We often make a large batch of these noodles early in the morning before the swelter of summer kicks in. The reason? It’s served cold and it stores nicely so we like to have it on hand at this time of year. If you make ahead, keep everything separate until serving.
Soba noodles take special care to cook properly, so listen up. I’ve made my share of gluey soba and researched endlessly to get them to cook up in springy heaps of noodles that lift happily into individually dressed strands. The secret is to forget everything you know about cooking pasta. Forget the salt in the water, forget cooking al dente, forget draining and dressing immediately. Instead, start from scratch. Take the soba out of its package and bring a large pot of water to a boil (I can’t believe I’m saying this because I’m usually hounding people to add salt to pasta until it tastes like the sea—but here, no salt!) You want the pot to be big enough that there’s room for the soba to move around and dance a little. When the water is boiling, add the noodles at once and stir to prevent sticking. Now let them cook, stirring occasionally (to prevent that clumpiness as much as possible), for the amount of time specified on your package. Probably somewhere in the 5 to 8 minute range. While they’re cooking, fill a large bowl with fresh, cold water. When the noodles are fully cooked, drain in a colander and rinse under cold water a minute. Now here’s the fun part: Take your cooked noodles and put them in the bowl of cold water and rub them around quite vigorously in your hands to remove any leftover starch on the outside of the noodles. The water will start to look milky. That’s good! That’s what you want. If it’s looking really milky, you can drain and repeat in fresh, cold water. When they look silky and springy, drain and coat in a tablespoon of sesame oil. At this point you can let them hang out at room temperature or refrigerate until you’re ready to use.
To make the dressing, place the ginger, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, peanut butter, tahini, honey, siracha, rice vinegar, sake, garlic, and shallot into a blender and process on high until the mixture is smooth. Add two to three tablespoons of water to thin as needed. Dress the noodles.
Serve cold with all the garnishes. Or put all the garnishes in individual bowls and let people help themselves to whatever suits their fancy. Savor with delight and gratitude at a big family gathering where everyone is hand over fist dressing bowls of these noodles with their favorite embellishments. Or eat it straight from the fridge on a warm summer night when only something chilled could possibly delight the senses.