Where does the "classic" pairing of soba and tahini come from? I first encountered it at Cafe Brenda, and there's a great recipe in the Cafe Brenda Cookbook that features the two ingredients. But it's also everywhere else: it's in Vegan Planet, for example, and if you google it, you'll find thousands of hits (over sixty-seven thousand actually).
Soba, of course, is japanese, but tahini is middle eastern. The japanese version of tahini is a sesame butter called shiro neri goma (white sesame butter) or kuro neri goma (black sesame butter). While you can apparently substitute tahini for neri goma—as western vegetarian chefs apparently do—some insist there is a strong difference between the two, although it's not clear what. I think that the sesame seeds may be roasted before grinding when making neri goma.
But, in any event, are neri goma and soba a common traditional japanese pairing? Or is this some early western vegetarian creation? A quick search doesn't suggest that traditional Japanese cuisine puts the two together frequently—at least not in the way you see it featured in our vegetarian cookbooks. Ok, well here's a possible modern exception:
So how did it become so popular among western herbivores anyway?
Tahini Sauce for Soba Noodles ("Soba Sensation Sauce")
Adapted from Leslie McEachem, Angelica Home Kitchen (2003)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 Tbs. ginger, minced
- 2 Tbs. dijon mustard
- 1/3 cu. brown rice vinegar
- 1/3 cu. tamari
- 1/3 cu. brown rice syrup
- 2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
- 1 1/3 cu. tahini
- 1/3 hot water
The "Soba Sensation" sauce is a gift that keeps on giving. Here it is in something that really is a classic use of neri goma: gomae (Next to it is Angelica's vegan reuben—holy crap that's a seriously good sandwich):
- 1 bunch of spinach, blanched very quickly (into the boiling water and right out again), and cooled under cold water, then drained and squeezed dry in a toil or bamboo sushi roller
- 2 Tbs. neri goma
- 1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
- 1 tsp. mirin (or just sake),
- 1 Tbs. shoyu
- pinch of salt
And here it is yet again in my lunch: a sandwich with leftover baked marinated tempeh, daikon and sauteed hiziki with scallions.
And I still have a few cups of the stuff left over for a sandwich with just the "sensation" sauce and roasted caramelized onions and lettuce.