Soba; So Good

Every first and fifteenth day of the lunar calendar months, I go vegetarian. My mother is a really pious Buddhist and every first and fifteenth of the lunar calendar month, there’s a big prayer and ever since I could remember, she would go vegetarian for half a day on those days. When I was in high school, I would join her on this half-day-vegetarianism but a couple of years back, I actually tried out an entire month of vegetarianism and liked it a lot. Not enough to actually give meat up for eternity (I love my dim sum too much) but enough to convince me that I would do a solid 24-hours of vegetarianism on the first and fifteenth day of the lunar calendar months.

One of the things I was adamant about when I did my month of vegetarianism and now, when I do it twice a month, is that my vegetarianism shouldn’t be a “special” thing or something that makes other people feel like they have to go out of their way to accommodate my meals. My mother worries about my dinner because hers is always a half-day vegetarian and I do a full day, but I always insist on making my own dinner so the rest of my family don’t feel guilty about not having food for me. I honestly am not bothered, and I don’t like thinking of it as a hassle as it is my choice. I love trying out new recipes so I jump at this opportunities! And if I get lazy, I make a kickass basil pesto and have it with pasta and sauteed fresh mushrooms. Those are amazing, too.

As a child, one of my biggest issues with vegetarian food is that all that was available to me was Chinese vegetarian food and they’d mostly be soy-based produce that was made to look like meat. It would be drenched in oil and tasted pretty funky most of the time. The textures and tastes were completely unnatural and even then my palate knew not to like it.

Lime Noodles with Vegetables, Basil, and Sesame

Lime Noodles with Vegetables, Basil, and Sesame

So I made a decision to not look for Chinese vegetarian dishes whenever I go vegetarian. The way I see it: I’m an adult and I can handle eating vegetables. I don’t need to be tricked into thinking it’s meat and finding out it’s actually soya. I want to eat my vegetables, I’m fully aware that I’m vegetarian, don’t try to fool me or think me an idiot and feed me fake char siew. I don’t appreciate it.

Now this is where I talk about one of the coolest applications on the iPhone/iPod Touch. Anyone who knows me knows how utterly dedicated I am to my BlackBerry. I’m fairly certain that they’d have to surgically remove the phone from my hands when I die because it will probably have become a part of me by then. And everyone of my friends will know how much I detest the iPhone (as a 3G phone) but I have the iPod Touch, which I feel the need to say, I bought way before the iPhone came out. I kind of have the best of both worlds because I have a fantastic phone with the BlackBerry and I have something I mess around on all the time which is more like a game console to me.

I’m a huge game junkie with the applications. But lately I’ve been rooting around for food-related applications because even though I am anti-iPhone, it seems the rest of the world isn’t and the rest of the world are coming up with some great applications that thankfully, I get to use too. One of my favourites is the Epicurious application. The first thing I did after I downloaded it was to search for vegetarian recipes. And I unearthed this gem right here, although this particular recipe provided no picture except that of the cookbook it was taken from, Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges.

Lime Noodles with Vegetables, Basil, and Sesame

Lime Noodles with Vegetables, Basil, and Sesame
adapted from Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges by Jean-Georges Vongerichten

1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons grape seed, corn, or other neutral oil
10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups fresh basil leaves, preferably Thai (I used normal sweet basil)
1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup white sesame seeds, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon salt, plus more as needed
About 1/2 pound assorted vegetables: carrots, parsnips, broccoli (stems are fine), bell peppers, etc., peeled and julienned
(I used carrots and red and green bell peppers)
1 pound 1/4-inch-wide dried rice noodles, soaked in hot water until softened and drained (I used buckwheat soba because that’s all I had)
1/2 cup unsalted butter

**This recipe yields 4, I halved it when I made it and still ended up with enough to feed 4 so I reckon it’s a pretty hearty portion.

1. Put 3 tablespoons of the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic turns golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

2. Combine the lime juice and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Set aside.

3. Fill a large bowl with water and ice and set aside.

4. Bring a small pot of water to a boil, and add the basil and mint leaves. As soon as the water returns to a boil, drain the leaves and transfer to the ice water. When cold, drain again and squeeze dry. Puree in a blender with the sesame seeds, garlic, salt, and 1 cup of the oil. (This herb paste will keep, refrigerated, for 2 days)

5. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a skillet over high heat. Add the vegetables and some salt and cook, tossing, just until brightly coloured. Keep warm.

6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Cook the noodles until tender. Drain and transfer to a large skillet set over high heat with the butter and lime syrup; add salt to taste and cook, tossing, until well mixed and creamy. Put the noodles in a warmed serving bowl; drizzle liberally with the basil-mint paste, top with the vegetables, garnish with the sesame seeds, and serve.

I’ll admit this recipe is a rather complicated one (but it’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten so I knew what I was getting myself into!) with quite a number of components but the end result is so delicious that I think it’s more than worth the effort. The lime syrup and the butter with the noodles is a pretty amazing blend of flavours. The salted vegetables were great with the herb paste. Everything just went together so, so well. I apologize for the rather pathetic looking mound of vegetables on my plate as I had way more carrots than capsicum, and this was actually the leftover plate (I was starving the first time around so I scoffed that down without any pictures).

It’s recipes like this that make me really happy to eat vegetarian food. I know most people shy away from vegetarian food if they aren’t vegetarian but I don’t see why. Trust me, even the heartiest carnivore would find this insanely satisfying.


7 Comments on “Soba; So Good”

  1. John Smith says:

    Yum yum YUM, stealing this recipe! Will use dairy-free vegan margarine instead of the butter, of course ;) but it sounds completely delicious. Thanks! YOU R THE BEST

    • heysugar says:

      Tell me how it goes! It’s so, so yummy. Salty and sweet to the right degree. Mmmm. I really liked it with soba but I wonder how it’d taste with rice noodles. Probably good too, but I’m a soba fiend :D

  2. Fleur says:

    I’m soooooo making this soph…..weird mind tricks are in play here!!just this morning I was staring at 2 packs of soba noodles wondering what i should do with them….CO’RAT!!

  3. Kristine says:

    Looks great Soph! Perfect timing- I am giving up meat for 40 days (lent) so will def be trying this!