Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cold soba noodle salad with tobiko, shiso and pickled ginger

I love Asian food, I love how different the flavors are and how the combinations always surprise my palate in the most wonderful way.

Japanese cuisine in particular is very appealing to me due to the freshness and simplicity of its dishes, as well as the strong presence of contrasting salty, sweet and umami flavors. Having had the pleasure to eat at a Japanese friend’s house numerous times, I also admire and am impressed by the mindful way in which Japanese people eat their meals. We could all learn something from that.

This dish is based on a traditional Japanese dish of cold soba noodles with dipping sauce, where you serve the two separately and dip the noodles in the sauce to eat them. Here, however, the noodles are tossed with the sauce, or rather the dressing, thus having a soba noodle salad of sorts; a cold soba noodle salad (or noodle bowl as some may call it) with tobiko, shiso and pickled ginger.

The sauce that’s usually served with cold noodles in Japan includes dashi, which is a stock made with kelp (type of seaweed) and dried bonito flakes among other things, and even though that would have been a good base for my dressing, I went with a simpler one including soy sauce, mirin, fresh ginger and sesame oil.

It is a super fresh salad with cooling, crunchy cucumbers, bright spring onions and shiso leaves that have a prickly texture and vibrant flavor that’s citrusy and herbaceous. The soba noodles, which are made from buckwheat flour, are earthy and nutty and pair beautifully with the slightly sweet and salty dressing that has smoky notes from the sesame oil, whereas the pickled ginger adds its zingy, sharp, vinegary and sweet flavors to the dish.

Tobiko is the Japanese name for flying fish roe, and those tiny, orange-colored eggs are very flavorful and give a great, crunchy texture as well as sweetness and saltiness to Japanese dishes. Their flavor is not at all overwhelming, and they surprise you with every bite in this salad as they pop in your mouth, releasing their salty juices.

It’s an absolutely refreshing, filling and hearty salad with sharp, sweet, salty, herbaceous and earthy notes that’s just the perfect dish to cool you down during these hot summer days.

Cold soba noodle salad with tobiko, shiso and pickled ginger

There are different kinds of soba noodles, made with various percentages of buckwheat flour. The kind I use is Hachi-wari Soba made with 70-80% buckwheat and 30-20% wheat flour. You can use whichever kind is available to you, but I wouldn’t use soba noodles made with 100% buckwheat flour (Ju-wari Soba) because they tend to be rough in texture and a bit dry.

If you can’t find tobiko you can substitute with salmon roe (Ikura in Japanese) even though it doesn’t have that same crunchy, pop-in the-mouth texture as tobiko.

Shiso (can be green or purple) is also known as perilla and is in the mint family so if you can’t find it, substitute with mint/peppermint or even Thai basil, even though none of these herbs is exactly the same as shiso.

Yield: 4 servings


for the dressing
60 ml (4 Tbsp) soy sauce (low-sodium preferably)
60 ml (4 Tbsp) mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
1 tsp Asian sesame oil
A thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

for the salad
300 g dried soba noodles
4 spring onions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
100 g tobiko
150 g cucumber, peeled, deseeded and cut julienne (cut into matchsticks)
30 g pickled ginger, thinly sliced
4 fresh green shiso leaves, cut chiffonade (sliced into thin ribbons)
Asian sesame oil, for drizzling on top

Special equipment: rasp grater, colander


for the dressing
In a small saucepan add all the ingredients for the dressing and mix well to combine. Bring to a gentle boil over a medium heat and immediately remove from the heat. Set aside to cool completely.

for the salad
Bring a large pot of water to the boil over a high heat. Don’t salt the water, soba noodles are not the same as pasta. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add the soba noodles and stir to fully submerge all the noodles. Cook them for the time prescribed in your packet instructions. They may take anywhere between 4-8 minutes to cook, so be careful and read your packet carefully. Soba noodles are not meant to be eaten al dente like pasta, they should be fully cooked but definitely not mushy.

When the noodles are ready, drain them in a colander and immediately put them under cold running water, stirring them around with your hands, tossing them and rubbing them very gently between your hands. This is done to wash off the excess starch from the noodles thus ensuring that their texture won’t be gummy. In the end, the water should run clear. Turn the water off and let the water from the noodles drain completely for a couple of minutes before using them in the recipe.

Add drained noodles to a large bowl, pour over the cooled down dressing, add the sliced spring onions and half of the tobiko, and toss them gently to coat all of the noodles with the dressing.

Serve the noodles in individual bowls and top with the sliced cucumbers, the remaining tobiko, the pickled ginger, the shiso leaves and to finish, drizzle with a little bit of sesame oil; not too much because it can be overpowering. Serve immediately.


  1. I love this dish, Magda - it is similar to one I make that includes (non-traditional) smoked salmon. Definitely want to try your version soon - all ingredients on hand! Hope all is well with you - and that you are having a good summer! ~ David

    1. Thank you so much David. Hope you enjoy it if you do try it. xoxo