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The old switcheroo

Alright, people. That’s it. Enough of this wedding hoo-hah. Enough gushy, gloppy, lovey-dovey stuff. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s September. Like, end-of-summer September. Back-to-school September. Early-season-apples September. The calendar said it was coming, but still. It’s something we should talk about.

As a kid, I always loved September. It meant a reprieve from the pounding heat, for one, and in Oklahoma, that was no small potatoes. It also happens that September is my birth month, which meant balloons and cake and a slumber party. It was also the time of year when my mother would take me out for school supplies, protractors and compasses and other crap that I would never really use, but that made me feel right somehow, and ready - the way superheroes feel, I imagine, about their special capes and costumes. Of course, September also meant school, and getting up early, and spelling tests, but the blow was soft and measured, never more than I could take.

These days, it’s not always so easy. I miss summer already. It rained last night on Seattle - a sure sign if ever there was one - and I sighed this morning, when I opened the front door, to find the yard matted with yellow leaves. Soon, I’ll bet, the grass will be completely covered with them, and then there will be more rain, and more rain, and maybe even snow, and oh wow, OH NOOOO. But then, you know, that old September feeling comes again, and from my safe perch inside the house, with the door closed, I can almost love the puddles and the leaves and the cars splish-splashing past, each one whooshing September! September! SepTEMberrr!

Oh, I don’t know what to say. I guess September is kind of great, in its way. It keeps you occupied with pretty, shiny things so that you won’t really feel the pinch. It’s a kindly old doctor with a quick syringe. It’s a wise magician, a master at sleight of hand. It’s the old switcheroo. Sure, September means the return of real life, the nitty-gritties. There are no two ways around it. But it seems to want to please, and that makes it pretty hard to dislike.

Plus, it’s a perfect time to talk about Brandon’s favorite soba noodles, a dish that doesn’t give a flying hoot what the season is.

I first mentioned these noodles a while back, in the process of telling you about another one of Brandon’s standby meals, a very simple chickpea salad. This soba is something that Brandon devised when he was living in New York, in the months before I came along. He used to make it for breakfast because “it was fast and easy,” he says, and then he would pack up the leftovers and tote them out to Brooklyn, where he was in school at the time, and eat them for lunch. He made this soba for me on one of my first trips to visit him, in June of 2005, and we ate it one hot, sticky morning, straight from a dented aluminum mixing bowl. There was a box fan propped in the window, and I had my bare feet perched on the edge of his chair, and our chopsticks made a faint plink! against the bowl, and I remember thinking how very Brandon those noodles were, messy and delicious, spiked with two hot sauces.

When he moved to Seattle, he brought that dented bowl with him, and he keeps using it, even though we have better ones. Sometimes he even digs all the way to the bottom of the stack to get it. I like that.

Several of you have written to ask for this recipe, but until now, there really wasn’t one. Brandon makes these noodles by eye and by taste, and the first time we tried to quantify the ingredients, it came out all wrong. Plus, it’s not a terribly attractive dish - brown-on-brown, with some pink and orange - so I was reluctant to share it with you.

But those seem like silly excuses, really, when I think about what a perfect lunch it is. Especially now, in this back-to-real-life season. For one thing, it’s quick to make. It’s also filling, but not too much so. Best of all, it uses somewhat seasonless vegetables, the sort of neutral roots and greens you might already have lolling about, biding their time in the crisper drawer. Just bang ‘em all together, chuck it in your bag, and with a piece of fruit to finish, you’re all set. You’ll be so well occupied, you won’t even feel the pinch.

Soba with Peanut-Citrus Sauce

When Brandon makes the sauce for these noodles, he almost never measures. As a result, they taste a little different each time. What you see below are the amounts he used on his most recent go, and a pretty delicious one at that. Really, so long as you taste and tweak, it’s hard to go wrong.

Here are a few variations to play with:
  • Instead of peanut butter, try almond butter. Or even cashew butter.
  • Instead of lime juice, try it with lemon.
  • Or, try it with fresh orange juice or grapefruit juice. Because they’re less acidic, though, than lime or lemon, you’ll need to bolster them with some rice vinegar.
  • Instead of baby bok choy, try slivers of raw spinach, scallions, or asparagus.

