Otsu Noodles (Sesame Soba Noodle Salad) – Recipe

Otsu Noodles
Otsu Noodles

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
Serves 4
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)
  1. Whisk or blend all of the dressing ingredients together, and let it sit for flavors to develop while you make the noodles and vegetables.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Reserve 2 T. of the dressing and 1 T. of the sesame seeds.
  7. In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, dressing (reserving 2 T.),  sesame seeds (reserving 1 T.),  cucumber, eggplant, tofu
  8. 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.


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Posted by Michael Natkin on Tuesday, October 9th, 2007 in Kid Friendly, Main Courses, Recipes, Salads, Vegan or Modifiable.

16 Responses to “Otsu Noodles (Sesame Soba Noodle Salad) – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    October 9, 2007 at 6:00 pm #

    What a great recipe! In my ‘to try’ folder

  2. Reply
    October 9, 2007 at 9:08 pm #

    Mmm, this looks so good! I’ll have to make this some time (just wish I had this in my arsenal this summer – it’d be perfect).

  3. Reply
    October 12, 2007 at 11:55 am #

    This looks terrific – and healthy! I love the idea of serving it with cucumber!!

  4. Reply
    October 29, 2007 at 1:43 am #


    Thank you for your beautiful entry.

    Greetings, Margot

  5. Reply
    November 5, 2007 at 8:03 pm #

    those do look great! and with EGGPLANT. i must try it.

  6. Reply
    February 17, 2008 at 5:13 pm #

    Yum, yum, YUM! This is a fabulous recipe! I loved it, my husband loved it…even my one year old daughter loved it. The sweetness of the eggplant, the crisp cucumber, the whole thing just works really well together. Perfect.

    And I am enjoying your website. I stumbled across it while googling abu-gosh hummous, and am happy that I did. Loved your Israel postings. I used to live there and pine for the hummous and falafel. I just made Israeli style falafel this past weekend, and it was pretty good, but not as good as the real thing. I will have to visit there some time soon.

    Anyhow, thanks for a truly enjoyable site (and I’m not even a vegetarian), and a great recipe. I’ll be tuning in too see what else you’re up to.


  7. Reply
    July 18, 2008 at 12:24 pm #

    You are a frickin’ genius! Love the addition / combination of tahini and sriracha. Plus I like your version of banh mi too.


  8. Reply
    August 4, 2008 at 9:34 am #

    Ooh la la…I like how you have some nutty (sesame) flavor without turning this into “sesame noodles” per se.

  9. Reply
    January 19, 2009 at 2:41 pm #

    Oh Wow! Does this look DELICIOUS! I love that you added eggplant…I will have to try this!

  10. Reply
    June 11, 2009 at 8:19 pm #

    Just tried a version inspired by this – absolutely fantastic.

    Thank you! I will be back to try your other recipes – really, really good.

  11. Reply
    June 23, 2009 at 12:09 pm #

    They didn’t have eggplant at the local natural foods store, so I ended up substituting zucchini and yellow squash for it, and that turned out okay. It was a little mushy, though, after I broiled it. I don’t know if eggplant would have done the same thing or not; it seems like this dish could use something crunchy instead. Also, didn’t know what Balinese long pepper was, so I grated and threw in half a jalapeno. Only later did I look it up and realize they’re nothing alike. It was still very tasty, though, and both my housemates really liked it.

  12. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    June 23, 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    Hey Bill – I'm glad you tried and liked the Otsu noodles. Ideally the crunch in this dish would come from the cukes and green onions, so it would be ok if the other vegetables are cooked until tender (though not mush of course). You want to make sure not to overcook the noodles as well. Long pepper isn't the easiest item to find all the time. It has an interesting floral/spicy kick I like a lot, but failing that, another source of heat makes good sense. Thanks for commenting, I really appreciate hearing from you.

  13. Reply
    August 28, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    This was just amazing. The sauce has it all going on without being “cluttered” – nutty but bright and tart, salty-sweet, and creamy, but it doesn’t disappear into the noodles and tofu. I made it precisely as written the first time (drives me crazy when people modify everything and then review, as if it’s the same). I found out after the fact that my soba noodles had salt added – this affected soy sauce addition, etc. I’ve made this recipe several (5?) times since, varying the vegetables. I really like julienned carrots for crunch and shiitake mushrooms for udami combined. Once, I had only Napa cabbage and white-bread mushrooms, and it still turned out smashingly. So, I like the rock-solid reliability, innovation, and the flexibility of this recipe.

  14. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    September 1, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    Thanks Anne-Marie!  I'm glad to hear the original was solid for you, and that you've made so many variations. I'm a big believe in using recipes as a jumping off point, not a set formula.

  15. Reply
    November 2, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    The flavor of this was wonderful, but I couldn’t figure out how to get the sauce to thin while still remaining sesame-like. The tahini was what was thickening my sauce – I guess I was using a particularly thick tahini – so to thin the sauce I had to keep adding soy sauce and lemon juice, which gave it a more shallow flavor. (I don’t have a blender.) Ultimately I just went with a clogging sauce because I like the nutty flavor.

    I think this is also a challenging recipe because tofu and eggplant are both kind of tricky ingredients. If you use an offish eggplant or a mediocre tofu product, the dish fails.

    Also – the soba noodles I used turn from “just right” to “overdone” very abruptly. There was maybe about a three second time frame to take them out of a pot. So, just a warning! I think you want to take them out when they’re almost slightly underdone because they soften further in the sauce.

    This dish probably would’ve been supreme in better hands, but I’m a novice cook and definitely messed it up.

    • Reply
      November 2, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      A couple of thoughts: (1) be sure you don’t have raw sesame tahini, as that is low in flavor (2) when you open the jar/can, be sure to mix in the oil that normally separates from the tahini – otherwise, indeed, the paste itself will be much too thick.

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