Cook the Book: Black Sesame Otsu

Cook the Book: Black Sesame Otsu

[Photographs: Heidi Swanson]

A bowl of cold soba noodles are perfect hot weather eating, as we established yesterday. Mild and nutty, hearty and cooling all at once, we could really eat the noodles all summer long with no complaints. Heidi Swanson's version of soba from Super Natural Every Day dresses quick-cooked and quick-chilled buckwheat noodles with a nutty dressing of black sesame, sunflower seeds, and pine nuts sweetened with sugar and spiced with cayenne. Little matchsticks of flash-fried tofu and thinly sliced scallions are mixed in too.

As is, this Black Sesame Otsu is a fantastic dish, cool and satisfying with deeply layered flavors and textures. But you could also replace the tofu with any protein (imagine soy poached chicken), add more vegetables (blanched bok choy or broccoli rabe worked particularly well), and make the dressing sweeter, more sour or savory depending on what you're looking for (adding a bit of miso or fish sauce certainly wouldn't hurt).

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Super Natural Every Day to give away this week.

Reprinted with permission from Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson and her blog, 101 Cookbooks. Copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

  • Yield:4
  • Active time: 30 minutes
  • Total time:30 minutes


  • 1 teaspoon pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup / 2 oz / 60 g black sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons shoyu, tamari, or soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons mirin
  • Scant 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Fine-grain sea salt
  • 12 ounces / 340 g soba noodles
  • 12 ounces / 340 g extra-firm tofu
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch green onions, white and light green parts, thinly sliced


  1. 1.

    Toast the pine nuts and sunflower seeds in a large skillet over medium heat until golden, shaking the pan regularly. Add the sesame seeds to the pan and toast for a minute or so. It’s hard to tell when they are toasted; look closely and use your nose. Remove from the heat as soon as you smell a hint of toasted sesame; if you let them go much beyond that, you’ll start smelling burned sesame—not good. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and crush the mixture; the texture should be like black sand. Alternatively, you can use a food processor. Stir in the sugar, shoyu, mirin, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, and cayenne pepper. Taste and adjust if needed.

  2. 2.

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously, add the soba, and cook according to the package instructions until tender. Drain, reserving some of the noodle cooking water, and rinse under cold running water.

  3. 3.

    While the noodles are cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut into matchstick shapes. Season the tofu with a pinch of salt, toss with a small amount of oil, and cook in a large skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, tossing every couple minutes, until the pieces are browned on all sides.

  4. 4.

    Reserve a heaping tablespoon of the sesame paste, then thin the rest with 1/3 cup / 80 ml of the hot noodle water. In a large mixing bowl, combine the soba, half of the green onions, and the black sesame paste. Toss until well combined. Add the tofu and toss again gently. Serve topped with a tiny dollop of the reserved sesame paste and the remaining green onions.