Why Hello There, and welcome to Kitchen Catastrophe, the party of pandemonium in your pantry. I’m your host and guy who keeps high-fiving people because he’s too drunk to remember how to shake hands, Jon O’Guin. Today’s post is about something cool, something hot, something sweet, and something salty. It’s also about noodles that are great for you, and also pretty bad for you. Enter my Drunken Dojo of Dichotomy, as we dig in to Soba Steak Salad
Soba-d, it’s Good!
Title Jon hit his head on a staircase ceiling yesterday, so he’ll be of little value today, we apologize for the inconvenience his physical pain and reduced capacity may inflict on your ability to laugh at me.
Worryingly increased aggression following head trauma aside, let’s focus on our main event: Soba. What is it? Where did it come from? Can it be stopped before it destroys Washington? Some of these questions and more will be answered in the following days.
Soba is actually the Japanese word for Buckwheat, a pseudocereal (which is a great insult to throw at oatmeal, and a term for plants that are similar to grains such as wheat, but are genetically quite different), so you’d assume that it comes from there. You’d be…maybe wrong about that. Like, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when certain plants show up in certain places, if they happened long enough ago. Theories say Southeast Asia…which is weird, because buckwheat is really good at growing in higher and cooler elevations: It’s grown on the mountainous border of Tibet and China in the Yunnan province of China, and in Japan. It would be like discovered that Capris were first invented in Norway. Anyway, while there are traces of it going back thousands of years in China, they go back even FURTHER in Japan.
Which is weird, since Japan’s not particularly associated with mountains.
Oh, look, a Fuji apple! I love those!
Soba, by the way, is pronounced like the little Green Jedi Master’s name, not like “so bad” as my concussed companion implied. And while it’s the name of a halfway-grain, you’re less likely to see the word in Japanese produce sections than you are to see it in the instant soup section. Because Soba is also used to refer to noodles made from Soba flour. And if that sounds inefficient and silly, shut up and eat your Wheaties.
And, in case you didn’t know, Japan loves noodles. And fish. And foods fermented with aspergillus oryzae. What was I saying? Noodles. Yes. Japan has a wide variety of noodles, Nine, specifically, which is a low enough number that I might one day do a post just about the different varieties. Unlike, say, Italy, who has like, 60 fucking pastas. That’s not love, that’s obsession, Italy.
To be fair to Italy, Japan has 9 CLASSES of noodles, with multiple varieties in the class. There are like, 8 types of Soba noodle, for instance.
To be Fair to Japan, though, Italy actually has over 200 types of pasta, in roughly 40 ‘classes’ or families.
Anyway, Soba noodles are a popular option in Japan, where they’ve served a very interesting culinary function, one that I guess is best related to the idea of potatoes in American cuisine: they’re consumed in cold salads with a sauce or dressing during the summer months, and then consumed in hot stews and soups in the winter time. They’re a useful starchy backbone to a dish. They have another interesting function, derived from history. In the 1700-1800’s, in Edo (modern day Tokyo), people were having a problem. They kept getting sick with a disease called beriberi. And it turned out it was because they were too rich. Because they’d been able to pay to eat WHITE Rice with every meal, their diet had too little thiamine (AKA Vitamin B1). So, when they looked around for a solution, they found out “Oh, hey, Soba noodles are loaded with that shit.” So they just started eating soba once or twice a week.
COMPLETELY unrelated story, but I looked up why Edo’s name changed, and it’s kind of amazing. Basically, what happened is that a new guy became emperor, and to shake things up, he moved to Edo from Kyoto. Edo became the unofficial new capital, so they HAD to change the name, because it’s traditional in East Asia for you capital to include the word “Capital” in its names. “Kyo” is Japanese for Capital, hence Kyoto and Tokyo, while ‘jing’ is Chinese for Capital, hence Nanjing and Beijing. I just love the idea that Asia went “look, if you’re going to have an important place, put that in the name. Otherwise, how the hell are we supposed to know it’s important?”
“What if this is just some guy’s sprawling palace full of government officials?”
Back to the buckwheat: Now, Soba has a bunch of cool shit going for it. It’s got fewer calories than pasta, even whole wheat pasta, it’s got all the essential amino acids, it’s even gluten-free when made with pure buckwheat flour, and as we just established, it’s got a solid amount of Vitamin B1. With all those points, this has got to be a super food, right? Well, no. See, other than iron, thiamin, and manganese, there’s not actually a lot of vitamins or minerals in Soba noodles. Also, Soba noodles have a high Glycemic load, which means that, as a dense source of carbs, they’ll spike your blood sugar strongly after consumption. (Though, to be fair, this is true of ALL pasta noodles.)