For the sauce:
½ cup well-stirred natural peanut butter, such as Adams 100% Natural Creamy
1 ½ tsp. soy sauce
¼ tsp. pressed garlic (about 1 small clove)
½ cup fresh lime juice
½ tsp. sriracha or a similar hot sauce, or more to taste
½ tsp. chili garlic sauce or sambal oelek, or more to taste
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. water

For the noodles:
½ to ¾ lb. soba noodles (see note below)
3 red radishes, very thinly sliced with a knife or mandolin
2 small (or 1 large) carrots, very thinly sliced with a knife or mandolin
1 medium baby bok choy, sliced from tip to root into ¼-inch-thick ribbons
Fresh cilantro or basil leaves, for serving

First, make the sauce. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, and whisk to blend well. It may look clumpy and funny at first, but keep whisking. It will come together into a smooth, light brown sauce. Taste, and adjust to your liking. Set aside.

Meanwhile, put a large pot of water over high heat, and set a colander in the sink. When the water boils, add the soba noodles, and cook at a gently simmer – they’re fragile, so don’t boil them hard – until they are al dente. They cook pretty fast, so be careful. Do not overcook.

Drain the noodles into the colander in the sink. Then, immediately, wash them in cool water. Turn on the faucet and, using your hands, pick up small handfuls of soba and separate them between your fingers, taking care that each noodle is rinsed. “Washing” the noodles like this is a trick we learned from Tea. It helps to remove any starchy residues and keeps the noodles from clumping. (Plus, it’s kind of fun.)

Shake any excess water from the noodles, and turn them into the bowl of sauce. Using two forks, gently toss until the noodles are evenly coated. Add the radishes, carrots, and baby bok choy, and serve, topped with cilantro leaves and additional hot sauce, if you like.

Note: This quantity of sauce is a bit much for ½ pound soba. That’s how much we used, and we found it a bit too heavily dressed. Brandon worries, though, that this amount of sauce might be a little skimpy for ¾ pound. You might want to try something in the middle - maybe 10 ounces?

Yield: Two servings, plus leftovers


Anonymous swirlingnotions said...

Sounds fantastic! I've got some radishes and snow peas in the fridge from last week's farmers market that I need to use and this will be perfect . . . thanks!

4:46 PM, September 04, 2007  
Anonymous Tisha said...

I used to make a similar dish years ago in my vegetarian days. I used tahini instead of peanut butter, and roasted sesame oil instead of olive oil. Tossed with some julienned carrots and spring onions, it was perfect on a hot summer day, like the one we're having today.

Thanks for reminding me of this great dish...I think I'll make it soon.

5:02 PM, September 04, 2007  
Anonymous Margo said...

oh man, this is one of the dishes on my CRAVINGS list! These are foods that I get serious, out-of-the-blue cravings for (this is different from "my favorite foods). I use a recipe from Moosewood that is really similar, but we dress our servings of noodles and veggies individually at the table. I usually make a biggish batch and we eat at it for several days. My toddler ADORES this sauce!

5:26 PM, September 04, 2007  
Blogger deborah said...

oh yum! i love the sounds of this. it will be perfect for packed lunches, of which i am running out of ideas! thanks molly and brandon!

5:58 PM, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Sara said...

Oh my, this dish sounds delicious and absolutely up my alley, but it just reminds me how much I'm *not* a cooking person, because to me? That is something that I could put together for dinner - I can't imagine cooking it in the wee hours of the morning. It would be a small production. There would be great mess, somehow.
But hey, it sounds yummy, and I'll try making it some day when I'm feeling adventurous, so thanks for sharing!

6:06 PM, September 04, 2007  
Anonymous kate said...

I just discovered your blog and have been using up enormous amounts of time at work getting caught up on years of amazing recipes, but also eagerly awaiting your next post. I have a September birthday as well an your description of this month was absolutely spot on. Thank you for this wonderful site!

6:24 PM, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Mercedes said...

Ooo, Brandon's famous noodles. I make a similar peanut sauce that I love with soba noodles. Many thanks for the tips about rinsing the individual noodles, I usually rinse mine quickly and never quite combat the clumping issue.
Our favorite combination is soba noodles with peanut sauce and very finely sliced cucumbers (plus diced scallions and toasted peanuts). Those thin slivers of cucumber are just fantastic. I'll have to try radishes next time.

6:40 PM, September 04, 2007  
Anonymous Katie said...

You two are the best. I've been wanting a soba noodle recipe (when I tried it once without one it didn't turn out well), and here you are to my rescue! Thanks!

7:06 PM, September 04, 2007  
Blogger Casey said...

Like Kate, I, too, just found your delightful blog and am savoring the archives. September is one of my favorite months here in Northern california: a final warm dash of Indian Summer and then gently cooler days which coax a final, deep-hued burst of blooms from the roses.

8:28 PM, September 04, 2007  
Anonymous Savvy Savorer/ Frantic Foodie said...

Looks like a great recipe. Have been waiting to see your next post afther the wedding one. Well, worth the wait.

12:15 AM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous traderjanki said...

