Homemade Matcha Soba Noodles & A Recipe for Matcha Mari Soba
Matcha noodles! Well, why wouldn’t you make them? You surely want to try them. I had the good fortune of eating superb matcha soba when I was in Kyoto last year, and they pop up from my memory to say hi frequently. Sure, you can buy green tea / matcha noodles in speciality shops here, and they are decent, but they are not a patch on the real thing. Of course. But, then you hear that it takes 3 years to learn soba making, 32 years to perfect it (!) and that it is very tricky. But you know what, you still really want to give it a go. Right?
Let us get down to the details. There are two things that we need to think about here. Soba and matcha. Soba means buckwheat or buckwheat noodle in Japanese. Buckwheat isn’t actually a grain, it is a seed that is grain like, and is not related in anyway to grass, it is actually closely related to rhubarb and sorrel (both very characterful plants, as is buckwheat). It has no gluten, so it takes skill and knowledge, the kind of knowledge that lives in your muscles and your palms, after years of getting to understand soba dough, to get the buckwheat to combine so elegantly with water to form noodles. Not just any old noodles but noodles that you would get on a train across town for, maybe even to another city, maybe even on a plane to Japan.
Matcha uses the best of the harvested green tea leaves (tencha) which are finely milled, resulting in a startling green powder. A luxury product, matcha has been used in Japan in the traditional tea ceremony for almost 1000 years. It is also common now to use it in pastisserie, ice cream, wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery) and savoury dishes like noodles. Studies have shown that matcha has three times the antioxidants of (already antioxidant rich) green tea, it also contains theanine, which is said to reduce stress responses, boosts the metabolism, boosts energy and it focuses the mind (Buddhist monks used it during meditation). It is said to be an appetite suppressant too. Matcha seems to me to be the ultimate helper. I need all of those influences, in spades.
Matcha or green tea powder? Well either work well. Matcha is (a lot) more expensive and has more health benefits, but the quantities used are small. There are also different grades of matcha, thebasic one is usually used for cooking, where the bitterness is not as much of an issue as it is balanced by other things. Green tea powder is a lot cheaper and will give both flavour and colour too (it has to be Japanese green tea powder though). Both are relatively easy to source online now so it is really up to you. I bought a 40g pouch of matcha from Clearspring which costs £9.99 The Japan Centre in London grind their own fresh daily and sell 10g packets for £3.90. Both of these are very good prices for matcha and a great place for you to start if you have not used it before.
There are many ways of serving soba, the simplest being Mori Soba where cold soba are served with a soya based dipping sauce. Beyond that there are many regional variations, one of which is Matcha Soba, particular to the Kyoto region, which is famous for green tea, the most refined of which is matcha. So, I have combined them both to make Matcha Mori Soba.
100% buckwheat soba is rare, especially outside of Japan. Most recipes add a percentage of wheat flour to buckwheat to add gluten, which helps bind the dough and shape the noodle. I settled on 25% in the end. The resulting dough is still very brittle though, and needs to be handled with great care. Try and source Japanese buckwheat flour (in speciality shops and online) as it is different and better suited to soba making. I did make it with normal buckwheat flour too, and it works, so if that is all you can get, don’t worry.
For shaping, getting the precise 1.3mm cut is tricky without a lot of practice, however, a spaghetti attachment for a pasta machine does a really good approximation. You do need to boil it and then cool it in iced water, even if you plan to eat it hot, as there is a lot of excess starch that is rinsed off this way. It needs to be boiled very quickly, 90 seconds being the outer limit, but taste it to ensure that the noodle is cooked al dente, but that the wheat flour is also cooked through. On my first try I found that I was being a bit too conservative and that there was still a claggy taste of undercooked wheat starch, but once that is sorted, it is all good. Once the noodle is shiny, it is done.
This is pure geekery, and takes a bit of practice, but it is worth the endeavour. Enjoy!
Note: There should be enough salt in the soya based dipping sauce already, so there is no need to add it at any stage in the recipe.
Recipe: Homemade Matcha Noodles / Matcha Mari Soba
300g buckwheat flour (Japanese preferably)
100g 00 flour
1 heaped tsp matcha tea powder or Japanese green tea powder
200ml tepid water
25ml rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 thumb size portion of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 spring onions, finely shredded
In a large bowl, combine both flours, the tea, and half the water. Work quickly to combine these with your fingers. Add the water bit by bit until the dough pulls together well but is not too sticky (you can add a little more buckwheat if you add too much water). Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead until you get a round shiny ball.
At this point, flatten the dough into a circle, and roll gently until it is just over 1mm thick. If you have a small work area, as I do, cut the dough in smaller portions. You will get shorter noodles, but that is ok. Dust the rolled dough with buckwheat flour, and fold the outer quarters of the dough into the center, and then fold those two halves on top of each other, so that you have four layers of dough. Cut the noodles approximately 1mm thick. They are now ready to cook but if you have ore than you need, you can freeze them now (add more flour to keep them separate), or store them in the fridge for a couple of days.
Before you cook the noodles, prepare your dipping sauce by combing all of the ingredients, tasting (different brands have different salt levels etc), adjusting if necessary, and leaving it in a bowl to the side, ready for the noodles.
Prepare a bowl of iced water. To cook, separately boil a large pan of water, and add the noodles to it. After 60 – 90 seconds, the noodles will be done. You will know when they are shiny, but trust your palate and taste them. Whip them out of the water quickly, and into the iced water (this trips the excess starch).
Drain the noodles, and serve cold with the dipping sauce.
(FYI – I didn’t photograph the finished product. The light was poor as it was late when I finished and perfected these noodles. I could have waited till I made them again, but that wouldn’t have been for at least a week, ,maybe more, and I really wanted to share this now. The sauce is simple, the key is the noodles themselves, and I have photos of those for you to reference)