When I lived in Japan there were many traditional summer foods that I craved when the temperature started to rise: dishes like hiyayakko, cold soft tofu with ginger, green onions and soy, or somen, thin wheat noodles served on ice with a dipping sauce flavored with shiso and green onion. But my favourite was zaru soba, a tangle of cold buckwheat noodles scattered with strips of nori and served on a bamboo tray called a zaru. I ate them almost every day, gently dipping the noodles into the wasabi-spiked sauce and slurping them enthusiastically in true Japanese fashion. In the Tokyo heat (and without any air conditioning in my apartment) it was often the only thing I had any appetite for.
Yesterday, my friend (and fellow food blogger) Dan invited us to a party on his gorgeous sea-view deck and asked us to bring an appetizer. Zaru soba was the first thing that came to mind, but I thought that serving a dish that needed plates, bowls, and chopsticks would be unwieldy for a cocktail-style party. That's when Elizabeth Andoh came to the rescue. In her brilliant book, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Kitchen, I found a recipe for "soba sushi", an inspiring alternative. The soba noodles were spread out on nori sheets along with cucumber strips, radish sprouts, and sesame seeds and rolled up and sliced just like sushi, making perfectly manageable two-bite morsels - genius!
One of the most difficult tasks for a food writer is to describe a complicated technique to the reader and make it understandable without resorting to a series of drawings or photos. Mrs. Andoh took what could have been a very complex and frustrating procedure and made it simple. I've made plenty of rolled sushi (when I worked at a Japanese restaurant in Vancouver) but I think even a beginner could tackle this.
The noodles were laid out on top of the nori, the first bunch placed so that the tied end was hanging over the right side and the second bunch with the tied end on the left. I scattered the cucumber, radish sprouts and sesame seeds over the top and then clipped off the tied ends and strings.
Rolling was a snap. The finished rolls were wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in the fridge until just before we left for the party.
Each roll was sliced into six pieces and arranged on a plate. They were served with a simple dipping sauce made from dashi (japanese broth), soy sauce, mirin, a bit of sugar, and wasabi paste. Although the day wasn't quite as warm as we had hoped the "soba sushi" was a big hit and I wouldn't hesitate to make it again. It was a wonderful party. The food that everyone brought was delicious and it was great to reconnect with friends that I hadn't seen in almost a year.