Yum- sounds easy and delicious.

3:34 AM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous Sophie said...

Molly, I like it when you post the really simple recipes like these noodles and the chickpeas; there are loads of complicated recipes out there but not many quick enough to fling together for lunch.

I've been working in or with Universities for such a long time now that I always get that back to school feeling in September. It seems more like the marker of a New Year to me than January ever does!

4:52 AM, September 05, 2007  
Blogger Hyena In Petticoats said...

On of my favourite restaurants makes cold noodles just like these which are to die for..... one of the things that really cements the deal for me is the slight sprinkling of nigella seeds in the mix.....
Thanks so much for sharing the recipe - it's lunch for me tomorrow, for sure....

Leah xx

5:32 AM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous rachel said...

I know you hear it all the time, but I do love your blog. Thank you for creating it. I had to comment on the hot chili sauce in the first photo of this post. We call it "rooster sauce" and my husband puts it on everything! I have to convince him that some times it is not appropriate to the dish being served. It is a staple in our house and in case anyone is wondering, it has a rooster on the front of the bottle. Beware of its' addictive powers!

5:48 AM, September 05, 2007  
Blogger Kara said...

This looks delicious, and just the thing I've been looking for! Love your blog, and your wedding sounded absolutely gorgeous and so much fun!

6:48 AM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous DC Sarah said...

This sounds spicy, savory, and delicious. YUM! Can't wait to try it next week. My sentiments on September exactly....except none of the leaves have started turning yet in DC, and it's still quite hot :(

7:52 AM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous Maxine said...

Looks yummy! And I'm always a fan of a recipe that lends itself to inexact measurements! Btw - did you see my attempt at Brandon's chick pea salad? (http://chewonthatblog.com/?p=258) I had to make some substitutions, but it was still quite yummy! Thanks!!

8:18 AM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous Meegan said...

#1 I know the wedding stuff is behind you, but I am having a Seattle registry dilemma, and was wondering if you came up with anywhere good to register? I'm having a hard time finding much that I like that's fun or interesting at the usual spots.
#2 I took a double batch of the chocolate covered macaroons to a BBQ on Saturday. Boy were they a hit!

Thanks for your weekly kitchen inspiration!

8:22 AM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous radish said...

I've been looking to make something like this with soba noodles - i've had this inexplicable craving for them lately. And with all the different veggies you can toss in there, the sky is the limit on what this could be!

8:58 AM, September 05, 2007  
Blogger Alice Q. said...

I love the dented bowl!

9:00 AM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous Marvin said...

I love Brandon's chickpea salad, which my wife and I make on a very regular basis now. I'm definitely gonna have to give this soba recipe a whirl.

9:06 AM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous Leah said...

Oh hooray! I've been secretly waiting for this recipe. And a secret thank you for including the "or basil" for those of us who are still on the cilantro-fence... Thanks, dear M&B.

12:03 PM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous Hillary said...

Though I loved all the wedding posts, it's refreshing to have you back to your old style again. The soba noodles sounds great and really practical. My brother is going to Seattle tomorrow for business and I thought of you and how jealous I am of him because I hear it's great there. Any suggestions of sights he should see?

3:15 PM, September 05, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

Oh yeah, swirlingnotions, snow peas would be terrific in this. I think I'd blanch them and then slice them into slivers, so that they mimic the shape of the noodles. That would be wonderful...

Tisha, your dish sounds great. I wonder if Brandon has ever tried a variation with tahini? I'll have to ask him.

Margo, which Moosewood cookbook is your recipe in? I've got a couple of their books, and I wonder if it's in one of them...

Our pleasure, dear Deborah! Happy lunching to you.

Sara, I'm with you - it's not the sort of thing I would make in the morning, either. I'm more of a cereal kind of girl, or at most, pancakes. That's all I can muster, time- and attention-wise. But yes, try it for dinner, or make it on a weekend for lunch! It's really pretty easy, once you get the hang of it.

Oh, my pleasure, Kate! Thank you for reading! And happy birthday, too.

Mercedes, that's a great tip about the cucumbers! I'll bet we would love that. Next time, next time...

You're very welcome, Katie! Hope you like it.

Casey, I hear you. September in northern California is an amazing time. When I lived down there, I always thought it was the best part of summer.

Thank you, Savvy Savorer!

Thanks, Traderjanki. It is!

I know what you mean, Sophie. I love that September-New-Year feeling! Hope you enjoy the soba...

Hyena in Petticoats / Leah, those nigella seeds must look gorgeous in there! I can only imagine. So pretty.

