The Daring Cooks February 2011 Challenge: Tempura and Hiyashi Soba

It’s February, the second month of 2011 … which means it’s my second month of participation in The Daring Kitchen’s Daring Cooks’ Challenge!

The February 2011 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged the Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi Soba and Tempura. She used various sources for her challenge, including japanesefood.about.com, pinkbites.com, and itsybitsyfoodies.com.

I was very excited that this challenge included tempura because it’s one of my favorite things to eat. We typically don’t make it at home though, and not because it sounds daunting, but because we just don’t fry a lot. However, I was more than willing to buck the no-fry status quo in hopes that we could produce some wonderful tempura … and I’m happy to report that we did!

The tempura batter was light, crunchy, and had just the right amount of salt, and it worked really well with all our chosen tempura ingredients: shrimp, broccoli, green beans, and sweet potatoes. Delicious! It was also a simple, quick, and easy process … so much so that we’ll be making tempura again soon!

The other part of the challenge was to make traditional Hiyashi Soba. We actually make soba noodle dishes in our house quite often; I think they’re delicious and a healthy part of almost any diet.

The directions we were given for making the soba noodles were a bit cumbersome in my opinion so we skipped a few steps. Our noodles still turned out to be delicious so I’m pretty sure the soba noodle gods will forgive me. We were also provided with two recipes for dipping sauces for the Hiyashi Soba and could choose either to prepare for their soba noodle dish. The Chef and I chose to make the recipe for “Mentsuyu,” a traditional soba dipping sauce. However, instead of dipping the noodles in the sauce, we used it as a broth so our resulting dish was more along the lines of a soba noodle soup.

We also made the other dipping sauce recipe we were provided and chose to use it as a dipping sauce for the tempura; it was fairly heavy on green onion so the resulting sauce was a bit too “oniony” for me, but this could be easily fixed by lessening the amount of onion next time.

As for serving the Hiyashi Soba, according to Lisa, “Traditionally soba is served on a bamboo basket tray, but if you don’t have these, you can simply serve them on a plate or in a bowl. Divide up the noodles, laying them on your serving dishes. Sprinkle each one with nori. In small side bowl or cup, place 1/2 cup of dipping sauce into each. In separate small side dishes, serve each person a small amount of wasabi, grated daikon, and green onions. The noodles are eaten by sprinkling the desired garnishes into the dipping sauce and eating the noodles by first dipping them into the sauce.”

While that sounds lovely, as I mentioned above, The Chef and I went the easy route. We divided the cold noodles evenly into two bowls, poured the warm “Mentsuyu” dipping sauce over the noodles, and topped them with a healthy shake of organic kelp granules, some green onions, and a squirt of sriracha. It was a warm, spicy bowl of goodness.

All in all, I was quite pleased with both of these quick and easy recipes, which are perfect for the beginning or advanced cook who just wants to make a lovely Japanese dinner at home.

I’ve included the recipes for the tempura, the Hiyashi Soba, and both dipping sauces below, along with some notes about how our preparation veered from that called for in the recipe. If you decide to make either of these recipes, leave me a comment and let me know how they turn out for you!

Tempura

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg yolk from a large egg
  • 1 cup iced water
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dredging
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Oil, for deep frying (preferably vegetable)
  • Cold vegetables (and/or seafood) of your choice, such as:
  • Sweet potato, peeled, thinly sliced, blanched
  • Carrot, peeled, thinly sliced
  • Broccoli florets
  • Green beans, trimmed
  • Bell pepper, seeds removed, cut into 3/4 inch-wide strips
  • Fresh mushrooms
  • Onions, sliced

Directions:

1. Place the iced water into a mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg yolk and gradually pour into the iced water, stirring (preferably with chopsticks) and blending well. Add flours and baking powder all at once, stroke a few times with chopsticks until the ingredients are loosely combined. The batter should be runny and lumpy. Place the bowl of batter in an ice water bath to keep it cold while you are frying the tempura. The batter as well as the vegetables and seafood have to be very cold. The temperature shock between the hot oil and the cold veggies help create a crispy tempura.

2. Heat the oil in a large pan or a wok. For vegetables, the oil should be 320°F; for seafood, it should be 340°F. It is more difficult to maintain a steady temperature and produce consistent tempura if you don’t have a thermometer, but it can be done. You can test the oil by dropping a piece of batter into the hot oil. If it sinks a little bit and then immediately rises to the top, the oil is ready.

3. Start with the vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, that won’t leave a strong odor in the oil. Dip them in a shallow bowl of flour to lightly coat them and then dip them into the batter. Slide them into the hot oil, deep frying only a couple of pieces at a time so that the temperature of the oil does not drop.

4. Place finished tempura pieces on a wire rack so that excess oil can drip off. Continue frying the other items, frequently scooping out any bits of batter to keep the oil clean and prevent the oil (and the remaining tempura) from getting a burned flavor. Serve immediately for the best flavor, but they can also be eaten cold.

Spicy Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup spring onions/green onions/scallions, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon English mustard powder
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Shake all the ingredients together in a covered container. Once the salt has dissolved, add and shake in 2 tablespoons of water and season again if needed.

NOTES: The sauce was a bit too “oniony” for me, but this could be easily fixed by lessening the amount of onion. Also, to up the spiciness factor, you could easily add some sriracha, sambal oelek, or even crushed red pepper to taste.

Hiyashi Soba

Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts water + 1 cup cold water, separated
  • 12 ounces dried soba (buckwheat) noodles (or any Asian thin noodle)

Directions:

1. Heat 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add the noodles a small bundle at a time, stirring gently to separate. When the water returns to a full boil, add 1 cup of cold water. Repeat this twice. When the water returns to a full boil, check the noodles for doneness. You want to cook them until they are firm-tender. Do not overcook them.

2. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse well under cold running water until the noodles are cool. This not only stops the cooking process, but also removes the starch from the noodles. This is an essential part of soba noodle making. Once the noodles are cool, drain them and cover them with a damp kitchen towel and set them aside allowing them to cool completely.

Notes: We skipped the cold water part completely and cooked the soba noodles according to the package directions and they tuned out just fine. Would they have been better had we followed the directions above completely? Perhaps, but I don’t have the patience to find out.

Mentsuyu (Traditional Soba Dipping Sauce)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Kombu and Katsuobushi dashi (or basic vegetable stock)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce, regular or low sodium
  • 1/3 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)

Directions:

1. Put mirin in a sauce pan and heat gently. Add soy sauce and dashi or vegetable stock in the pan and bring to a boil. Take off the heat and cool. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Notes: We used plain vegetable stock and loved this broth. I would like to try making my own dashi sometime and will attempt to do so with this simple recipe here.

For more tempura and soba noodle adventures, check out the other Daring Kitchen cooks!

[These recipes are linked to Hearth and Soul Hop Volume 36, Made From Scratch Tuesday, and Somewhat Simple.]

  • http://frugalcrunchychristy.blogspot.com/ Christy

    Thanks for a great tutorial on making tempura – I learned a lot – I didn’t know the veggies needed to be cold. I would love to try this at home sometime. Thank you for linking this up to the Hearth and Soul Hop!

  • http://messhalltobistro.blogspot.com Jen

    That looks fantastic, just not sure I’m quite that ambitious! Thanks for linking up to Made From Scratch Tuesday!

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