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I thought of saying something dramatic like “I’m baaaack!”, and then it struck me that there are 2.5 people actually reading this blog (oh, hi mom!), and they probably didn’t realize I was gone anyway. So, scratch that beginning and let’s try again.

I think of this recipe as a survival mode meal. As in, it’s so good but requires so little cooking that you barely feel like you’re cooking at all, and the final dish has the most beautifully well-rounded flavor. Which is exactly what I have needed in the last few weeks as I unpack and try to get back to some semblance of a normal routine with my son, who has suddenly become a (gulp!) toddler overnight. Most of the wow factor here comes from a kickass vinaigrette that combines ginger, sesame, lemon, honey and cayenne into something I could seriously drink straight from the blender jar. This gets tossed with some silky soba noodles (buckwheat, so good for you), a little tofu (although I promise to look the other way if you wanted to sub this out with some other, more meaty, proteins), and a pile of crunchy sliced cucumbers and green onions.

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Otsu came my way by pure serendipity. I had eaten it for years at one of our standby little hole-in-the-wall cozy neighborhood restaurants in San Francisco called Pomelo. The owner has a diverse palate and a quirky sensibility, and the menu brings together food from all over the globe without pretending to be anything fancy or cutting edge. Most of the dishes are comforting and delicious – exactly what you want on a weeknight or any night. Otsu was my favorite thing on their menu, a Japanese-inspired plate of awesomeness, that I never imagined I could make at home, there just seemed to be so many layers to the sauce. And then, all of a sudden, there it was on one of my blog’s RSS feed, in black and white, sounding and looking just like the real deal. It turns out the recipe had been published in a local food magazine and my life hasn’t been the same since. Try it once, and you will see what I mean.

Otsu

Recipe adapted from Pomelo via 101 Cookbooks

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 soy sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

12 ounces dried soba noodles
12 ounces extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 English cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded, and thinly sliced
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 noodles are cooking, drain the tofu (I place it between paper towels with a weight on top to help the liquid drain more quickly) and cut it into 1/2 inch cubes. Cook the tofu in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat with just a little oil for a few minutes, until the pieces are browned on one side. Toss gently once or twice, then continue cooking for a couple more minutes until golden. Season lightly with salt.

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. Serve garnished with toasted sesame seeds.

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