The barrel cellar at Marqués de Cáceres. Credit: Copyright 2015 Marqués de Cáceres

Rioja is one of the five great wine regions of the world, its wines celebrated both for their great longevity and for their extraordinary value. Only here do the terms Reserva and Gran Reserva carry the weight of law: To qualify as the former, a wine must be aged in oak for a minimum of one year and spend two years in bottle before release, while the latter ages in oak for at least two years and in bottle for three. (Crianza requires a year both in oak and in bottle.) So the wines come pre-aged — and for prices that make Bordeaux or Tuscany seem exorbitant.

Today, winemakers such as Juan Carlos de Lacalle of Artadi and Telmo Rodriguez of Remelluri are arguing passionately that Rioja’s terroirs are as complex as Burgundy’s and that its wines should therefore be classified by village cru rather than length of time in barrel. But it will take a generation for such revolutionary change to occur in Spain; meanwhile, there is a panoply of styles to be savored, from the French oak-aged lusciousness of Roda’s Sela to the seamless classicism of La Rioja Alta’s 904. For complexity, longevity and value, not to mention sheer enjoyment, no red-wine region in the world can compete with Rioja. Olé!

CVNE Viña Real Reserva 2005

 

Cvne Vina Real Reserva.resizeA delicious wine from CVNE, one of the old aristocratic bodegas of Rioja. Very sweet red fruit on the nose — first strawberry, then raspberry and ripe cherry, with hints of balsamic and molasses. Dense, ripe juicy tannins; lovely, lengthy notes of earth and dry bark. Around $40.

Artadi Viñas de Gain 2011

ARTADI

Juan-Carlos de Lacalle of Artadi is among Rioja’s radicals, his mission to highlight the region’s great microterroirs. This wine has superb bright fruit, a hint of leather on the palate, along with sour damson plum and briar, textured tannins, and a fine juicy finish. About $26.

Ysios Reserva 2008

Bodegas Ysios in Álava, Spain. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bodegas Ysios

Bodegas Ysios in Álava, Spain. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bodegas Ysios

Ysios is one of Rioja’s most arresting bodegas, its wavelike façade designed by the renowned architect Santiago Calatrava to echo the peaks of the sierra in the distance. Equally impressive is this dense, restrained yet powerful modern Rioja, showing scrumptious blackberry fruit, minerality, smooth tannins and mouthwatering acidity. “We look for concentration, softness and energy,” winemaker Roberto Vicente says. Quite. About $26.

Marqués de Murrieta Capellania Reserva Blanco, 2010

capellania

 

Rioja’s whites have a reputation for oakiness, but winemakers such as Murrieta’s Maria Vargas march to a different beat. This 100% Viura (the grape known as Macabeo in France) is full-bodied, certainly, but it’s balanced by dancing acidity, the aromas of roast almonds and white fruit, and a delicate, creamy finish. Delicious. About $20.

Remelluri La Granja Nuestra Señora de Remelluri Blanco, 2007

Remelluri

Is this offering from Remelluri the best white wine in Spain? Telmo Rodriguez’s field blend of Viura, Albariño and half a dozen other varieties makes the blood sing in your veins. White flowers on the nose precede a rounded palate with stone fruits such as peach, exotic spice and honey, pierced through with bracing acidity and fine mineral length. Balanced, luscious, triumphant. Around $25.

Ramón Bilbao Viñedos Altura 2011

Bodegas Ramón Bilbao in Haro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bodegas Ramón Bilbao

Bodegas Ramón Bilbao in Haro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bodegas Ramón Bilbao

Riojanos can be snobbish about Garnacha, considering Tempranillo the only true noble grape of the region. Ignore them. The 50% Garnacha in this blend from Ramón Bilbao allows it a perfumed freshness, with lifted raspberry on the nose and juicy blackcurrant on the palate as well as a textured, tannic finish. Mouthwatering. About $20.

