It's something longevity expert Dan Buettner, who discovered the five Blue Zones (places where people regularly live to be over 100 years old in good health), saw first-hand in Okinawa, Japan. In this specific Blue Zone, somen noodles are particularly popular. "Somen are thin, white wheat noodles that people eat with dipping sauce in other parts of Japan. In Okinawa, it is more common to stir-fry them or add them to soup," Buettner says. Here in the States, you can find somen noodles in most grocery stores as well as in specialty Asian markets.
In his new book, The Blue Zones Challenge, Buettner shares a somen noodles recipe that only takes a few minutes and five ingredients to make. Even though you don't need much to make this dish, every single ingredient included is linked to longevity. The standout, according to Buettner? Tofu. "Okoinwans eat about eight times more tofu than Americans do. Coincidence? I doubt it," he says. To his point, according to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, regular soy consumption (including tofu) is linked to a decreased risk of death from certain types of cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. This is especially significant considering that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S.
"The beauty of tofu is that it not only provides whole protein, but more importantly, it can absorb almost any flavor," Buettner says. While many people in Okinawa have mastered the art of tofu cooking, Buettner says a lot of people in the U.S. don't know how to cook or season tofu properly. "Perhaps a simple secret to longevity is learning how to make tofu properly in order to express its most delicious flavor," Buettner says. And you can start with this Okinawa three-minute somen noodles recipe.
The tofu is sauteed with sesame oil for three to four minutes per side. This allows the tofu to really absorb the nutty, earthy, and umami-rich flavor of the sesame oil. Then, cook the somen noodles for two to three minutes. These two core ingredients are combined with chopped garlic chives (which makes the iron in the tofu better absorbed in the body) and a splash of soy sauce.
This recipe is proof that cooking with longevity in mind doesn't have to be complicated, time-consuming, or expensive. It can also be super delicious and comforting. Get the full recipe below, excerpted from Buettner's book.
Okinawa Three-Minute Noodles Recipe
Makes 4 servings
1 lb. somen noodles
2 Tbsp sesame oil, divided
8 oz. firm tofu, drained and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/4 cup chopped garlic chives (or scallions)
Soy sauce, to taste
1. Cook the noodles according to package instructions, for two to three minutes.
2. Drain and mix the noodles with one tablespoon of the sesame oil so they don't stick together.
3. In a large saute pan, heat the remaining one tablespoon of sesame oil over medium-high heat, add the tofu, and cook until it's browned, three to four minutes per side.
4. Add the chives and somen noodles to the pan and mix well.
5. Season to taste with a splash or two of soy sauce.
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