Nutty Noodles

Photo of spaghetti with walnut wauce
This is what the dish looks like when made with whole wheat spaghetti instead of soba noodles

These savory noodles are deeply satisfying, even though they are made from only five ingredients. Walnuts give them a deep autumnal flavor that feels just right for the season, and although they’re a very traditional Japanese dish, everybody loves them. Best eaten at room temperature, they perfectly bridge the gap from summer into fall.

Noodles with Walnut Sauce

Serves 4


1 c. (237 ml) soy sauce

1/4 c. (60 ml) mirin (sweet cooking sake)

1/2 c. (50 g) sugar

1-1/3 c. (316 ml) dashi broth (or use 1 t. (3 g) instant dashi granules* in 1-1/3 c. hot water)

1/2 c. (57 g) shelled walnuts

1 pkg. Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles or whole wheat spaghetti noodles. (One bundle of soba per person or 1/4 package of spaghetti noodles per person.)

Put mirin in a small saucepan and boil for a minute or two, until you can’t smell alcohol anymore. Stir in the sugar and keep stirring until it dissolves.

Photo of syrup boiling in saucepan
It will start out cloudy and turn clear, like a syrup.

Add the soy sauce and bring it almost to a boil.

Photo of walnut sauce boiling in saucepan
When there are bubbles around the edge and swirling in the middle, it’s time to take it off the stove.

Let cool to room temperature.

Add 6 T. (180 ml) of this mixture to the cooled dashi broth.**

Grind the walnuts until they resemble cornmeal (not peanut butter).

Photo of ground walnuts in food processor
The easiest way to do this is with a food processor…
Photos of walnuts being ground in Japanese suribachi
…or you can do it the traditional way, by grinding it in a little clay dish called a suribachi. In Japanese restaurants, they give you a tiny one like these and you grind your own nuts at the table. I bought these on Kappabashi Street the last time I was in Tokyo, powerless to resist because TINY LOG PESTLES

Add the sauce to the ground nuts a little at a time until the sauce is the consistency you want. If you’re dipping the noodles, make it a little thinner; if you’re tossing them together before serving them, leave it a little thicker.

Cook the noodles according to the package instructions, adding a minute of time to the spaghetti recommendation or 30 seconds for soba. I’m a die-hard al dente pasta eater, but in this case, softer noodles give a more authentic experience.

Photo of soba package with cooking times
My soba package recommends cooking for 4 minutes if serving hot, but 4-1/2 minutes if serving cold

Rinse the noodles well under cold water to remove the extra starch that makes them stick together.

Photo of cooked spaghetti being rinsed in colander
Rinse the noodles really well in cold water, swishing them around with your hand so they don’t clump. Then shake them in the colander to get rid of extra water. You don’t want the sauce to become watered down when you toss the noodles.

Toss noodles with sauce and top with sliced green onions.

Or serve out the plain noodles individually, with a bowl of dipping sauce on the side.

Photo of chopsticks dipping soba in walnut sauce
This is the way they’re traditionally served in Japan, but they taste just as good with a fork!

*You can buy instant Hon-Dashi at Asian markets or online

Photo of Hon-dashi instant dashi granules
Hon-Dashi granules

**This concoction is not just the basic component of Nutty Noodle sauce, but is the basic building block of many Japanese soups. It will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for up to a year, ready to be used at a moment’s notice for a quick & delicious meal or to add flavor to your rice cooking water.

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Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly Japanagram newsletter, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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