Marqués de Cáceres Excellens Reserva 2009

Caceres Excellens

Though established in the 1970s, Caceres is known as one of the most conservative of the great estates. That image may change somewhat with Excellens, a new range from small, high-altitude vineyards; the Reserva’s expressive, cool spearmint nose with salted caramel leads to a palate with fresh blackcurrant and sour plum. Ultramodern, international style with soft tannins enlivened by tart acidity. Good. Around $16.

Marqués de Riscal Barón de Chirel 2010

Hotel Marqués de Riscal in Elciego. Credit: Copyright 2015 Adam Lechmere

Hotel Marqués de Riscal in Elciego. Credit: Copyright 2015 Adam Lechmere

Established in 1858, Riscal is one of Rioja’s oldest bodegas, but with its titanium-clad hotel it rivals Ysios for modernist cool. Wines like this one, however, are classic. Lovely briar and licorice nose with a salty, river-mud stink, plus white pepper and fresh linen. Superb bursts of juice on the palate are balanced by lovely acidity, notes of snapped nettle stalk and polished tannins. Dense and compelling. About $50.

Contino Reserva 2009

 

ContinoReserva.resize.editA single-vineyard wine from the CVNE stable, made by the brilliant Jesús Madrazo. Very fine, deep briar and black-cherry aromas open to ripe soft tannins and mouthwatering acidity; the pitch-perfect palate of blackcurrant and blueberry hints at sweeter red berry fruit. Sharp, juicy balsamic finish. Long and opulent, it would be perfect with rack of spring lamb. About $35.

Ontañón Vetiver Rioja Blanco 2013

The barrel cellar at Bodegas Ontañon. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bodegas Ontañon

The barrel cellar at Bodegas Ontañón. Credit: Copyright 2015 Bodegas Ontañon

Another fine, dry, mineral white Rioja in the modern style, courtesy of Ontañón. Very pure with sharp, bright acidity, a hint of florality on the nose and a textured pear-skin palate. Defined, structured, brisk and intense — a food wine. About $12.

Luis Cañas Gran Reserva 2001

Luis Cañas

Bright, smooth, leathery nose, with some smoke and sun-warmed wood. Powerful sour plum and spice notes on the palate, along with intense linear tannins. There’s nothing big or brash about this wine from Luis Cañas — it’s got a superbly fresh, zesty length, yet it’s very austere and elegant. Excellent. Hard to get hold of but worth searching out as an example of just how well Rioja can age. About $40.

La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 2004

Rioja Alta

Pinot-like lightness of hue; earth, compost and potpourri on the nose. Ripe blueberry-fruit palate with hints of leather; round, soft tannins. Very restrained with subtle length — a fine and delicate classic brought to you by La Rioja Alta. About $50.

Gómez Cruzado Reserva 2008

Gomez Cruzado

Voted champion in the United Kingdom’s 2013 Wines from Spain awards, Gómez Cruzado’s fine Rioja has an oak-sweet nose with vanilla and white pepper; ripe black fruit; and a powerful, dry length. Very fine. About $25.

Finca Allende Rioja Tinto 2007

The Finca Allende estate in Briones. Credit: Copyright 2015 Finca Allende

The Finca Allende estate in Briones. Credit: Copyright 2015 Finca Allende

A modern style from Finca Allende, aged in French oak. Autumnal briar and hedgerow nose with hints of herb, followed by a midpalate loaded with fine dark fruit; smoke; leather; and rich, old cigar box. Luscious, elegant, complex. About $26.

Bodegas Roda Sela 2011

Sela

Established in 1987, Roda produces, from its stunning winery in Haro, some of Rioja’s most compelling reds. Don’t miss the magnificent Cirsion, but start with the entry-level Sela, with its voluptuous nose of violet-scented black fruit, velvety tannins and palate of dark cherry and plum. Modern Rioja at its best. About $33.

