Pork, Asparagus, and Soba From 'The VB6 Cookbook'

Pork, Asparagus, and Soba From 'The VB6 Cookbook'

[Photograph: Quentin Bacon]

One of the key parts of Mark Bittman's "vegan before six" diet is the food that comes after 6 pm. This meal can consist of whatever you want to eat. Meat, cheese, and eggs are all back on the table. Bittman believes that allowing for this flexibility is what keeps his diet feasible and accessible. As such, the dinner and dessert chapters in his new VB6 Cookbook introduce animal protein back into the equation.

Yet Bittman doesn't launch into a carnivorous feast come six o'clock. Instead, he incorporates meat into meals that are equally heavy in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. Take this soba noodle dish for example. While it doesn't shy away from meat (hello, pork shoulder), it does incorporate a generous amount of asparagus in addition to whole grain soba noodles. Eaten together, the one bowl supper is rich enough to satisfy, but still feels nourishing.

Why I picked this recipe: What could be better for a weeknight springtime supper than soba, pork, and asparagus?

What worked: This noodle dish is bare-bones but ultimately deeply satisfying. Pork, ginger, garlic, and soy truly make a harmonious combination.

What didn't: The recipe never says when to use the second tablespoon of vegetable oil; I added it to the skillet with the asparagus. Bittman also doesn't suggest rinsing the soba noodles after their drained, but I find the cooked noodles much easier to work with once the excess starch has been rinsed off.

Suggested tweaks: You'll likely want to add another tablespoon of soy sauce before serving; the first addition almost completely evaporates in the hot skillet. Depending on where you buy your meat, it may be easier to buy boneless country-style pork ribs than just a pound of pork shoulder. If you're buying these ribs, ask for the fattier, more marbled cuts.

Reprinted with permission from The VB6 Cookbook: More than 350 Recipes for Healthy Vegan Meals All Day and Delicious Flexitarian Dinners at Night by Mark Bittman. Copyright 2014. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.

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


  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 pound pork shoulder, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 small dried hot red chile (like Thai), or pinch of red chile flakes, or more to taste
  • 8 ounces soba noodles
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds asparagus (thick ends peeled if you like), thinly cut on an angle
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce, or to taste
  • 2 scallions, sliced, for garnish


  1. 1.

    Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Put a large skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil, swirl it around, and immediately add the pork and sprinkle it with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Cook undisturbed until the pieces brown and release from the pan easily. Then add the garlic, ginger, and chile and stir frequently, until the meat is no longer pink and the vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes total. Remove the meat mixture from the pan and the pan from the heat.

  2. 2.

    Cook the noodles in the boiling water until tender but not mushy. Start checking them after 3 minutes. Drain the noodles, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water, and toss the soba with the sesame oil.

  3. 3.

    Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add the asparagus along with 1/4 cup water, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until the asparagus is dry and beginning to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Add a little more water if necessary to prevent them from burning.

  4. 4.

    Stir in the soy sauce, noodles, and a small splash of the noodle-cooking water; return the pork to the skillet. Cook, stirring and adding just enough water to keep everything from sticking, until the pork and noodles are hot, no more than 1 minute. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more soy sauce if necessary. Garnish with the scallions and serve hot or at room temperature.