Rachel, we too are big fans of "rooster sauce." Brandon uses way more of the stuff than I do, but we both love it. Addictive, for sure.

Thank you, Kara! Hope the soba hits the spot.

DC Sarah, you're welcome to send some of that heat our way. It's sunny today, which is better than yesterday, but I could still use a little more heat before fall descends...

Maxine, I just hopped over to see your post - thanks for the heads-up! So glad you enjoyed the salad, even sans parmesan. It's a pretty darn good one. (And your Caprese looked delicious, by the way. My kind of dinner!)

Let's see, Meegan. First, I'm so glad that macaroons were a hit! I just love those. Second, as for this tricky business of a registry, well, hmm. We had a tough time with that too. Brandon finds so much great vintage stuff at thrift shops - and we're so picky(!) - that we decided not to register for too much stuff. We had registries at Macy's (for towels, sheets, and a suitcase), Amazon (for cookbooks and copper cannele molds), Williams-Sonoma (for new potholders, plain white serving dishes, a plain linen tablecloth and napkins, a new meat thermometer, etc.), and Epicurean Edge, a knife shop in Kirkland (for about six fancy Japanese knives). We also asked for money for a down payment on a house, and that was what we really wanted. For the things that we felt especially picky about, like wine glasses, champagne glasses, and dishware, we decided not to register and instead to keep looking for it ourselves, at Goodwill and elsewhere. (We want vintage stuff, and that's not easy to get on a registry!) I'm not sure what your style is, but there are lots of interesting shops online that do registries, and you might look into those. Design Within Reach is a good one (although they do wish lists, not registries, I think, but they work similarly), and Heath Ceramics is another. Good luck!

Yep, Radish, the sky's the limit! Go for it.

Thanks, Alice. Me too.

Oh good, Marvin! Let me know what you think.

You're most welcome, dear Leah. xo!

Oh yeah, Hillary, definitely! Make sure he goes to the new Olympic Sculpture Park, for one. It's just north of downtown, on the water - maybe a 10 minute walk from Pike Place Market - and it's stunning. He should also see Pike Place Market, of course. If he has a car and can get around to see some of the neighborhoods, there's a great view from Gasworks Park, on Lake Union. Gasworks is near the Fremont neighborhood, which is also good for a little stroll. Out in Ballard, the locks are very cool. (That's where there's a big dam of sorts, the dividing line between the fresh water of Seattle's lakes and the salt water of Puget Sound.) Plus, there's a "salmon ladder" at the locks, and salmon are still "running" through it right now, and there's a viewing room where you can watch them swimming past and read about the journey they make to spawn. I highly recommend it. Hope he enjoys it here!

5:41 PM, September 05, 2007  
Anonymous lil cassava said...

hi molly,

have been an avid reader for a while, but this is my first comment. i've loved everything you've posted before (i got my friend hooked on your braised cabbage recipe a while back, and it's a staple in both of our homes now), but brandon's soba noodles brought back such nostalgic memories of the 3 years i spent in taipei, i had to comment this time. :)

out there, they have a cold noodle dish that they serve tossed in a slightly spicy tahini-like sesame sauce, along with some shredded carrots and cucumbers. it's a great mix of refreshing (from the chilled noodles and veggies) and warming (the richness of the sesame sauce). delish! thank you for reminding me of it; i'll have to make some very soon.

(a belated congratulations, btw, to you and brandon. i love to see you happy!)

11:49 PM, September 05, 2007  
Blogger Jennifer said...

It looks lovely. I will definitely be giving it a try. Thanks!

12:14 AM, September 06, 2007  
Blogger Il Fornaio said...

Oh Molly, I have been hoping for this recipe since you mentioned it a while back. I made it last night. I cheated a bit-- I used tahini instead of peanut butter because I was having a lazy night and going to the store would have been too. much. work, but it came together like a dream. Thank you thank you!

5:10 AM, September 06, 2007  
Anonymous oyama naku said...

I am a peanut sauce freak! I always told people that if I was in death row and was asked what was to be my last meal........peanut sauce-based beef chuck, eggplant,long-stringgie green beans, bitter melon, laced with anchovie sauce STEW. Reading about the soba noodle peanut sauce description just made my day! Thank you!

11:59 AM, September 06, 2007  
Anonymous conor said...

this sounds like a great go-to dish for treating hunger. I am going to work this one up; soba has been in the back of my mind for some time now. I have read a great many things about its myriad of uses.

9:20 AM, September 07, 2007  
Blogger Lydia said...

I have been on an Asian noodle salad kick, and this sounds perfect. Here comes dinner...

5:30 PM, September 07, 2007  
Blogger kristy said...

molly - i hope you dont mind, but i have linked you to my blog and written about you in one of my first posts. kxx

11:57 PM, September 07, 2007  
Blogger nico said...