More from Zester Daily:
» Rioja on the cusp
» A Spanish spring value
» Spain’s Montrasell wine seduces under a French alias
» Trouble with Grenache

Main photo: The barrel cellar at Marqués de Cáceres. Credit: Copyright 2015 Marqués de Cáceres

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An appetizer of marinated raw scallops in

Mexican cuisine has no high or low. Unlike in French, Chinese or Japanese cooking, it is from the humble tradition of everyday kitchens that most Mexican recipes are culled. The difference is more a matter of degree of luxury in presentation than of basic cooking concepts.

In recent years, a culinary trend has emerged from the kitchens of a new generation of chefs called Nueva Cocina Mexicana or Modern Mexican. Utilizing international culinary techniques, but working with traditional Mexican recipes and ingredients, these cooks have created a body of dishes as well as a contemporary context for serving and eating them.

Sometimes it’s simply a matter of presentation: Martha Ortiz’s duck in black mole varies little from that eaten in an old Oaxacan home. But it is elegantly served on contemporary designer china in a streamlined, posh venue in Mexico City’s Polanco area, surrounded by less standard accompaniments, and chased with a nice Baja Chardonnay. Or take Patricia Quintana’s salmon appetizer with its vanilla-infused dressing: nothing time-honored here but for the separate ingredients. And Mónica Patiño’s chicken soup perfumed with té de limón — that’s Thai lemongrass sold in every market across the country, but never before served at a Mexican dinner table.

An earlier generation of chefs have paved the way for an extraordinary renaissance of fresh, creative cooking, led by star chef Enrique Olvera of Pujol, now head chef at New York’s Cosme. Young culinary-institute-trained chefs are returning to their roots while exploring contemporary concepts developed in Europe. Mexico City has become an amazing place to discover not only the wide range of classic and regional cooking but also new traditions being forged every day.

Main photo: An appetizer of marinated raw scallops in “ash vinegar” with cucumber and cilantro. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sud 777

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Galicia on Spain's Atlantic coast is a land of scudding clouds, rocky shores lashed by furious waves and seafood-rich estuaries fringed with vines. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Galicia in Spain’s northwestern corner is so dramatically different from any other part of the Iberian Peninsula, it can be hard to imagine it belongs to the Spain of popular imagination, characterized by intense heat, smoldering flamenco dancers and blockbuster red wines.

This is Atlantic Spain, with the famed pilgrimage center of Santiago de Compostela at its heart, a land of scudding clouds, emerald-green pastures grazed by some of the country’s finest beef cattle, rocky shores lashed by furious waves and seafood-rich estuaries fringed with vines.

Wines from here are principally white, with the racy, zesty Albariño variety in pole position, closely followed by peachy Treixadura and full-bodied, mouth-filling Godello. Many vines are more than 50 years old, plants which — thankfully — no one thought to tear out when more fashionable “international varieties” began to make inroads into Galicia. Some red wine is also made from local specialties, with names such as Caiño, Brancellao and Sousón.

In the coastal Rías Baixas region that stretches all along the western edge of Galicia, the climate is cool and humid. Rain falls heavily and persistently, and vines are trained high on pergolas suspended between chunky, head-high granite posts, as if gathering up their skirts to keep them out of the water and the mud. This is Albariño country par excellence — at least 95 percent of vines planted here belong to this now-voguish variety.

Inland in the Ribeiro region, it’s a different story. Here, where rainfall is half that of the coastal regions, midday summer temperatures routinely reach into the 100s, with a marked difference between midday and nighttime temperatures, an important element in the production of quality white wines. Vines are stacked on steep, well-drained terraces that rise above the three rivers that traverse the region (Avia, Miño and Arnoia) and equipped with drip-irrigation systems to combat water stress.

The region’s trump cards, according to Pablo Vidal, technical director of DO Ribeiro, include a range of distinctive grape varieties, great granite-rich terroirs and a climate that is significantly less humid than the coastal region. Ribeiro has been on a roll since the 1990s, when a number of local visionaries determined to resurrect the area’s long-established but lost reputation for fine wine and set about reclaiming terraces, restoring dry-stone walls and vineyards and planting new vines.

