“Mommy, why are you eating brown noodles and marshmallows?! With LEAVES?!”
I insist it is actually Japanese soba and tofu (your cousins Kenji and Hugh love both), bright, earthy kale, chopped and briefly blanched, then stir-fried with sizzling nut-brown garlic and ginger, and a salty-sweet sauce.
My 5-year-old conversation companion has left the room to peruse his new Highlights magazine.
And that’s ok (for now). I have this great hope that merely observing Mommy (and, occasionally, Daddy) eat tofu, kale, buckwheat noodles and the like will make the Nickster more open to experimentation in another year (or two, or three), despite his present incredulity that such things are edible.
Now back to the dish. As a quick dinner when hot, or served cold—perhaps with some steaming miso broth alongside—for a delicious lunch, these kale and tofu noodles are perfect for crisp, chilly, autumn weather (which, as of yesterday, we finally have in East Texas—praise be!). The earthy flavor of the buckwheat noodles and the robust flavor of the kale sit perfectly with the crisp-creamy bites of stir-fried tofu, and the garlic and ginger sing with deep, nutty warmth. A squeeze of lime lifts up the rustic tones of the primary ingredients to a fresh level of homespun sophistication.
‘Brown noodles and marshmallows,’ indeed.
The quick sauce for this stir-fry is Indonesian kecap (pronunced ketchup); it is a sweet soy sauce, with distinct molasses-like undertones. It can be found in Asian grocery stores , if you are lucky enough to have such options nearby (or have remembered to order some in advance). If you have no such luck on either count, you can mix up my quick mock version using regular soy sauce (tamari is lovely, too) and dark molasses.
Both the kale and the noodles are quickly softened in a bath of boiling water. Be sure to set your timer (4 minutes!) to avoid overcooking the noodles (soggy soba is sad, indeed) and to keep the kale a brilliant emerald green.Quickly drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.
Kale, Tofu, and Soba Noodle Stir-Fry
Makes 4 dinner servings
If you are aiming to prepare this dish gluten-free, take care in selecting your soba: read the label to make sure the noodles are 100% buckwheat (which is naturally gluten-free); some brands are a mix of buckwheat and wheat flours. Eden Foods is one such gluten free brand of soba. Additionally, choose a gluten-free soy sauce. Kikkoman, for example, now makes a gluten-free soy sauce that I’ve already spooted in my local supermarkets (shelved with the other soy sauces).
1 bundle dried soba (4 ounces)
1 bunch curly kale, cleaned, tough stems removed, and chopped
1 14-oz package extra-firm tofu
1/3 cup (Kecap) manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce) or my Super-Quick Kecap (below)
1/8 tsp cayenne (more or less to taste)
4 tsp dark sesame oil, divided use
2 tbsp chopped peeled fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
Lime wedges for serving
1. Put the noodles and kale in a large bowl; cover with enough boiling water to cover. Let stand 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse with cold water.
2. Drain the tofu, then cut into 1-inch cubes. Place cubes on paper towels (or dish towels), pressing down to remove any excess moisture.
3. Heat a large non-stick wok or pan over high heat. Add 2 tsp of the sesame oil and when smoking, add the tofu in batches, browning on all sides. Remove and set aside.
4. Heat remaining 2 tsp sesame oil, then stir-fry the ginger and garlic until golden. Add the greens and noodles and toss well. Add the tofu, kecap, and cayenne; cook and stir 1-2 minutes until heated through. Serve with lime wedges to squeeze over.
Super-Quick Indonesian Kecap
Makes about 1/3 cup (as needed for recipe above)
3-1/2 tbsp reduced sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp dark (cooking) molasses (not blackstrap)
Optional: 1/8 tsp ground star anise
Whisk all of the ingredients in a small bowl until blended.