Hugo and I took a long walk this past Sunday morning. We meandered along Boston’s emerald necklace from J.P. into Brookline, stopping along the way at the Brookline Booksmith, for a peruse of the cookbook section, and at Clear Flour, for a chocolate croissant. As we rounded the corner onto Commonwealth Avenue, en route back to J.P., Hugo spied a shady spot and simply lay down. He panted happily and gave me his best puppy-dog eyes. With A LOT of encouragement, I managed to persuade him to walk another 10 feet, but as soon as he came across the next tree canopy, it was back to horizontal. And so we progressed the next 30 minutes, a few tiny steps at a time, me pleading, dragging, sometimes cursing, and Hugo refusing to budge.
He’s pulled this stunt before – always in the summer, but thankfully much closer to home. It’s the kind of behavior you might expect from a pug, but not a hyper-active, impossible to tire-out, high-strung cocker spaniel like Hugo. With a little less than 4 miles between us and our front door, and no way in hell I could carry him all that way, we were at a bit of a stand still: hot little Hugo content to lay in the shade on Commonwealth Ave all day, and me itching to get home.
And so, for the sake of my dog, I broke down and called a cab. Twenty dollars and a few minutes later, my stubborn, spoiled, little beast and I were home. As if to say “psych!,” the minute we walked into the house, Hugo ran (no, not for his bed, water bowl, or a cold tile floor) but for the nearest tennis ball, which he tossed gleefully at my feet.
Back at the Booksmith, before the doggy saga got underway, I picked up a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s book Plenty – written by the chef owner at London’s Ottoleghi. It’s a book I’ve had my eye on for a while – creative, vegetable-centered dishes, beautifully written and photographed. Today’s recipe is my first foray into the book – a soba noodle salad which makes an unlikely, but delicious, pair of mango and grilled eggplant. With tangled soba noodles, a sweet chili-lime dressing, and lots of fragrant herbs, this is a great and simple summer meal for the back yard or the beach.
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. Serves 4 as a main course and 6-8 as an appetizer or side.
Alex Notes: Be careful not to overcook the soba noodles here – as many of the ingredients are soft-textured, you really want the noodles to stand up (I say this because mine were ever so slightly overcooked.) I added peanuts or crispy fried tofu as optional toppings for this reason also – a little crunch really elevates this dish.
Also, the dressing here makes much more than you need for the salad – go light to start and add more to your taste.
Finally, I modified the original recipe slightly to grill the eggplant rather than shallow frying it – Ottolenghi recommends frying cubed eggplant in about 1 cup of sunflower oil.
For the Sweet Chili Dressing
- ½ cup rice wine vinegar
- 3 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 small garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped
- ½ fresh red chili (I used a cherry chili), very finely minced
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- The grated zest and juice of one lime
Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
For the Soba Noodle, Mango, and Grilled Eggplant Salad
- 1 8oz package buckwheat soba noodles (avoid the all buckwheat variety as they’re too gummy for this dish; go for something 25-40% buckwheat.)
- 2 small Italian eggplants
- Olive oil for drizzling
- Salt and pepper
- 1 large ripe mango, roughly chopped
- ½ white or red onion, very thinly sliced, soaked 20 minutes in salted cold water, and drained
- A large handful basil, washed and roughly chopped
- A very large handful cilantro, washed and roughly chopped
- Chopped peanuts or crispy fried tofu for topping (optional)
Boil a large pot of salted water. Once boiling, cook the soba noodles al dente according to package directions – avoid overcooking; 6-7 minutes should be plenty. Once cooked, drain, rinse, and set aside.
Preheat the grill to medium high. Slice the eggplants vertically in thick slices – about 4 to 5 per eggplant. Drizzle on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill until lightly charred and tender – about 5 minutes per side. Remove from the grill and chop roughly.
To Assemble the Salad
Gently toss together the soba noodles, mango, onion, herbs, grilled eggplant, and peanuts or tofu if using. Add about half the dressing, toss well, and taste for seasoning – add more dressing as needed.