Here are seven estates in Galicia whose wines are worth seeking out. Some are in the cooler coastal region of DO Rías Baixas, others are inland in DO Ribeiro. Check for your nearest supplier of wines from Galicia.

Casal de Armán

Casal de Armán's limited edition Finca Os Loureiros, Ribeiro, Galicia -- note the bay leaf motif (loureiro, in Galician) on the label. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Casal de Armán’s limited edition Finca Os Loureiros, Ribeiro, Galicia — note the bay leaf motif (loureiro, in Galician) on the label. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Casal de Armán is a 20-hectare (50-acre) estate in the heart of Ribeiro, founded 16 years ago by four brothers — José, Javier, Jorge and Juan — of the González Vázquez family. The eminently quaffable, entry-level Casal de Armán white (“our visiting card,” says José) is made mainly from Treixadura with a dash of both Godello and Albariño, while Finca Os Loureiros, their prize-winning, single-vineyard white, features the straw-gold, peachy Treixadura in starring role and is aged in French barriques.

Finca Viñoa

Finca Viñoa's superb four-grape blend, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Finca Viñoa’s superb four-grape blend, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Finca Viñoa is an impressive new venture with vineyards set high above the River Avia, which flows south through Ribeiro and into the Miño, which forms the border between Spain and Portugal. Rows of impressive terraces have been carved out of the granite hillside, which is streaked with seams of schist. Here they have planted Ribeiro’s four signature grapes, Treixadura, Albariño, Godello and Loureira, which go to make up Finca Viñoa’s single, satisfying white blend, recently tipped by Financial Times wine critic Jancis Robinson as one of her top festive white wines for the holidays.

Coto de Gomariz

A range of Atlantic red wines from Coto de Gomariz, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

A range of Atlantic red wines from Coto de Gomariz, Ribeiro, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Also in Ribeiro is Coto de Gomariz, an impressive 28-hectare (62-acre) estate whose owners have devoted the past 30 years to resurrecting historic sites, acquiring new plots and restoring swathes of terracing. Lately they have adopted some biodynamic practices — a tough call in Galicia’s predominantly cool, damp climate. Surprisingly (because Galicia is known for its white wines), reds traditionally outnumbered whites in Ribeiro. The estate is now flying the red flag once more with a super range of new-wave, Atlantic red blends, alongside its impressive collection of full-bodied whites.

Quinta de Couselo

Parasol pines and pergola-grown vines at Quinta de Couselo, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Parasol pines and pergola-grown vines at Quinta de Couselo, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Quinta de Couselo winery is housed in a gorgeous stone pazo, or manor house, at the southernmost end of the Rías Baixas, watched over by a pair of parasol pines, which are featured on its elegant labels. They make two alluring, aromatic white blends, Quinta de Couselo (winner of an award for the best white wine in Galicia in 2014) and Turonia, in which Albariño’s angularity is fleshed out by discreet amounts of Loureira and Treixadura.

Zárate

Centenarian vines in Zárate's El Palomar vineyard, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Centenarian vines in Zárate’s El Palomar vineyard, Rías Baixas, Galicia. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Zárate is a family-owned bodega in the small seaside town of Cambados, self-styled capital of Albariño and home to the Festa do Albariño, a lively street party held annually the first Sunday in August in honor of its now famous local grape. The entry-level Albariño is a pure delight, while the single-vineyard El Palomar, grown on ungrafted centenarian vines and trained in traditional style along pergolas supported by granite posts, has greater complexity and elegance.

