Simple Cold Soba Noodle Salad

Salad bowl full of simple cold soba noodle salad with cilantro, cucumber, and chilies.

I always pine for the summer during colder months, but I also always realize almost immediately that I’m not very good at dealing with the heat. In Vancouver very few people have air conditioning in their apartments so when the first 30 degree day hits I can feel myself melting despite sitting in front of a floor fan in a bathing suit. This past Sunday was exactly that kind of day and I can’t say I felt any real inclination to turn my oven on at all. Instead, I read recipes for cold noodle salads and day dreamed about slurping soba noodles in a cool living room. One out of two isn’t bad at all and with about 20 minutes of prep time my noodle fantasies became reality. The nice thing about cold noodle salads is that they’re largely composed of ingredients you might already have in your pantry, and the things you might not have on hand can readily be switched out to accommodate. I love a really tangy and spicy dressing so I’ve included lots of acidity and heat in this recipe, feel free to tone down (or tone up!) if you’re so inclined. You can add any other crunchy vegetables you feel like, too. For example, thinly sliced carrots, daikon, slivered bok choy, mung bean sprouts, and fresh mint are all happy additions to this salad. Poached chicken or shrimp is also ideal if you want to make this a complete meal and can be mixed right in or added when you’re ready to serve the salad.

simple cold soba noodle salad:

1 package soba noodles

1 + 2 Tbsp. dark sesame oil

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

Juice of 2 limes

2 Tbsp. mirin or sherry

1-2 Tbsp. grated ginger or ginger from a jar

1-2 Tbsp. sambal oelek

1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 Tbsp. black sesame seeds

2 bunches of scallions, both the white and green parts sliced thin

1 English cucumber, sliced into very thin quarter moons

1 big handful of cilantro, loosely torn

  1. Cook the soba noodles in boiling water for about 5 minutes, or according to package directions. Drain the soba noodles and rinse with cold water to prevent them from cooking any further. Place the noodles into a salad bowl and drizzle with 1 Tbsp. of the sesame oil, using your hands to coat the noodles evenly (this will prevent them from sticking together). Transfer the bowl to the fridge and allow the noodles to get cold.
  2. While the soba noodles are cooling, whisk together the rest of the sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice, mirin or sherry, ginger, sambal oelek, rice wine vinegar, garlic, and sesame seeds. Do a taste test and adjust the seasonings accordingly.
  3. Once the soba noodles are completely cool toss in the dressing, scallions, cucumber, and cilantro. Again, use your hands to fully incorporate all of the ingredients and evenly coat with the dressing. Serve immediately or over the next few days, for a more filling option add shrimp or shredded chicken.

I’m filling my ears with beauty lately, I think it’s all the walking I’ve been doing. There’s something so completely reassuring about an outer world inhabited inwardly with gorgeous sound. It’s nice, too, listening to this when I’m cooking something simple like soba noodle salad on a hot day. It’s like having a tiny place all to myself where I can create worlds and worlds of new flavour, but quietly (if that makes sense). I like feeling cocooned in music and Aphex Twin is the surest way to feel wrapped up in the softest threads (at least if it’s this Aphex Twin, other Aphex Twin is like being electrically jolted out of safety).

Aphex Twin – Xtal

Sweet Pepper Slaw with Fresh Herbs

Sweet Pepper Slaw

I spent my Easter weekend with good friends, my second family in lots of ways. All of us are from Ontario and away from our immediate families for the holiday, so it’s always nice to get together for way too many cocktails and an impressive spread of food. This year we had some incredible bacon and spinach stuffed mushrooms, green peppers stuffed with spiced rice, macaroni and cheese, strawberry Eton mess, and this sweet pepper slaw with fresh herbs. When serving such a rich selection of food it’s always nice to have something light on the menu and this colourful salad was a bright addition the creaminess of the pasta and stuffed mushrooms. Use any singular fresh herb or combination you’d like, I’ve used my favourite fresh basil, cilantro, mint, and parsley in this version of the recipe. A mandolin would be useful for cutting the peppers, but a sharp chef’s knife will work perfectly well, albeit more slowly.

