Fork in the Road: North Platte Noodles

Sunday, June 20, 2010 26 comments
Roadtrip Dinner Redux: Shichimi-Spiced Soba Noodles

"When you come to a fork in the road - take it." -- Yogi Berra

When the legendary New York Yankees Hall of Famer offered this snippet of sagacity, it was chalked up as yet another nonsensical utterance from a master of malapropism. After all, how can one simultaneously travel two divergent paths? As it turns out, Mr. Berra is as profound in his verbal contortions as his (nick)namesake yoga practitioners are in their meditative poses.

According to conventional wisdom, the symbolic utensil marks, as Wikipedia so eloquently puts it, "a road bifurcation" and signifies the point at which one must choose between two new paths before moving forward. But what if we are approaching from the wrong perspective? What if, instead of looking in the direction where one branch separates into two, we turn toward where two join into one? This is the point of view I chose when faced with updating my blog after an extended hiatus.

At the end of 17 days, 11 states and hundreds of Goldfish crackers consumed, Mr. Noodle and I returned home from our roadtrip in the Big Maroon stuffed with souvenirs and suitcases. I was eager to post stories and photos of our experiences as soon as possible, but I had an important social obligation to consider: For the past couple of months, I've participated in the International Incident Party in which fellow bloggers create a dish based on a theme, such as pizza or dumplings. In a fleeting fit of selfishness, I nearly sent my regrets to our hostess Penny at Jeroxie so that I could focus on travel posts, then reconsidered when it dawned on me that this month's theme is none other than noodles. What a sad, sad day indeed if this Noodle passed on such an eponymous event.


I was forked . . . a blog post has to be written, but would it be for the noodle party or an excerpt from our adventures? As the wise Yogi said, "Take it." So I did - instead of choosing between the two topics, I found a perfect convergence of both.

Roadtrip Dinner Redux: Noodles in Nebraska

The first day of our Wild West Wanderings began with a dash across Minnesota, clipping South Dakota before ending in the city of North Platte, Nebraska - "the place everything that's good happens [sic]". With this promising slogan in mind and still naïvely optimistic about The Plan (my strategy for  healthful vacation eating), Mr. Noodle and I checked into our modest hotel, then went in search of provisions. We were looking for ready-to-serve meals from the local grocery - a rotisserie chicken, perhaps, or a savory soup and salad combination. What we found was a distressing abundance of deep-fried and mayonnaise-soaked food; what we ended up buying were two packages of microwavable udon soup bowls and some pre-cooked salad shrimp. So much for The Plan . . .

Still, such a meal was preferable to the calorie-dense chain restaurant options and was enough to satisfy two desperate appetites. Several weeks later, it provided inspiration for my International Incident Party contribution  and a second chance to turn the memory of a banal bowl of noodles into a sassy dish worth remembering.

Shichimi togarashi (Japanese 7 Spice Seasoning)

It was also an opportunity to make use of a new-to-me ingredient: shichimi togarashi, a tongue-tingling Japanese table condiment commonly used to season soups, noodles, rice, fish and meat. Aside from wasabi and its eye-watering, sinus-clearing pungency, and maki sushi (e.g. tuna, salmon) made with spicy mayo, I was unfamiliar with the use of hot, peppery notes in Japanese cuisine. In fact, this seven spice mixture has been a favorite seasoning since 1625, when it was first created as a medicinal food additive by Yagenbori Shichimi Togarashi, which remains a premier supplier of shichimi today. The company still offers the original blend consisting of dried Satsuma orange peel, fresh and roasted red pepper, sansho (Japanese pepper) and poppy, hemp and black sesame seeds, although other versions on the market use Sichuan peppercorn in place of sansho (the latter is a variant of the former) and may include chopped garlic, ground ginger or nori (dried seaweed) flakes.

With such a storied and intriguing ingredient in hand, I came upon a fork in the road - one way going to the International Incident Party in Melbourne, Australia and another leading to a post about a subpar dinner in North Platte, Nebraska - that happily converged into a single path toward noodle nirvana.

Shichimi-Spiced Soba Noodles with Shredded Parsnips

For this Roadtrip Dinner Redux, I made a dish that I wish we had eaten in North Platte, by swapping out the thick udon and hot miso broth of our microwave meal for delicate soba and a chilled, flavorful dressing inspired by the elements of shichimi togarashi. For some texture, I topped it with blanched shredded parsnip, which added a bit of crispness and a sweet, herb-like taste to the noodles. The result is a spicy-cool dish that offers a light and refreshing alternative to summer's ubiquitous pasta and potato salads.


Serves 2-4

Ingredients

Dressing:
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 soy sauce
1 Tbsps granulated sugar
2 Tbsps mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking)
2 Tbsps sesame oil
1-2 dashes patis (fish sauce)
1/2 tsp shichimi togarashi 
1/2 tsp ginger - grated or paste

180g soba noodles
1 cup shredded parsnip, blanched

Garnish:
Shichimi togarashi
Black and white sesame seeds
Sprigs of Thai basil

To make:

1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk thoroughly until well-blended (I used a hand blender). Refrigerate while preparing noodles and blanching parsnips;
2. Cook soba noodles according to package directions. When done, place in a separate bowl and add blanched parsnip; spoon chilled dressing over and toss until well coated. Return reserve sauce and noodles to the refrigerator if not serving immediately.
3. To serve, divide noodles on 4 plates, sprinkle with shichimi, sesame seeds and top with basil.


I hope you'll enjoy this revisionist taste of our North Platte Noodle experience, which also serves as my contribution to the International Incident Party. For even more noodles of all shapes, sizes and wonderful flavors, please check out the delightful creations of my fellow Partygoers:

26 comments:

  • The Cilantropist said...

