Eggplant and Citrus Soba
This dish was inspired by a recipe in the cookbook Plenty by London chef Yotam Ottolenghi. The dishes in this vegetarian (not vegan) cookbook are vibrant, and bursting with color and flavor. Ottolenghi’s version uses mango instead of mandarin oranges. I think that would taste ridiculously awesome so feel free to substitute mango into this recipe if unlike me, you (1) have a ripe mango sitting around and (2) don’t have a son who’s (tragically) allergic to them.
Because it’s meant to be served at room temperature or even chilled, it’s a great dish to serve as a starter or side, or as a contribution to an end-of-summer picnic. If you want to turn it into a more substantial main dish, you could add in cubed, sauteed tofu or grilled seitan. Both would taste delicious!
My biggest score in the preparation of this dish was the Thai basil I received from a friendly server at my local Vietnamese restaurant. I often go in there to order their vegetarian “beef” Pho soup and it always comes with a huge serving of Thai basil, mung bean sprouts and cilantro on the side. I only used a little of the basil for my soup and asked for a bag to bring the rest home. I explained that I was going to use it to cook something that night. My server smiled, told me to wait a moment, then hurried back to the kitchen. He emerged a minute later with another generous bunch of basil. So sweet! If you can’t find Thai basil in your local market, check an Asian market or as I did, a Vietnamese or Thai restaurant. They’d probably be more than willing to give you some if you eat there or you can offer to pay them for it. Otherwise, regular basil will do but you’ll want to use more of it to bring out the milder flavor.
Here’s what you’ll need for my adapted version of this great recipe:
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1.5 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1/2 fresh red chile, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- grated zest and juice of a half of a lime
- 1/2 cup sunflower oil
- 2 Japanese eggplants, diced
- sea salt for flavoring
- 8-oz package of soba noodles
- 1 can mandarin oranges, drained
- 1/2 cup Thai basil, coarsely chopped or torn
- 2 cups cilantro, chopped
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
In a small saucepan, warm the vinegar, sugar and salt just until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and add in the garlic, chile and sesame oil. Allow the mixture to cool, then add in the zest and juice of the half a lime.
Heat up the sunflower oil in a pan and pan-fry the eggplant until golden brown. Pour out any excess oil, then sprinkle with some sea salt.
Cook the noodles based on the package’s instructions then drain and rinse well in cold water. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, toss together the noodles with the dressing, mandarin oranges, eggplant, half the herbs and the onion.
Serve within the next couple of hours at room temp or refrigerate, covered, for a later time. When you’re ready to serve, add the rest of the herbs, toss well, then transfer to a serving platter.