Pazo Baión

A glimpse inside the cellars at Pazo Baión, Rías Baixas, Galicia: "new wine in an old setting." Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

A glimpse inside the cellars at Pazo Baión, Rías Baixas, Galicia: “new wine in an old setting.” Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Pazo Baión is a magnificent 30-hectare (75-acre) estate just south of Santiago, whose origins go back to the 16th century. After a succession of owners, including most recently an Argentine drug baron operating off Galicia’s coast, it was confiscated by the Spanish government and sold at auction to the Condes de Albarei group. Investment in the property has been impressive and includes renovation of the vineyards that surround the house, installation of spanking-new cellars and a superb, architect-designed tasting cellar. “New wine in an old setting” is the device of manager Xavier Zas. They make a single, fragrant, fleshy Albariño with wonderful mouthfeel from its six months spent on the lees.

Pazo Señorans

A table set for a tasting at Pazo Señorans. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

A table set for a tasting at Pazo Señorans. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

Pazo Señorans is one of Galicia’s most immaculate properties, complete with its own superb hórreo (granary), a private chapel and cypress trees, all three of which are necessary components for a property to qualify as a proper pazo. Owners Marisol Bueno and Javier Mareque and their four children together run the 21-hectare (52-acre) estate, once a kiwi plantation and now a noted center of Albariño excellence. Choose between the entry-level Pazo Señorans (lovely rose petal nose, good structure) and the Selección de Añada or vintage selection, a special cuvee from selected grapes (mineral, spicy and long-lasting).

Main photo: Galicia on Spain’s Atlantic coast is a land of scudding clouds, rocky shores lashed by furious waves and seafood-rich estuaries fringed with vines. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sue Style

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Kale is the perfect bed upon which to build a salad, as well as being packed with nutrients. Credit: Thinkstock

Chopped ultrathin in a style called a chiffonade, kale is a perfect bed upon which to build your salad dreams. And since it is one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, with vitamins A, K, C, B6, manganese, calcium, copper, potassium and magnesium to boot, it’s pretty much the Tempur-Pedic of salad beds. Try these simple combinations to become a kale fan for life. And make sure that your kale was harvested correctly — too late and the leaves turn bitter, a winning characteristic for no one.

Apple of your eye

Pair kale with sweet and tart apples, and add in some pistachios and feta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Pair kale with sweet and tart apples, and add in some pistachios and feta. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Sweet and tart apples make kale salads meet all of your taste requirements for sweet, bitter, sour and umami. Try a Pink Lady sliced thin paired with pistachios and feta, and mix gently with a dressing of fig vinegar and high-quality olive oil.

Spinach-less

Update the classic spinach salad with kale instead, adding bacon, tomatoes, eggs and red onions. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Update the classic spinach salad with kale instead, adding bacon, tomatoes, eggs and red onions. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

The classic spinach salad combination of bacon, grape tomatoes, hard-boiled egg and red onion gets an updated nutritional boost by replacing the spinach with kale. Toss in a vinaigrette made with warm bacon fat, olive oil and your favorite balsamic.

Citrus is the star

Kale gets a citrus boost in this salad. You can also add pears and thin-sliced fennel.  Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Kale gets a citrus boost in this salad. You can also add pears and thin-sliced fennel. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Citrus is the star of this kale salad, which pairs the leafy green with thin-sliced fennel, shaved Parmesan and vinaigrette of lemon and olive oil. For a sweet touch, add a thin-sliced Asian pear to the mix.

A protein punch

Add turkey, walnuts and avocado for a kale salad with lots of protein. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Add turkey, walnuts and avocado for a kale salad with lots of protein. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

For a dinner salad with a protein punch and good fats galore, add pieces of turkey, chopped walnuts and scooped, diced avocado. Dress with your favorite balsamic vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.

Veggies deluxe

Add carrots, roasted beets, almonds and crumbled chèvre into the mix. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Add carrots, roasted beets, almonds and crumbled chèvre into the mix. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Veggies abound in this kale salad with grated carrot and diced roasted beet. For extra crunch and the perfect mellowing creaminess, add some thin-sliced almonds and crumbled chèvre. Toss in a vinaigrette with fresh dill or make a creamy dill dressing with plain yogurt, olive oil, dill and garlic.