    I love Japanese 7 spice! I first tried it from a friend, and then I couldn't find it anywhere.. sad. finally I hunted it down at MarketSpice in Seattle. Your noodles look so delicious, and a great add to the international incident party. :)

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thanks for joining in the party!

    Forager - It is but I was conservative with how much I used, so it's got tingled but won't send you up in flames!

    Tokyo Terrace - It's one of the more simple ones, but the star is really the shichimi - so glad I came across it!

    Cherrie Pie - Hope you do! The dressing is not as 'thick' as ones made with more oil, but I've been using the leftovers on my green salad and it tastes great!

    Cilantropist - Thank you! I came across it during our roadtrip and couldn't wait to try it out. Now, I have to make sure that I can find it here in MN!

    Shirley - Thanks! I actually served this with grilled shrimp but the husband started eating them before I could take photos. 8-)

    Penny - Thank you for being such a patient hostess! I believe that 7-spice is such a popular and common condiment that you should be able to find it at Asian markets.

    Sonia - It pales in comparison to your handpulled noodles but I'm happy the dish turned out well.

    Anh - You can almost see all 7 ingredients! 8-D

    Kat - Thank you! I look forward to sharing more of our experiences - the good, the meh and all in between!

    Rebecca - You are so sweet! Check out the Japanese section of your local Asian market - it supposed to be a very common seasoning. You'll love it!

  • gastroanthropologist said...

    Can't wait to try! I just got a care package from a friend in Japan - with real green tea, soba noodles, and sweets. Will be using my soba for this - hope I can find the shichimi togarashi - that looks right up my alley.

  • lisaiscooking said...

    That's a great redux! I'm very curious about shichimi togarashi now and will have to locate it. I love soba in cold noodle preparations, and the flavors here sound delicious.

  • 5 Star Foodie said...

    This sounds terrific! So great to learn about shichimi togarashi! I would love to find it and try it with soba noodles (we now eat soba a lot since my daughter requests them all the time!).

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Spryte - I tried parsnips for the very first time just a few months ago and now it's become one of my favorite veggies. 8-)

    Gastroanthropology - What a great care package to receive! I understand that shichimi is considered a common and popular seasoning, so hopefully you'll be able to find it. I actually found this at a health food co-op, in their herbs/teas/medicinals area. 8-)

    Mariana - Oh, it never occurred to me to consider using shichimi in sweet desserts! I will have to ask you for suggestions. 8-D

    Lisa - I love soba equally in hot soup and as a cold dish, but this particular preparation is tipping the scale toward the latter! As I mentioned to Gastro above, I found the shichimi at a health foods co-op in their loose herbs section and plan to check with our largest Asian grocery to see if they carry it. 8-)

    5 Star Foodie - And my goal is to make your homemade soba noodles! That was so impressive. I hope you do find and try shichimi - I am now hooked on it myself! 8-)

  • Lori said...

    I just love how those black sesame seeds pop in the photo. I've never heard of that Japanese spice mix, but I'm so intrigued! It sounds incredible and I'll be sure to double check if the Sichuan peppercorn is in there. We took that on in Hong Kong and were mildly defeated, maybe call it a tie. :)

  • Table Talk said...

    We are getting ready to head to the Adirondacks for the month of July. The grocery stores up there have a very limited selection. I am in the process of packing up a box of ingredients I can't live without for a month....looks like I will be adding shichimi togarashi to the mix so I can make this noodle dish!

  • Roberta Wennik said...

    Great post. I enjoy your writing style and your twist on a noodle adventure. But most of all, the recipe sounds delicious. It's interesting how the Asian's mirepoix almost always contains orange in some form or other. BTW, your photography is outstanding. Do you do photography for a living?

  • Jamie said...

    Oooh delicious! Out of the bad always comes some good and if a bad eating experience brought these noodles to your table and blog then good for that! They look wonderful! And I am rather partial to goldfish, too.

  • Phyllis said...

    This delicious recipe is the perfect opportunity for me to use that bottle of shichimi togarashi in my pantry! I only ever use it when I'm making David Chang's brussel sprouts. Gorgeous pics b/t/w!

  • Tangled Noodle said...

    Thanks so much for the new comments!

    Evelyne - Thanks! It would've been almost criminal if I missed the noodle party. 8-)

    Lori - This seasoning is delicious and a little goes a long way, heat-wise, with all the peppers in it! If you get your hands on it, you won't be disappointed. 8-)

    Table Talk - Provisioning is critical to a happy vacation! I have plans for one of your recipes soon - I'll let you know which ones, provided I manage to make it successfully. 8-D

    Roberta - Thank you so much! Orange/citrus is such a refreshing spot of flavor in this dressing and, as you noted, in many Asian dishes. As for my photos, I really appreciate your kind words - I am far from professional but I try to learn as much as I can to take photos that do justice to good food!

    Jamie - That's how I look at it, too! We had quite a few subpar meals but some had real potential. It's given me fun motivation to test my always-developing cooking skills!

    Phyllis - I'm not surprised you're already stocked with shichimi! I'm now addicted and plan a trip to our biggest Asian market in the hopes that I will find more. Otherwise, I may have to rely on online shopping . . . So this seasoning makes brussel sprouts taste amazing? 8-D

  • Daily Spud said...

    My goodness, yes, even a spud needs a break from potato salad (did I just say that?!).

    Not only do I need to check out this new-to-me Japanese 7 spice mix, I also need to make these noodles (even if I later revert to type and resume my potato-eating ways :D).

 

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