(Not) Making Soba Noodles

The plan was to make soba noodles. Mr. Tess was at the Korean grocery picking up some sesame oil to make pan-fried sesame flavored chicken (this time with asparagus and zucchini) when he called to ask if I needed anything else for dinner. “No,” I said, “I’m making soba noodles!” udon, chicken, vegetables Last week I tried using a recipe I found online that called for 1 cup buckwheat flour to 1/4 wheat flour—8:2 ratio—and 1/3 cup water. Because the mixture looked like damp sand and would not hold together, I added a bit more water. The mixture had the texture of gravel and was beginning to stick together. I added a bit more water (more than I intended to?), and the “dough” turned into goo.

Japanese Mountain Yam, yama-imoLast night, I tried a different recipe using 1 1/2 cups buckwheat flour to 3/4 cup wheat flour—2:1 ratio—and 1/2 cup water. I also used some grated yama-imo (mountain yam), reasoning that it’s used to make ganmodoki (tofu dumplings) and I’ve bought dry yam noodles (soba noodles made with yam). I added it to the water. The recipe called for mixing half of the water with the flour until it looks like “coarse breadcrumbs,” then adding the remainder. As I was rolling the “breadcrumbs” around in the bowl, they seemed quite dry, but remembering the first trial, I did not add more than the remaining water. The dough did form into a ball, which I kneaded for almost half an hour. It was very stiff and difficult to knead. I abandoned the idea of rolling it out by hand and used my pasta machine, running short lengths repeatedly through setting 1, then rolling thinner.

I’ve made a LOT of pasta, but this dough did not behave. Bits of dough kept breaking off and drying in chunks all over the counter and flour. The sheets were too fragile to cut; all that kneading did not bring any elasticity to the dough at all.

soba failureI’ve made pizzoccheri (half buckwheat, half wheat, with eggs) and it is different from the wheat pastas I’ve made, but this dough was impossible. Could be my buckwheat flour is not ground finely enough? Next time, I’ll add just the tiniest bit more water… edited to say I finally succeeded!

Meanwhile, Mr. Tess thawed the packages with the chicken breast and the thighs in the microwave and mixed up the marinade. The chicken breast was obviously tilapia. I wrap food in cling film then freeze the packages in zip-locks; I don’t always remember to change the label. So, we cooked the vegetables first, the chicken second, and the fish last. Oh, and I should have told him to get some soba noodles—plenty of noodles in the cupboard: mung-bean noodles, chuka soba, even rice noodles. Plenty of udon. No soba, though.

It was 8:30, we were hungry, we cooked what we had. And it was good.

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3 thoughts on “(Not) Making Soba Noodles

  1. Hi, Tess. I think this may be my first time to return the favor and comment on your site.

    You may find this interesting as it explains why your noodles failed:


    I think that you might be successful if you add in more wheat flour (that means any wheat flour, not whole wheat) to held bind things.

    It’s possible that Buckwheat flour in Japan (sold in grocery stores here) already has some sort of binding agent included and what you’re using may be purer flour than is sold here. It’s just a guess, mind you!

  2. Hi Shari.
    Glad to hear from you. I thought of you when I read this article “East and West Part Ways in Test of Facial Expressions” in the NYTimes. I wondered what you would think of it.

    Thanks for the interesting article, and I think you are right that I should start with more wheat flour. That the binding agent might be powdered yamaimo, which I can’t find here. That’s why I tried the grated yamaimo. Soba is not for amateurs!

  3. Hello again, Tess. The article is very interesting, but I do wonder if western interpretation is being applied. Mind you, I’m not saying it’s wrong, but rather that there are other possible explanations aside from those in the article. Mainly, one has to keep in mind that putting on a false face is not only culturally acceptable (as is lying), but applauded. The Japanese are so accustomed to this fact that they may feel that they can rely more on the background emotions than the foreground one. This is called “tatamae” (the white lie) and “honne” (the true feeling) in Japanese.

    I think it also may be linked to status and reading the expressions of subordinates around the friendly, sunny face of the superior presenting himself, but I’m just guessing. The author of the article may be reaching completely accurate conclusions and I could be wrong, but I always try to view such information taking into account cultural differences.

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