I feel like I’m as busy as I have been in a long time, what with a full-time job, a weekly column at JewishBoston.com, and a teething 7-month-old who is already standing and seems to be on her way to walking any moment now. (I can barely take the time to write this for fear she’s discovered some part of the house we haven’t yet gotten to baby-proofing.) And yet, even though I have zero time these days (even to call people back or email them in a timely fashion; sorry about that, and you know who you are) I have found the time to make these noodles which take well over an hour to prepare, and then need a good two hours of marinating.
I passed over this recipe at least a half dozen times in the past year, laughing at how long it took and how many steps there were to it, but then last week, when I miraculously had all the ingredients in the house, I decided to go for it. And my goodness, the outcome was so glorious, I found myself making them AGAIN less than a week later.
It’s an Ottolenghi recipe, from his vegetarian cookbook Plenty, so you know it’s a keeper. I’m reminded of a few winters ago when I had his first cookbook out of the library and I found myself grating — by hand, no less, because I’d lost the stem of my food processor — raw rutabaga and celery root for a slaw. A slaw so good, I made it twice in less than a week. Do you see a pattern here?
First comes the marinade, which you need to heat and let cool before adding the lime zest and its juice. Then comes the shallow frying of two eggplants. (Oh, August and your perfect eggplants.) Then comes the cooking of the noodles. I actually love Ottolenghi’s tip about laying the noodles out on a dishtowel to dry them out completely and will be using that all the time now. As for the mango, that was the one place where I cut corners and bought one already cut up from Trader Joe’s. (You can do the same at Costco.)
These noodles defy a good description except to say they are extraordinary. When I served them to my sister-in-law last week, she emailed me the next day because she’d been thinking about the noodles. It honestly wasn’t such a strange email to receive; I’d been thinking about them, too.
Brief note: The first time I made this dish I used the soba noodles as suggested, but when I went back to Ocean State Job Lot they had run out of soba, and all that was left were udon and somen. All you want for this dish is a cold buckwheat noodle; any type will do. As for the frying oil, I just used the canola I had on hand. This recipe makes a ton of noodles. I ended up breaking down the noodles into four or five Tupperware containers that Rich and I took for work lunches for almost an entire week.
Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty
½ cup rice vinegar
3 Tbs. sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ fresh red chile, finely chopped
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup sunflower oil
2 eggplants, cut into ¾-inch dice
8 to 9 oz. soba noodles
1 large ripe mango, cut into 3/8-inch dice or into 1/4-inch-thick strips
1 2/3 cup basil leaves, chopped (if you can get some, use Thai basil, but much less of it)
2 ½ cups cilantro leaves, chopped
½ red onion, very thinly sliced
In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar and salt for up to 1 minute, just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, chile and sesame oil. Allow to cool, then add the lime zest and juice.
Heat up the sunflower oil in a large pan and shallow-fry the eggplant in three or four batches. Once golden brown, remove to a colander, sprinkle liberally with salt and leave there to drain.
Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally. They should take 5 to 8 minutes to become tender but still al dente. Drain and rinse well under running cold water. Shake off as much of the excess water as possible, then leave to dry on a dish towel.
In a mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, half of the herbs and the onion. You can now leave this aside for 1 to 2 hours. When ready to serve add the rest of the herbs and mix well, then pile on a plate or in a bowl.