Caesar salad

This kale-centered version of Caesar salad also has sliced sardines and Parmesan cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

This kale-centered version of Caesar salad also has sliced sardines and Parmesan cheese. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

If you’re a fan of Caesar salad, you’ll adore a kale-centered version pairing the leafy green with sliced sardines and Parmesan. Simple and packed with fatty acids, it’s a plated nutrition bomb. Make a dressing of minced garlic with lemon juice and high-quality olive oil.

Rethink the radish

Slice radishes thin and toss them with kale and sliced green onions. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Slice radishes thin and toss them with kale and sliced green onions. Credit: Copyright 2015 Emily Grosvenor

Rethink the radish in this design-friendly stunner where the contrast of red and green makes the plate. Slice the radishes as thin as possible and toss them with the kale, sliced green onions (or chives) and a generous handful of pumpkin seeds. Dress with good old apple cider vinegar and olive oil and you’ve got a plate to celebrate early summer.

More from Zester Daily:

»  Braised kale will make you want to eat your greens

»  Red cabbage and kale salad

»  Tracking the trends in kale

» Turn kale and squash into a cool-weather salad

Main photo: Kale is the perfect bed upon which to build a salad, as well as being packed with nutrients. Credit: Thinkstock

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At Venissa restaurant in Venice, fresh squid is served on a bed of black risotto. Credit: Copyright 2013 Carla Capalbo

From dining on a romantic island in the Venetian lagoon to feasting on handmade pasta in Bologna, northern Italy’s gastronomic capital, this list guides you to the best places to eat in Italy’s northeast. Award-winning food writer Carla Capalbo has spent more than 20 years eating her way around Italy and has uncovered its best-kept secrets, from new-wave pizza to the elegant restaurant of one of the world’s top female chefs. She’s brought together great food for every budget, from take-away noodles to three-Michelin-star refinement.

With this list as your guide — the first of a series — you’ll have a fabulous eating holiday in Italy — whether you go in person or just dream from your armchair.

More from Zester Daily:

» 6 tips to finding fabulous authentic food in Italy

»  Tasty Italian hospitality

»  Tuscan cuisine remains a family affair

» 5-minute pasta sauce made with fresh tomatoes

Main photo: At Venissa restaurant in Venice, fresh squid is served on a bed of black risotto. Credit: Copyright 2013 Carla Capalbo

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Soba salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Soba is a delightfully tasteful and nourishing noodle. Originating in Japan, soba is made with buckwheat, and the nutrient-rich noodle is associated with longevity and eaten year-round.

While soba is traditionally eaten plain with dipping sauce and herbs or in a hot broth, the noodle is finding its way onto Western plates because of its versatility and good flavor.

In more Westernized preparations, soba works great in salads and can work just as well with pasta sauce or pesto sauce. Some Japanese and Italians will raise their eyebrows, but why not?

Soba salad — a perfect summer food

A soba salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kristin Guy. Dine X Design

A soba salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kristin Guy. Dine X Design

I was a traditionalist when it came to soba until I had my first encounter with a soba salad. This happened while my mother was visiting from Tokyo one summer back in the early ’80s, during a heat wave. We accepted a lunch invitation from her Japanese schoolmate, Mrs. Hoffman, who lived in Thousand Oaks, and it turned out Mrs. Hoffman was making us soba for lunch.

As Japanese, we were, of course, expecting zaru soba — cold soba served with dipping sauce and herbs. But when the soba was served, it came in a form that neither my mother nor I had ever seen before — mixed with her garden tomatoes and greens and dressed with a vinaigrette in a big salad bowl.

We were both in shock, to put it lightly. We thought Mrs. Hoffman had become too Americanized and had bastardized our classic noodle. Mrs. Hoffman tossed the salad in front of us and plated the oil-coated soba and vegetables. This was her American husband’s favorite lunch, she told us.

