Toshikoshi soba is a simple dish of soba noodles in a dashi-based broth that's traditionally served for New Year's Eve. It's easy to make, comforting and tasty. Plus you can keep it simple or add extra toppings to suit your taste.
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In a few cultures, you'll find traditional foods to ring on the New Year, whether that's the lunar new year in Chinese culture (as well as other places in the region such as Vietnam), or the Gregorian calendar. Many are considered to bring luck for the coming year.
In the South of the US, for example, many eat black beans and pork for luck. In Spain, it's traditional to eat one grape on each gong of the bell at the stroke of midnight. If you miss one, the corresponding month may be unlucky.
What are toshikoshi soba noodles?
This simple Japanese noodle dish is part of the New Year tradition in Japan. "Toshikoshi" means year-crossing because soba noodles are easily cut with the idea of letting go of the hardships from the previous year.
Soba noodles are made from buckwheat which is a hardy plant that can survive severe weather and so the plant is seen as representing resilience. Long noodles are also often seen to represent a long life.
Simple ingredients, with varying toppings
At its core, this dish is incredibly simple - a lightly seasoned dashi broth poured over plenty of soba noodles. This is a relatively noodle-heavy dish rather than mainly soup so it's relatively filling, though it's also quite light.
In the most basic, traditional, you might just top the dish with chopped green onion, but you can also add various other things on top as well. You might add shrimp tempura, slices of fish cake (kamaboko), wakame seaweed or crispy tofu.
Dried soba noodles are pretty widely available in most supermarkets these days, so you shouldn't need to hunt them down. Mirin is also becoming more widely available, but you may need to find an Asian supermarket to get the ingredients to make dashi.
You don't have to make your own dashi for this - you can use instant dashi if you prefer - but dashi is pretty easy to make from scratch. You'll find different versions, but for this one all you need is kombu seaweed, some water and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes). It's essentially a kind of stock, but it's a whole lot quicker than any made with bones.
You start by slowly bringing the water to a simmer with the kombu in it, to slowly infuse the water with flavor. It might release some foam which you should skim off.
Then, you take out the kombu to save it making the stock bitter, and add the katsuobushi to add some extra flavor. Only simmer less than a minute before turning off the heat and letting the katsuobushi settle to the bottom. Strain and you are done.
Can you make this vegan?
While dashi is typically made with katsuobushi, which are dried bonito or tuna flakes, you can skip those and make it purely with kombu. The flavor will be less distinct, but it will certainly work.
Are buckwheat noodles gluten free?
Buckwheat, despite the name, is not a form of wheat and it doesn't contain gluten. So soba noodles when made just with buckwheat are gluten free. However, many soba noodles are made with some wheat flour as well. Some of that is because the wheat flour makes the dough easier to handle.
So if you want this dish to be gluten free, be sure to look for specifically gluten free soba. Also look for gluten free soy sauce since it, too, is not always gluten free.
Toshikoshi soba noodles might be traditionally a New Year dish, but they are easy and tasty enough to enjoy any time. They son't take long to make and you can vary the topping to suit as well. Simple, comforting and perfect for a cold day.
Try these other noodle dishes:
- Japchae (Korean glass noodles stir fry - quick, easy and a tasty mix of ingredients)
- Short rib beef udon (the short rib is braised in a seasoned dashi for one delicious dish)
- Taiwanese pumpkin rice noodles with pork (a great fall-flavored meal)
- Plus get more Japanese recipes in the archives.
Toshikoshi soba (New Year soba noodles)
For rest of dish
- 2 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon mirin
- 7 oz soba noodles 200g, dried
- 2 green onions spring onions
- Make the dashi by making cuts into the piece of kombu kelp (or snapping it into a couple pieces) and placing it in a medium pot/pan with the water. Warm over a medium-low heat to slowly bring it to a simmer (it will take probably around 10 minutes). Remove foam from top as it appears.
- While you are making the dashi, cook the soba noodles according to the packet instructions (typically add to a pot of boiling water and and simmer for around 5min then drain).
- Once the water with the kombu simmers, remove the kombu then add the bonito flakes. Bring back to a simmer, cook for 30 seconds then remove from the heat. Let the bonito flakes settle to the bottom then strain. (You can skip these steps if using instant dashi/ready made but use good quality.) Keep warm if noodles are not ready yet.
- Finely slice the green onions using the white and light green part.
- Add the soy and mirin to the dashi and mix in. Divide the drained noodles between bowls then pour over the soba noodles in the bowls. Top with sliced green onions and any additional toppings you choose.
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