I'm so craving this right now...I do a very similar recipe...I use cucumber instead of radishes (but those sound really good..going to try that next time)....I like to also use scallions, mint, and cilantro for my herbs..and lots of them too! Bean sprouts and a touch of coconut milk are good too.

11:32 PM, September 08, 2007  
Blogger Dave said...

Sorry haven't kept up with you Molly. Big congrats on the wedding. It looked tasteful and fun. You'll enjoy married life.

I love peanut sauces that aren't cooked (easier) and I look forward to this one. I especially like the almond butter suggestion.

PS The banana bread was an enormous hit in the home yesterday!

6:19 AM, September 10, 2007  
Anonymous Caroline said...

This looks like my kind of last-minute week night meal. yum...

6:20 PM, September 11, 2007  
Blogger Mevrouw Cupcake said...

i just bought a package of organic soba noodles this afternoon during my lunch break! can't wait to try this out!

7:43 AM, September 12, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting the recipe. I made it last evening for my family, with shredded carrots & parsnips and green onions. They loved it and begged me to pick up more soba noodles on my way home today because they want to take it to school tomorrow in their bento boxes. Please thank Brandon for letting you share this.

First time commenting, though I have been reading this blog for months now. Thank you for the wonderful recipes, and belated congrats on your and Brandon's nuptuals.

3:38 PM, September 12, 2007  
Anonymous Tom said...

Molly, made the recipe tonight. It's perfect....and you're right about the sauce/noodle mix.

7:48 PM, September 16, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made this last night and ate it all. The recipe is so simple, but so delicious. Thanks for posting it here.

9:47 AM, September 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made this last night and it was so delicious I ate the whole thing right out of the huge stainless steel bowl.

11:00 AM, September 20, 2007  
Blogger S. said...

There is just something so compelling about the second photo. I really dig it.

9:16 PM, September 23, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I made this for dinner tonight. It's the first time I've cooked something from the site and it was wonderful! I used lemon juice instead of lime and added some thinly sliced cabbage and stir-fried chicken. I think I overcooked the soba as it was a little hard to mix but I can't wait for leftovers tomorrow!

6:07 PM, March 13, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just made this last night, and it was lovely - just the perfect easy, fresh-veggie-ful meal you want to make after the holidays. We added some leftover chicken and quite a bit more hot sauce and it worked well. One final question: how long will this keep in the fridge? Tomorrow is New Year's but I'd really like to take the leftovers to work on Friday...Thanks!

10:38 AM, December 31, 2008  
Blogger Molly said...

Anonymous, you're fine to eat it on Friday. This should keep in the fridge for a few days, easy. The chicken might shorten its lifespan a little - I don't like to eat chicken more than three days after it has been cooked; maybe I'm weird? - but it'll be just fine for Friday.

5:28 PM, December 31, 2008  
Blogger Heather M said...

Oh my goodness...thank you thank you for linking to this in your recent post. I just made it for lunch with the veggies I had on hand: mushrooms, thinly sliced spring onion (green and white parts) and raw asparagus - I had the ends saved to make soup or some such thing but I decided to try out Harold McGee's theory and slice them into little crunchy disks. It worked perfectly, and the dressing is fabulous!

10:11 AM, May 12, 2009  
Anonymous Sarah D. (Motown Maiden) said...

This recipe is so great for the summer - it's become a new favorite stand-by. We're headed on vacation soon and I can't wait to mix up a batch of noodles in personal-sized tins and take them to the beach with us.

7:01 AM, June 05, 2009  
Blogger Aprilini said...

Made this last week and was amazed at how delicious it was. Thank you!

10:26 AM, June 15, 2009  
Blogger Spotted Sparrow said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. It has become my go-to lunch. I'm making some right now as a matter of fact!

4:09 AM, August 12, 2009  
Blogger Kat said...

I'm so tired of the boxed annie chun's peanut sesame noodles i've been making to take to work...you've shown me the light! i had to use lemon juice instead of lime, and i cooked a few too many noodles, but it came out delicious. and i'm certainly happy to have tons of leftovers for the rest of the week.

10:27 PM, October 09, 2009  
Blogger Lilly said...

Hi Molly,
Somehow I am always commenting years behind your posting..but I'd like to let you know--vive los soba noodles! Just made them last night in San Francisco and they came out beautifully. We may have gotten a little out of hand with the siracha, but delish nonetheless. My food photography can't compete with yours, but I thought you/Brandon might get a kick out of this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/50562616@N04/?saved=1

10:07 PM, May 25, 2010  

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