At first, we were skeptical. But my mother raised me to try everything, so I did, and she did as well. The salad tasted surprisingly delicious. The earthiness of the soba gave the salad texture and umami flavor. The tomatoes added a nice sweetness.

We both loved the soba salad that day, and I’ve grown to appreciate a good soba salad. When I make it myself, I use greens, sliced radishes, fava beans, scallions and whatever fresh vegetables I find at the farmers market or in my garden. I serve the salad with a simple vinaigrette. (See recipe below.) I toss the soba with the vegetables at the last minute, so it doesn’t get mushy.

What’s in dried soba?

Soba noodles in dipping sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tomoko Kurokawa

Soba noodles in dipping sauce. Credit: Copyright 2015 Tomoko Kurokawa

While dried pasta tastes pretty darn good, dried soba tastes, for the most part, rather flat and flavorless. Most dried soba fails because manufacturers make a wheat noodle containing only a token amount of buckwheat and still call it “soba.”

According to Japanese standards, dried soba noodles can be called soba only if they contain at least 30% buckwheat flour. Apparently, these standards were set during World War II, when soba production was low.

A few Japanese and American brands, such as Koma Soba and Eden Foods Soba, produce a 100% dried buckwheat noodle. They can be found in some health food stores as well as some Japanese markets, such as Nijiya , Mitsuwa and Marukai. You can’t beat fresh soba noodles, but these dried noodles will give you the traditional Japanese taste of the buckwheat noodle.

Packed with nutrients and flavor

Fresh soba dough being rolled out. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Fresh soba dough being rolled out. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Soba has played a medicinal role in Japan since ancient times. Buckwheat has an amino acid composition nutritionally superior to all cereals, surpassing oats, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In Japan during the 17th century, buckwheat helped cure a large outbreak of beriberi, a disease caused by a vitamin B deficiency that results from eating too many refined foods such as white rice.

In addition to its healthful qualities, soba is sought after in Japan for its nutty flavor and good chew, although not too much is known in the West about its delicate flavor profiles.

Like other crops, buckwheat is known to take on the terroir of the land. Kitawase buckwheat from Hokkaido, Japan, is lightly fragrant and chewy, whereas Ibaraki’s Hitachi Akisoba is robust.

Soba made with fresh buckwheat flour tastes vastly different in flavor and texture than its dried counterpart. In the fresh version, you taste the nutty and roasted tea-like flavors of the buckwheat.

It’s faster and simpler to make soba than pasta, because it requires no resting time and the only other ingredient besides flour is water. Fresh noodles cook in less than 2 minutes.

When I make soba, I like using a flour mixture with a ratio of 8 parts buckwheat and 2 parts wheat flour called ni-hachi style soba, which has been a practice in Japan for more than 400 years. The added wheat gives the gluten-free buckwheat structure and stability.

Not all buckwheat flour you find in the U.S. makes good soba, because the milling is sometimes done poorly or it sits on the shelf too long. If the flour runs through your fingers like sand, it will not make good noodles. You should be able to clutch it your hand and form a peak.

In the United States, you can buy fresh, stone-milled, aromatic and coarse buckwheat flours and ni-hachi style soba flour from Anson Mills. I like to blend these varieties to make my own flour mix. You can also find soba-grade flour in Japanese markets such as Cold Mountain from Miyako. Whatever kind you buy, store it in the refrigerator.

Once you have made soba a few times, you can use 100% buckwheat flour instead of the 80% buckwheat-20% wheat mix. For those who are gluten intolerant, substitute tapioca flour for wheat flour in your dough.

Ideas for soba salad

Soba noodles tossed with fresh vegetables and a vinaigrette makes an easy summer salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Soba noodles tossed with fresh vegetables and a vinaigrette makes an easy summer salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

Many Western chefs and food writers incorporate soba into their cooking. Zester Daily contributor Deborah Madison has written an insightful book called “Vegetable Literacy” that will educate you about vegetables, especially the chapter about the knotweed family, which includes buckwheat as well as rhubarb and sorrel. She includes in the book a recipe for a visually stunning and delicious Kale Soba Salad With Silvered Brussels Sprouts and Sesame Dressing. The salad is what initially turned me on to kale, and I frequently serve it at my soba workshops, because it’s always a hit.

