Otsu Recipe

Soba noodles are tossed with a fiery ginger-sesame dressing and a generous dose of cucumbers, scallions, and pan-seared tofu - it's the sort of recipe you could serve anytime...


Listen up close, because I am going to tell you about the best recipe I've come across all year.

A couple weeks back Wayne came home, pulled a page ripped from a magazine out of his pocket, unfolded it, and placed it on my desk. It was a recipe for a dish named Otsu, and was from a neat little restaurant nearby called Pomelo. Pomelo is tiny -- and when I say tiny, I mean it is smaller than my kitchen here at home, the kind of place where you feel as if you can almost reach out and touch all four walls. The food there is delicious, and unless you are sitting at one of two tables, you will get to see your food prepared fresh on a four burner stove as you sit at a stylish little counter overlooking the kitchen. We go to the Pomelo on Judah, there is another one on Church Street, I think that one may be bigger.

Otsu in Japanese means something strange; quaint; stylish; chic; spicy; witty; tasty; romantic -- and right in line with its namesake, this buckwheat noodle salad has a few distinctive sides to it. It is amazingly flavorful. It is substantial. And it has some kick to it while being cool and refreshing at the same time. The noodles are tossed with a fiery ginger-sesame dressing and a generous dose of cucumbers, scallions, and pan-seared tofu. It is the sort of recipe you could serve anytime after 11 a.m....lunch, dinner, potluck, picnic, warm or cold -- this salad is going to be a hit. After you eat a serving of Otsu, you feel full but not sluggish, and you are ready to get on with your day. We've cooked it 4 times since Wayne brought home the recipe.

The recipe was published in a publication called Culture & Cuisine. I wanted to share the recipe with you all so I emailed Rolf Bachmann at Pomelo and he was generous enough to give me permission. Enjoy!

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Grated zest of 1 lemon
Fresh ginger, cut into a 1-inch cube, peeled, and grated
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup unseasoned brown-rice vinegar
1/3 cup shoyu sauce (wheat-free soy sauce)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

12 ounces dried soba noodles
12 ounces extra-firm nigari tofu
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 small handful of cilantro sprigs, for garnish
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

Make the dressing by combining the zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and shoyu, and pulse to combine. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils.

Cook the soba in plenty of rapidly boiling salted water just until tender, then drain and rinse under cold running water.

While the pasta is cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut it into rectangles roughly the size of your thumb (½ inch thick and 1 inch long). Cook the tofu in a dry nonstick (or well-seasoned) skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for another minute or so, until the tofu is firm, golden, and bouncy.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, the ¼ cup cilantro, the green onions, cucumber, and about ⅔ cup of the dressing. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve on a platter, garnished with the cilantro sprigs and the toasted sesame seeds.

Serves 4-6.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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This looks fantastic! I live in Tokyo, so the ingredients are all easy to find, as are fresh soba noodles. Can't wait to try this. I often make cold soba noodles (zarusoba) with the usual dressing, some sesame seeds, and maybe tempura on the side. This is a fresh (and spicy!) change of pace. Thanks.


I went to Pomelo on Church when I was visiting a couple years ago. SO good. I just found your site and I am excited. Everytime I consider buying a cookbook, I think the same thing, but I never use the ones I have! I always just make something up. Soba noodles are a staple for these inventions. Thanks for the recipe.


Heidi - thanks so much for getting this recipe. Pomelo is one of my favorite restaurants in town - so small and unassuming with just great dishes coming out of the kitchen. I can never understand why people opt for the tables when sitting at the bar and watching the cooks is so interesting!


One other thing....The recipe doesn't call for this, but I salted my soba water (generously) before boiling the noodles. Not sure if this is traditional or not, but I think it made quite a difference, the way salting pasta water is important when cooking Italian. -h


YUM! i came home from running and this sounded perfect. i had it for dinner and it was delicious! and you're right, felt satisfied but not stuffed. the recipe used up the rest of my soba noodles and sesame oil that i had on hand. time to restock!


Yummm! This sounds awesome! I'm gonna make it this week.


Great looking recipe! Thanks for the effort to bring it to us. Going into the file now....

Alder Yarrow

Hi Chika, I enjoy your site often as well! So the whole menu at Pomelo is kind of like that -- a little Italian, Thai, or Japanese influence here --Cuban or Southwest there....Somehow it actually works. Here is their menu. http://www.pomelosf.com/NGJUDIeasu04.htm


Hi Heidi, First time commenter, but been enjoying your blog for almost a year now and love it :-) Although it may not be exactly authentic to pair tofu with buckwheat noodle in Japan, I can tell this salad IS delicious - from the list of ingredients (ginger, lemon, cayenne, soy sauce, and sesame oil... mmm!) and from the pic, too! Indeed, the combo is really "otsu" I guess.... Will definitely try it!


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