I’ve been making variations of this dish for years, but I always thought of them just as "how I like to make sesame noodles". But I just read this post on Heidi’s site (and the followup at Amateur Gourmet) and the light went on that by "sesame noodles" people pretty much universally mean a dish made with peanut butter and wheat-based noodles, and that what I make is much closer to Otsu! In any case, seeing it on 101cookbooks made me leap out of my chair and turn the refrigerator inside-out to see what I was going to put in the version that most definitely had to be made right now. This is one of those vegetarian dishes that will easily please meat eaters who like Asian flavors, and is especially good to take for a potluck because it is served cool or at room temperature.
Grilled Eggplant and Tofu Otsu Noodles
Vegetarian and vegan
For the sauce:
- 1/4 c. toasted sesame paste (tahini)
- 2 T. tamari or other soy sauce
- 1 T. sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) or 2 t. sugar
- 2 t. rice vinegar
- zest from 1/2 lemon (or yuzu if you have it, or lime)
- juice from 1 lemon (ditto)
- 1 healthy knob of ginger, peeled and grated
- 1 t. or more Sriracha or hot sauce of your choice, or 1/2 t. cayenne pepper
- black pepper to taste
- 1 piece of Balinese long pepper, crushed, if you have it
For the noodles:
- 9 oz. soba (Japanese buckwheat noodles)
- 1 english cucumber, cut into strips and then 1" pieces
- 1 heavy eggplant, slice into 1/2" thick rounds
- 1/2 lb. extra firm tofu
- 2 green onions, sliced thin
- 1/3 c. toasted sesame seeds
- sea salt (like Maldon (aka the world’s greatest salt))
- 1/2 head iceberg lettuce for serving, leaves pulled apart and washed (optional)
- Whisk or blend all of the dressing ingredients together, and let it sit for flavors to develop while you make the noodles and vegetables.
- Prepare the noodles according to the package directions. For mine that meant boiling for 4 minutes. Don’t let them overcook. Rinse in cool water.
- Brush the eggplant with a bit of oil and grill or broil until deep brown on both sides and thorougly tender. Let cool, then slice rounds into 2" x 1" batons.
- Slice tofu into approximately 2" x 1" x 3/4" rectangles, dry with a paper towel, and saute in a single layer with a bit of oil over high heat until nicely browned on all sides. Alternatively, you can use a pre-flavored tofu product of your choice.
- Taste and adjust the dressing. Does it need more salt? More acid? More heat? Is it too thick? You want a fairly liquid texture, not pasty, and it should be highly flavored.
- Reserve 2 T. of the dressing and 1 T. of the sesame seeds.
- In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, dressing (reserving 2 T.), sesame seeds (reserving 1 T.), cucumber, eggplant, tofu
- To serve, line a platter with the iceberg lettuce, the mound the noodles on top. It is often hard to get the vegetables to mix in, so you may need to take your tongs and distribute them a bit. Garnish (in order) with: the remaining sauce, the green onions, the remaining sesame seeds, and a couple pinches of good sea salt and a grind of black pepper.
Other good variations for the sauce would include miso, wasabi, and/or fresh garlic. For the vegetables, I think this dish likes umami flavors more than a lot of green vegetation, so I’d be more inclined to do something like shiitake mushrooms than say zucchini.
Addendum! I’m making this my entry for the World Vegetarian Day and Vegetarian Awareness Month contest over at Coffee & Vanilla.