soba noodles with eggplant and mango

soba noodles with eggplant and mango

Yotam Ottolenghi, the man with the magic touch. Is there even a single living, breathing human in this world that doesn’t lose their mind over every last one of his recipes? Oh wait, yes there is, and he lives with me.

I always joke that when I met him, Cos had the palate of a toddler (i.e., one comprised primarily of pasta, ice cream, berries, and cheese), but after living with me for a few years he’s graduated to that of a grade-schooler (i.e., those same things, but fancier, and now with a side of broccoli). No doubt, I’ve been in good company throughout my cracked molar debacle (which is somehow still ongoing. plz hold while I scream into my pillow), so I’m not complaining.  

So no, Cos didn’t fall to the ground in desperate lurv these noodles. I mean, there wasn’t drama or anything, but I could tell he wasn’t a big fan by the way he reluctantly consumed not even a small bowl’s worth before satisfying his remaining caloric needs with ice cream, and then stayed mum about the whole thing until questioned directly while stuck in the car with the cook at a seemingly endless red light. Typically, I would declare this sort of thing a bummer and promise to do better next time - you might even say I aim to please my #1 taste-tester more often than not. But as a steadfast member of camp “Ottolenghi Does No Wrong,” my feelings are admittedly more like something along the lines of ALL THE NOODLES FOR ME ENJOY UR ICE CREAM K BYE.

I'm such a peach, I know. 

Manners aside, I polished off every last morsel and was relieved to have 4 days of lunch sorted. {Yes I will eat something 5 times in a row because both eating real food and having dollars in my pocketbook increase my quality of life, so bloop and bloop.} And I wouldn’t say Cos hated them either. In fact, the amount of poking and prodding I had to do to drag out of him just exactly what the turnoff was about this (IMO) show-stopping bowl of noodly eggplant goodness made me wonder whether he may have enjoyed them under different circumstances. I can even get on board with his reasoning: the eggplant was too slippery.

It was kind of slippery, despite the fact that I drained it well after frying. The (forgivable) hang up of this scenario is that the spongey eggplant soaks up the oil really well when shallow-fried, too well, like annoyingly so. But given time - say a rest overnight - it soaks up the lime and rice wine vinaigrette too and all of the flavors mellow out and come together to form one grand symphony of amazingness. So, I would say that’s the key with this one - letting the noodles rest before eating. The flavor honestly develops so much during this time that the dish doesn’t become itself until having rested for at least a few hours. It makes sense too when you think about how many different things are going on here: nutty noodles, musky mango, bite from the onions, zingy acid from the dressing, a pop of freshness from the herbs, and then the lush and creamy charred eggplant to unite them all. It’s complex, but also somehow not in that particularly Ottolenghi way where the whole of a dish is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

All that to say, while we ate this dish as a one bowl weeknight dinner, it’s much more fitting as a nice weekend dinner that you can prep in the morning to have later; a make-ahead lunch if you’re so inclined to be good at planning and fancy, or a très posh picnic offering. (It’s still picnicking weather where you live, right?) If you do make them for supper - implying here that you won’t be able to let them rest for at least two hours - then I would recommend roasting the eggplant instead of shallow-frying, which is exactly what I plan to do next time. Still let them sit for a half hour, though. That’s what I did this last time, and well, you heard about the 50/50 odds of enjoyment already. For roasting, toss the eggplant with a little oil on an already oiled baking sheet and cook for around half an hour in a 400 degree oven.

Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango, adapted from Plenty
Serves 6

1/2 cup rice vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/4-1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, or 2 small red chiles*
1 heaping tsp toasted sesame oil
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
1 cup sunflower oil
2 medium eggplants, cut into 3/4-inch dice
8-9 oz soba noodles (varies by brand)
1 large ripe mango, cut into 1/4-inch thick strips
1 big fistful of basil leaves, chopped
1 big fistful of cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced into half moons

*I had some dried chile de árbols in my cabinet that I used this time around, but used red pepper flakes with equal success the first time I made this. I rehydrated the chile de árbols by soaking them in warm water, then chopped finely.

In a small saucepan gently warm the vinegar, sugar, and salt for about 2 minutes or until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, chile, and sesame oil. Allow the mixture to cool, add the lime zest and then juice. If you’re interested in taking the edge off the red onions biteyness (a real word), you can toss the onions into the sauce, as we did; they will be nice and mild, and slightly pickled, by the time you’ve prepared your other ingredients.

Heat up the sunflower oil in a large pan. The oil is hot enough when you can flick water from your hand into the pan and it causes a sizzle and pop. Shallow-fry the eggplant in 3 or 4 batches, and make sure you jump back quickly when you add it to the pan (do as I say, not as I do; hashtag, ya burnt). Move the eggplant around a bit, flipping the pieces over so that they get color on most sides. Once golden brown, remove to a plate with paper towels or colander, sprinkle liberally with salt, and leave there to drain.

Set a large pot of boiling water on to boil and cook the noodles al dente, according to the directions on the package. Ours gave a range of 4-8 minutes and they were perfectly al dente at 5. Drain the noodles and rinse well under cold running water to stop the cooking. Shake the colander vigorously to remove as much excess water as possible, then spread the noodles out on a dishtowel (covered by a paper towel if you have two cats) and allow them to dry a little more.

In a large mixing bowl toss the noodles with the dressing, mango, eggplant, onion, and 3/4 each of the chopped cilantro and basil. Chill for at least a few hours, or overnight. When ready to serve, garnish with the remaining herbs and a couple shakes of toasted sesame seeds or another squeeze of lime juice if you like. Dig in!

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