I used to eat “dirt pancakes” when I was a kid. My mom cooked and baked with whole grains, so whether it was biscuits or sandwich bread or cake or pancakes, they would be hearty, honey-sweetened, and bran laden. And in the same spirit that draws children to gummy worms, “ants on a log” and to think that anything gross is hilarious, we named a humus-colored Saturday breakfast “dirt” buckwheat pancakes. We ate them hot off the griddle and smeared with honey or molasses. I loved the earthy, nutty, mineral flavor, especially with the sweet iron tang of molasses. And bonus, they kind of looked like mud pies.
I don’t remember using buckwheat for anything besides pancakes until I was introduced to soba noodles as an adult. Soba is a Japanese noodle made with buckwheat and wheat flour (I look for buckwheat as the first ingredient when I buy it) and is not only hearty and flavorful both hot and cold, but does it in about half the calories in white wheat pasta. I don’t think of myself as a “health food” cook, but the palate that I developed as a child makes me crave bright, fresh flavors that also happen to be nutritionally rich, un-messed-with foods, fruits, vegetables, and grains that are colorful and intensely flavored. I think that’s why I love that identifying fragrance and flavor that buckwheat has, unique and rich; that it happens to also be good for me is a bonus.
This is a one of my favorite ways to eat buckwheat – slightly chilled, slippery with toasted sesame and spicy with Sriracha hot sauce and crunchy with jewel-like strands of beautiful vegetables. It needs nothing and can stand alone as a perfectly satisfying lunch, but if you want to gild the lily, it is outstanding when accompanying broiled salmon or mackerel.
Soba Sriracha Salad
serves 4 generously
– 3 sleeves (about 10 ounces) soba noodles
– 1 medium cucumber
– 1/2 red bell pepper
– 4 green onions
– 1 small wedge of red cabbage (about 1/4 head)
– 1 medium carrot, peeled
– snow peas
– toasted peanuts, cashews or sesame seeds
– radish or daikon
– firm tofu
– hot chile, minced
Prepare the cucumbers, pepper, and carrots by slicing them all into fairly uniform match sticks. I cut the cucumber on a sharp diagonal and then stack the slices, slicing them again into slivers. If your carrots are nice and fat you can cut them up the same way; for skinny carrots, cut them into 2 inch-long pieces, then into thirds lengthwise before cutting them into crisp match sticks. Cut the wedge of cabbage across the middle and then shave into thin ribbons. Chop the green onions into thin discs. I cut the vegetables this way not aiming for perfect uniformity, but so that they tangle through the noodles, giving a nice mix of slippery noodle and crunchy vegetables with each fork-full.
Cook the soba noodles in boiling salted water according to the package direction, which is usually about 6 minutes. Drain into a colender and rinse with cold water until the noodles are cool.
In a large bowl, whisk the dressing together, then toss the noodles and vegetables into the dressing a handful at a time, mixing by hand after each addition. It’s a lot easier to mix as you go rather than trying to mix everything at once and it gives everything an even soaking of dressing.
Serve at room temperature of slightly cool.
Sriracha Sesame Dressing
– 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
– 2 teaspoons sriracha chili sauce (or to taste, I like it slightly spicy)
– 1 clove garlic
– 1 inch-long piece fresh ginger
For a creamier dressing, add
– 1 tablespoon tahini
Whisk the oil, vinegar, and sriracha together in a large mixing bowl. Using a microplane grater, grate the garlic and ginger into the dressing and stir to mix. Let the flavors mix while you prepare the vegetables and soba noodles.