So, while Soba noodles were useful for Edo-dwellers to supplement their diet, for most modern consumers, Soba is more of a diet option: it has fewer calories than most noodles, but it’s a little lacking in vitamins too. What it DOES provide is variety: the color and taste of Soba noodles are quite distinct from most pasta, so if you’re a pasta fiend looking for something new, Soba might be for you.
I’m Hot, Hot, Say What, Sticky Sweet
Alright, let’s get talking about how to make this salad, with a detour about a specific ingredient.
Soba steak salad is a pretty direct recipe: you cook soba, you ‘marinate’ some steak, you grill some veggies and steak, you chop up the veggies and steak, and toss them with the soba in the ‘marinade’, which doubles as a dressing.
It triples as a palantir, allowing you insight into the machinations of the Dark Lord Sauron, while unfortunately giving him access to your mind.
I’ve been trying of late to incorporate specific choices and ideas into my dishes, a sentence that’s vague to the point of irritation. What I MEANT is that, since returning home from Leavenworth, my brother has been on a diet, so I’ve been making an effort to work with/parallel to his diet needs. So, for instance, Nate’s diet has him eating protein every 4-ish hours, a process he maintains by pre-cooking a bunch of steaks or chicken breasts at a time, and re-heating them over the next day or so.
As such, I used this recipe to split a package of steak we’d bought at Costco between his needs for the day, and a light dinner for our mom and I. Now, as you hopefully noticed from the summary of the recipe, we’re not dealing with a great deal of flavor opportunities here: there’s the meat, the veg, the noodles, and a combo ‘marinade’/dressing. So most of our flavor has to come from that dressing; thus we need potent and delicious components to make that a reality, and luckily, the ‘marinade’ itself is a culinary powerhouse.
It’s built on soy sauce for salt, sesame oil for savory, a vinegar base, and an ingredient that might be new to you, Spicy Honey.
This company name also serves as a suburban dad trying to relate to his teenage daughter.
”So, you got any crushes at school?”
”Are you sure? What about Mike?”
”DAD, SHUT UP.”
”Mike’s hot, honey.”
Spicy Honey, or ‘Hot Honey’ is the culinary trend that’s sweeping the nation… or was, 3 years ago. As such, it’s now reached a point where you can likely find at least one variety of it in your local supermarket. Hell, KFC announced TODAY that they’re putting out Hot Honey Chicken Tenders as part of their ongoing “southern-style Chicken tenders” line, so that’s a super lucky turn of events for my culinary relevance.
The pitch is simple: it’s honey, with heat. Specifically, chiles are steeped in the honey, giving it spiciness. Some companies, such as the picture “Mike’s Hot Honey” also use vinegar in the process, in ways I’m not interested in addressing right now. As a man with his ear to the culinary ground, it’s something I’ve been hearing buzz about for years. (Gross, I accidentally made a bee pun.) We picked it up last year, as part of our annual “let’s get really into cheese plates because it’s fall” phase, and really dug the stuff. Anyway, the spicy honey is the sweet AND the heat in our “marinade”. You’ll note that I keep using quotes for the marinade, and that’s because we don’t actually marinate the steak. We brush it with the dressing like, 5 minutes before we cook it. I’m pretty sure if it doesn’t sit for at least half an hour, it’s not a marinade, in Food Court legal-speak. (DAMNIT, ANOTHER PUN. I legitimately forgot that ‘food courts’ were a thing.)
Taking it to Brown Town
Damn is that head wound obvious. Anyway, once the steak is ‘semi-marinated’, then it’s a matter of grilling the steak, then grilling some squash, and an onion. Of course, normally for a dish that involves so much grilling, I would, you know, grill it. Today, however, I was afraid that would end up with spider parts and pond scum on the food. As I honestly don’t remember if I’ve mentioned, my family is replacing our deck, prominently mentioned in the Grilled Cheese and Fruit post. This has forced us to reorganize our backyard to make space for the contractors, and one of the steps we needed was to remove our hot tub, which had been broken for 7-ish years, and therefore was no great loss to us. However, we found someone who was in the market for a hot-tub, and figured they could get ours repaired for less than buying a new one, so they were over that day, pressure washing the tub of the accumulated detritus of seven years of disuse. I weighed the odds of flecks of tub funk being blasted all the way to the grill, and decided they were too high. So I used a grill pan instead.
