Simple dishes can seem so exotic when you experiment with unfamiliar pantry staples.

Now and then, I make an effort to shop at an Asian grocery store and pick up a new set of pantry staples. Once you have the basics in house, you can whip up a number of easy, weeknight meals. Simple dishes with Asian flare always seem a more exotic. I suppose it’s because the ingredients aren’t as familiar as those that I grew up with. A bowl of nearly plain spaghetti with butter and parmesan feels pedestrian but a bowl of soba noodles? Fancy.

My first encounter with soba noodles was inspired by Heidi Swanson’s  first cookbook, Supernatural Cooking. Heidi’s recipes often push me to seek out unfamiliar ingredients. Her creations are usually not too difficult and combine flavors in ways that are new to me and outside of my usual repertoire. Once I have the ingredient in my pantry, the experimentation begins, making adjustments and adding my own touches.

Her wheat berry salad launched a wheat berry obsession that went on for weeks as I tossed different roasted and fresh vegetables, nuts, seeds and cheeses into the mix finding favorite combinations. With soba, I haven’t ventured too far from basic recipes as I find that the nutty buckwheat noodles have such a pleasing flavor, I don’t want to overpower it.

This is one of my favorite, simple meals that truly is a cinch when you have all the right groceries.

Simple Soba Noodles with Tofu and Black Sesame Seeds

Serves 4
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon siracha
Sea salt
12 ounces soba noodles
12 ounces extra-firm tofu
Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup black sesame seeds

Stir together the sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil,  rice vinegar, and siracha. Adjust siracha if you want it spicier or less spicy.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a large pinch of salt to the water. Add the soba noodles, and cook according to the package instructions until tender.

While the noodles are cooking, drain the tofu, pat it dry, and cut into matchstick shapes. Season the tofu with a pinch of salt. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add about a tablespoon of olive oil. Salute the tofu for a few minutes on each side until browned.

Toss the soba noodles with the sauce. Add the tofu and sprinkle with black sesame seeds.

Serves 4.