Yotam Ottolengi’s cookbook “Plenty” includes a recipe for a sweet and summery Eggplant and Mango Soba Salad, which has become Yotam’s mother’s ultimate cook-to impress fare. Mango and eggplant? Weird, I first thought. But I was wrong. His plentiful use of herbs like cilantro and parsley and use of sweet and lime garlic vinaigrette in soba breaks all cultural barriers. Everyone loves this soba salad, and so do I.

Easy Soba Noodles for Beginners

Fresh soba noodles. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kristin Guy, Dine X Design

Fresh soba noodles. Credit: Copyright 2015 Kristin Guy, Dine X Design

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: Less than 5 minutes

Total time: About 25 minutes

Yield: 2 to 3 servings

Ingredients

12 ounces (350 grams) ni-hachi soba flour (premixed buckwheat flour and wheat flour)

6 ounces (175 grams) boiling water  (45% to 50% of the total weight the flour)

1 cup (125 grams) flour for dusting (use tapioca or cornstarch flour.)

2 gallons water to cook the noodles

Equipment

Digital scale

Mixing spoon

Rolling pin

Knife

Cutting board

Large pot

Strainer

Directions

For making the noodles:

1. Combine the flour and boiling water in a bowl, massaging the mixture, first with a wooden spoon then using both hands, until well combined. Continue to work the dough until it forms a single mass.

2. Transfer the dough from the bowl to a cutting board. Working quickly and using the heels of your hands, continue to knead firmly until a smooth dough forms. (If the dough feels dry, lightly wet the tips of your fingers with more water, brushing them against the surface of the dough and continue kneading until smooth). The process will take about 4 or 5 minutes, and the final dough will be a little soft and smooth but not sticky.

3. Form the dough into a smooth ball.

4. Dust cornstarch or tapioca flour on a large cutting board. Place the dough ball on the board and lightly sprinkle cornstarch or tapioca flour over the top. Using your palm and the heel of your hand, flatten the ball into a disk about a half-inch thick.

5. Use a rolling pin to roll the disk into a rectangle about 1/18-inch thick.

6. Generously dust cornstarch or tapioca flour over half the dough, then fold the undusted half over, like closing a book. (The cornstarch or tapioca flour keeps the dough from sticking together as it is cut.)

7. Generously dust another crosswise half of the dough with cornstarch or tapioca flour and fold in half again.

8. Starting along the short, folded side of the dough, slice it into very thin (about 1/16 of an inch) noodles.

9. Keep the noodles loosely covered with plastic wrap while you boil the water for cooking.

For cooking the noodles:

1. Bring a large pot of water (at least 2 gallons) to a boil over high heat.

2. Gently dust off the excess dusting flour from the noodles by gently tapping them against the cutting board. Drop the noodles into the boiling water.

3. Keep the water boiling vigorously to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Cook the noodles to al dente, about 90 seconds. (Timing will vary depending on the thickness of the noodles. Thicker noodles will need to cook longer.)

4. Remove the noodles to a strainer set in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

5. Prepare a second bowl of ice water and transfer to the second bowl to remove any surface starch and shock the noodles, then drain or strain them.

6. Serve immediately with your favorite salad dressing, dipping sauce or pasta sauce.

Lemon Miso Vinaigrette

Prep time: About 5 minutes

Ingredients

2 teaspoons roasted sesame oil

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon fresh ginger juice

1 tablespoons white miso paste

1/2 teaspoon cane sugar

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Directions

1. Whisk together all the ingredients and blend well.

2. Store in the refrigerator and use as you would any vinaigrette.

Main photo: Soba salad. Credit: Copyright 2015 Sonoko Sakai

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