Monday, February 14, 2011

Feeling a Little Noodle-y and Crunchy

The February 2011 Daring Cooks' challenge was hosted by Lisa of Blueberry Girl. She challenged Daring Cooks to make Hiyashi soba and tempura. She has various sources for her challenge including,, and

Two dishes! Both new to me, although I've certainly made noodles and fried things before. To say I was challenged is an understatement. I did do the noodles early, since they are served cold, but the tempura had to wait for Bob's arrival so it would be fresh and hot. And in a lot of ways, this challenge was just what Daring Cooks expect - lots of room for variations and some technique changes.

The directions for cooking the soba seemed a little odd to me, so after reading other posts on the Daring Cook site, I decided to ignore them and just follow the directions on the noodle package. Unlike many people who found their noodles congealing into a gooey mass, my noodles were just the right texture and stayed totally separate. One for me.

Soba noodles with veggies and sauce

There are many options for sauces and condiments for this cold noodle salad. I chose the spicy sauce (although perhaps "spicy" is a relative term, since this sauce did not seem all that spicy). If I were to do a spicy sauce of my own creation, I would add ginger, red pepper flakes and other flavors to heighten the heat. The little bit of dry mustard didn't really reach the level of spicy I like. For condiments, I used bok choy, daikon, and red radishes. I could have added chicken or ham or strips of omelet, but with the tempura on the menu, it didn't seem necessary. The cold noodle salad was fine, but not as flavorful as I would have chosen.

The tempura was another case of changing the process. I made the tempura batter as described, I prepared the veggies as described (including parboiling the sweet potatoes using Kenji's (Serious Eats Food Lab writer) method of adding a little vinegar to the water), and I kept all cold until the oil was ready. The time involved in heating oil is always more lengthy that I expect and requires a lot of attention to be sure the right temp is reached but not exceeded by too much (remembering that adding the food will bring the temp down).

The recipe said to use 320 degree oil for the veggies and 340 for the prawns. I thought that sounded way too low for the veggies, so again, drawing on the expertise of Kenji, I used his recommended temp for making potato chips and heated the oil to 350. The recipe had little information on how long various veggies would take to cook, so it was a bit of a guessing game. I think everything turned out pretty well - the sweet potatoes were awesome - but a little more guidance would have helped. And the prawns were supposed to cook at 340, but 360 worked better, so that's what I did. Again, a little shortage of instruction on how to determine doneness, but I tried to estimate and it seemed to work - all the prawns were devoured.

Prawn, sweet potato, carrot and mushroom tempura
I love tempura, but I think I would do a little more exploring of other recipes before tackling this again. It was messy (as is virtually any deep-frying on the stove), time-consuming, and the result, while largely good, was not spectacular. I think the batter for the tempura would be one thing to explore. I know some batters use seltzer or club soda - this one used baking powder. Be interesting to see the difference.

And honestly, by the time I was done cooking for the pictures and my husband, I was not too interested in going on. Maybe sort of like Thanksgiving: Spend a week getting ready and the actual meal seems far less appealing.


  1. WOW wonderful result and yes I agree with your last sentence.."Maybe sort of like Thanksgiving: Spend a week getting ready and the actual meal seems far less appealing." Lovely work on this challenge.

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  2. Sorry to hear it didn't meet your expectations. Hopefully you'll be able to tweak it to your liking in the future :)

  3. Sorry to hear that it was a little bit of a let down, but I must say - everything looks absolutely delicious! Great job!

  4. I love the look and sound of the soba salad you made. One nice thing about that recipe is that you have total freedom to play with it and make it what you want. I hope you do try it again with a sauce of your own creation to make it have the flavor you want it to... Despite not being as thrilled with the results as you had hoped, you still did an awesome job on this challenge!

  5. Always trust your instincts when it comes to your cooking.

    As for the noodley part, I think there is a pill for that. ;-)

  6. I agree the spicy sauce wasn't very spicy, but I did love the flavor. Your tempura looks fabulous. I think you're right about the oil temperature.