Ah, summer. Long days and balmy evenings… Picnics in the park and dodging irate ibises… Barbies in the backyard while being eaten alive by gigantuan mosquitoes… Really, what’s not to love?
Well one thing I do love about summer (actually there’s plenty) is a salad, but not the sort where you chuck a few leaves in a bowl and walk away still hungry. While warmer weather doesn’t necessarily make you want to tuck into a roast dinner, it doesn’t mean your appetite completely fades out of existence. If anything, you can work up more of an appetite in summer, because the weather makes you want to get out and about and do things, rather than stay home wrapped in a doona watching TV.
This cold soba noodle salad comes under the category of ‘light yet substantial’ – something you can eat as a side dish with a piece of fish or tofu, or eat on its own for a lunch on the go. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat (which just sounds healthy, doesn’t it?), which make them a lot more nutritious than some of its empty-carb noodle friends. And let’s face it, there’s nothing like a few beach trips to make even the biggest junk food worshippers suddenly take an interest in healthy eating, right?
Soba noodles are incredibly fast and easy to cook – they’re literally done in a matter of minutes. The one thing to look out for is not over-cooking them, particularly with a salad when you’re leaving them to cool down, as they’ll continue to cook while they’re warm. To avoid gluggy noodles, follow the cooking instructions on the packet, then when they’re done, take them out of the boiling water and plunge them in an ice bath. Make sure you drain them well afterwards or the dressing won’t stick to them, but the ice should halt the cooking process in its tracks.
One thing that was a revelation to me was using tahini in Japanese/Asian cooking. For years I’d seen reference to Japanese sesame paste for similar salads, but as I’d never seen it for sale anywhere, I evolved my own little dressing with more of a tart, rice vinegar taste. Granted, I’m sure I could’ve probably found it in a specialist Asian grocery, but to be honest I’d never cared that much about it. But then a few weeks ago I saw a recipe for another Japanese dish, which suggested using tahini instead of this sesame paste. Well who’d a thunk it?! I tried it in that dish and it worked well, so I thought I’d tweak my usual dressing combo into something a little creamier. The result was pretty darn good – it has that nutty, savoury creaminess you get in some of those soba salads in Japanese restaurants.
As I said, this one works well as a side dish to some sort of protein. This time around I served it with some salmon baked with soy, sweet chilli sauce, mirin, garlic and ginger, with a bit of fresh chilli on top. Tofu goes really nicely with it, but if you want to make the salad the hero, then you could always pad it out with a big handful of fresh coriander and maybe some chopped shallot, too.
Cold Soba Noodle Salad
- 1 packet (270g) soba noodles
- 1 large handful snow peas, julienned
- 1/2 large cucumber – halve again, then cut into small batons
- 1/4 green capsicum – sliced finely lengthways
- 1 tbsp mirin
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp tahini
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- Toasted black sesame seeds, to serve
- Cook soba noodles as per packet instructions, then refresh in ice water as per instructions above. Leave to drain well in a colander (pat with a paper towel if still too wet).
- Add snow peas, cucumber and capsicum to cooled noodles, stir to combine.
- Combine remaining ingredients (except for toasted sesame seeds) in a bowl and whisk until well mixed.
- Pour dressing on noodles and vegetables, stir well, then top with black sesame seeds to serve.