I thought I had a pic of the steak in the pan, but it turns out I only have a pic of the shishito peppers we cooked as a side dish, that I will not mention again in the entirety of the post.
It should come as a shock to no one here that I managed to somehow mess up this recipe in two rather notable ways. Firstly, and easiest to fix, I simply legitimately didn’t have all the ingredients. The recipe calls for thinly sliced radishes, which I THOUGHT we had, but turned out to be in error. Luckily, I had an easy substitute. Radishes are generally used for their peppery bite and their crisp texture, so to replace them, I just thinly sliced a whole carrot, and tossed it in salt and pepper while I took care of the rest of the ingredients.
Honestly, I ate a couple too many of these while they were just sitting in the bowl. “Salt and Pepper Carrot Chips” are apparently pretty appealing.
This would draw some moisture out of the carrots, and hopefully convey some of that pepper flavor. Carrots are sweeter than radishes, however, so it actually helped me cover for another missing ingredient: red onions. Since red onions are sweeter than normal onions, the carrot’s sweetness served as a way to bring back a little bit of the flavor lost in the substitution.
The other thing probably had a much bigger effect on the final product, and it’s an important fact to remember. I talked briefly with the Grape Gazpacho post about the idea of recipes being, at their core, a record of relative ratios. Well, somehow, I got it stuck in my big dumb head that this recipe called for 12 ounces of soba noodles. So that’s what I boiled.
And in so doing, apparently woke an ancient noodle-mummy
But it turns out, the recipe called for EIGHT ounces. So I had increased my noodle-to-ingredient ratio by 50%. This tweaked a lot of things out of proportion. It was harder to mix up the salad in an appealing way, because there was just too much noodle and not enough stuff. The dressing was spread much more thinly, because it was covering more food than intended, so the flavors were muted. The whole thing was off. But still, I finished it.
And to be fair to Title Jon, it is pretty brown.
Even with those mistakes, the salad was pretty good. No doubt it’ll be better if/when I make it with the RIGHT amount of noodles, but here it was still a solid, if unremarkable dish. Steak, soft squash and onion, the noodles, it’s all pretty good. If I had figured out the pasta mix-up before eating, I’d have probably just whipped up some more dressing and tossed it on, but as it was, it was fine. Not bad, not great, but fine. And that speaks to the resiliency and adaptability of the dish: I fucked up one of the MAIN COMPONENTS by 50%, and it STILL turned out adequate.
As ever, here at the end of the post we invite you, if you enjoyed our bumbling host’s academic antics and culinary kerfuffles, to consider supporting us on Patreon. You can learn more about how it all works through the link. Or you can just like us on Social Media, especially with our Facebook page. Even if you don’t do either, we love that you took the time just to read the post, and hope we’ve been brightened your day a little.
THURSDAY: JON MAKES A NEW KIND OF REVIEW. HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM WHAT CAME BEFORE? TUNE IN TO FIND OUT. (I’D TELL YOU, BUT EVEN I DON’T KNOW.)
MONDAY: JON’S MOTHER TRIES TO MAKE A SALAD FROM HER YOUTH. JON STANDS OFF TO THE SIDE AND COMMENTS UNHELPFULLY.
Soba Steak Salad
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp spicy/hot honey
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
2 tbsp vegetable oil
8 oz soba noodles
1-pound boneless steak (about 1/2 inch thick)
Freshly ground pepper
2 small red onions, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rings (or one large white onion)
2 small yellow summer squash, halved lengthwise
4 radishes, thinly sliced
1. Bring a pot of water to boil, adding salt when rolling, and boil soba noodles to package instructions (around 5 minutes) While noodles cook, mix together dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Brush 2 tbsps of dressing onto steak. (either pour 2 tbsps over, then brush, or pour 2 tbsps into a separate bowl, and use to brush, so that main portion of dressing does not become contaminated with raw steak.) Heat grill or grill pan to medium-high heat.
3. When noodles are done, drain and rinse with cold water. Season cut surface of the squash and onion with salt and pepper. Grill the steak for 3-5 minutes per side, to medium rare doneness. Set aside, and let rest 10 minutes, as you grill onions and squash for roughly 6 minutes.
4. Slice steak against the grain, cut squash into half-moons, and chop onions.
5. Toss squash, onions, radishes, and dressing with noodles in large bowl. Top with sliced steak, and any liquid that emerged while cutting the steak. Serve in individual bowls.