauce over it, remove it from the heat and stir in the fresh veggies. It seem then like a warm salad, suited to a summer evening.
However you choose to do it, I think this hits the spot when you’re looking for something quick and different. You won’t remember marshmallow covered anything after this.
Note: Soba noodles come in many sizes and brands. The ones I like to use are the Roland organic soba noodles that are shorter and packaged inside into 4 separate bundles. Each weighing approx. 3 oz. But, of course, the nutrition info on the back says 2 oz. is a serving size and there are 6 of them. Go figure. Can anyone just do the math once and make it work out so we don’t have to figure it out before we can eat it? 1 bundle has about 300 calories and 15 calories from fat. If that helps you. Your package may vary.