Sesame soba noodles are an all-star packed lunch for my kindergartener, middle schooler, and work-from-home husband alike. It’s got all the hits: springy, nutty soba noodles, a little sweetness, and the perfect trio of soy sauce, sesame seeds, and so much sesame oil.
Despite being a trained chef, packing a not-sad lunch for my family is a drag. This is the recipe I turn to again and again. From starting to zipping up the lunch bags and pushing the kids out the door for school, it takes 15 minutes. If I’m in the headspace to plan, I make it the night before and keep it in the fridge.
3 Reasons Soba Noodles are a Lunchbox Magic Bullet
- The noodles cook in under 5 minutes, which is just enough time to make the dressing. It’s quick—perfect for busy mornings.
- The noodles travel well and don’t get mushy over time. They stay soft and wonderful even after a few hours. I pack them in a food container like this and remind the kids and husband to shake it to redistribute the dressing before eating.
- In my opinion, soba noodles, like in this recipe, are better served cold or at room temperature than hot. The noodles will be cold or at ambient temperature when you pack them and that’s the perfect temperature for enjoying them.
Cover the pot of water with a lid. It’ll come up to a boil faster!
What Are Soba Noodles?
Soba means “buckwheat” in Japanese. The noodles are made with buckwheat flour and likely with wheat flour added. Though difficult to source in the U.S. some are made with 100% buckwheat flour—they’ll be labeled juwari soba—which makes them gluten-free. Soba noodles have a robust toasty, nutty flavor, and soft, chewy, and elastic texture.
Where to Buy Soba Noodles
Most big box stores now carry soba noodles. In Korean, Japanese, or Chinese markets they may be labeled as soba noodles, thin buckwheat noodles, zaru soba, or maemilmyeon. I like the Sukina brand, but you can’t go wrong with any brand.
If the package lists wheat flour before buckwheat flour, there is a good chance you’ll be eating soba with mostly wheat flour. Though still tasty, they tend to get mushier and gummier than mainly-buckwheat noodles.
Soba Noodles: Cooking Tips
- Unlike most dry store-bought pastas or noodles, soba noodles are salted. This means you do not need to salt the water they cook in.
- The noodles will stick to each other and to the bottom of the pot. Stir them frequently as they cook.
- Most package instructions will tell you to cook the soba for 6 to 8 minutes, sometimes longer. Don’t do this! I’ve tried a dozen brands of soba noodles and 99.99% are perfectly cooked in 4 to 4 1/2 minutes. Check for doneness at the 4-minute mark. Perfectly cooked soba noodles are springy and soft without a hard bit.
- Rinse the cooked noodles under cold running water. This not only stops the noodles from cooking, it also rinses off some of the starch so that they don’t stick to each other. You may have been told to never rinse pasta, but that truism does not apply to soba noodles.
Make It a Meal
Most times I serve the noodles as is because most times I just need to feed my people within 15 minutes. That doesn’t mean you can’t have more fun.
Add a protein:
- Chicken torn into strips and tossed it with little toasted sesame oil.
- Just-cooked salmon as a main or bite-sized leftovers tossed with the noodles.
- This super easy crispy tofu.
- A sweet, savory, and gingery shrimp.
- A perfectly fried egg.
- Thawed frozen edamame or sweet peas.
- Very thinly sliced radishes, celery, bell peppers, cabbage, or sweet onion.
- Leftover roasted broccoli, fennel, or cauliflower.
- A handful of arugula, basil leaves, chopped cilantro, baby spinach, watercress, micro greens, or spring mix.
Hooked On Soba Noodles
Sesame Soba Noodles
If using low-sodium soy sauce, the dressing may need 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Taste it first without the salt and add as needed.
Need to feed more than four? Double or triple the ingredients. Leftovers stay wonderful in the fridge for up to 3 days.
If your soba noodles come in bundles, 3 bundles total about the 9 ounces you'll need.
For the noodles
9 ounces dry soba noodles (see Recipe Note)
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons maple syrup or sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds (black or white)
2 green onions, roots trimmed and finely chopped
1 clove garlic, grated with a Microplane
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Thinly sliced radishes
Any type of micro greens
Cook the soba noodles:
Fill a large pot with about 3 quarts of water and set it over high heat. You don’t need to salt the water. Cover the pot with a lid if you’re hangry and need it to boil faster.
When it comes up to a boil, add the soba noodles and cook for 4 minutes, stirring frequently with a large fork so that they don’t stick to each other or to the bottom of the pot.
Drain the noodles into a colander set in the sink and immediately rinse it with cold running water until the noodles feel cool to the touch. Leave the colander in the sink to give the noodles a chance to drain well.
Meanwhile, make the dressing:
In a large bowl, add the sesame oil, soy sauce, maple syrup, lemon juice, sesame seeds, green onions, garlic, and black pepper. Whisk well with a fork until combined.
I often rinse out the same pot used to cook the noodles and make the dressing in it.
Dress the noodles:
Tap the colander in the sink forcefully a few times to get rid of as much water as possible. Tip the noodles on top of the dressing and use the fork to toss until evenly coated. Serve at room temperature or chilled after you pop it into the fridge until ready to serve.
Leftovers taste even better since the noodles get a chance to soak up the dressing without getting mushy. It can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. I do not recommend freezing it.
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|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 16g||20%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||11%|
|Total Carbohydrate 23g||8%|
|Dietary Fiber 1g||3%|
|Total Sugars 6g|
|Vitamin C 5mg||23%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|