sweet pepper slaw with fresh herbs:

5 large sweet peppers of various colours, cut into very thin strips

1 small cucumber, sliced into very thin half-moons and then drained on paper towel

4 scallions, sliced very thin

3 cups of torn spinach, romaine lettuce, baby kale, or bok choy (or a combination)

Several handfuls of fresh herbs (such as mint, cilantro, parsley, or basil), loosely torn so that they resemble delicate salad greens

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. sherry or red wine vinegar

1 tsp. caster sugar, honey, or maple syrup

1 tsp. kosher salt

Generous amount of freshly cracked pepper

Toss all of the salad peppers and greens together in a large bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, sherry vinegar, sweetener of your choice, salt, and pepper in a measuring cup, pour over the salad and toss to coat. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving with additional fresh herbs scattered over top.

Speaking of friends from home, this album was my best friend at one point in my life about 13 years ago. It’s so strange listening to something that was so important to me at a totally different time in my life. I listened to Change while I was riding my bike along the Springbank park bike path, I listened to it during a particularly dark winter in my early twenties, and I listened to it over and over again in my first apartment during freshman year of university.

The Dismemberment Plan – Sentimental Man

 

Mango and Black Bean Quinoa Salad

Ease of transportation: the deciding factor in my culinary choices lately. I can truthfully testify that this salad is good on a sandy Lake Huron beach with pane glass water and a sunset, on the couch watching The West Wing with your best friend, at the break table on your lunch on a Wednesday at work, and under a tree at Kits Beach reading a Sherlock Holmes anthology. The original recipe was posted on the Vancouver based blog Sweet on Veg, I have since made a few alterations but this is always the case with anything I’m cooking. I have added grape tomatoes, a jalapeño pepper, lime juice, and some fresh parsley; this is a very forgiving recipe and I’ve seen recipes where people add cumin, fresh ginger, and orange juice so I would encourage further experimentation after you make it for the first time.  I like it cold but it’s also excellent at room temperature; either way, the quinoa needs to be cooled down completely and fluffed with a fork before adding the rest of the ingredients or the dressing won’t absorb properly. In addition, the mango used shouldn’t be so extremely ripe that it’s hard to cut into a somewhat fine dice. Mango and Black Bean Quinoa Salad is especially delicious when served with Spicy Tomato Soup, I make the recipe as instructed but I don’t strain it and I serve it chilled with pieces of cucumber as a garnish.

mango and black bean quinoa salad:

1 cup of quinoa

1 not-too-ripe mango, diced into small pieces

1 1/2 cups of cooked black beans (or other small bean)

1 red pepper, diced

About a half a cup of grape tomatoes, halved

1 bunch of scallions, both the white and green part

1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced finely

About a cup of cilantro, cut or snipped into small pieces

About a half a cup of flat-leaf parsley, cut or snipped into small pieces

2 Tbsp. of vegetable oil

3-4 Tbsp. of red wine vinegar

The juice of 1 lime

Salt, to taste

1. In a lidded pot bring 2 cups of water to boil, add the quinoa and bring the heat down to low, cover and let steam for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to sit for another 15 minutes, then take off the lid and fluff with a fork. Allow to cool completely. (I sometimes make the quinoa the night before or in the morning and then use it for the salad at dinner time.)

2. Combine all of the fruits and vegetables in a large salad bowl and add the cooled quinoa, vegetable oil, red wine vinegar, lime juice, and salt to taste. Stir gently and serve for any portable lunches you plan on consuming in the next week.

This is one magical song performed by one magical band. I know the word magical is funny as a descriptor but I honestly believe that Sigur Rós deserves the title. This song makes me want to go to the Yukon and see the Northern Lights, it makes me think of cobalt 5:30 AM snow, and of driving to the airport watching the neon sun rise over a grey horizon. I’ve been feeling so inspired and happy this past month and thus my music choices have taken on corresponding sentiments.

Sigur Rós – Myrkur

Thai-Style (sort of) Chicken Noodle Soup

I will be the first to admit that this particular soup and its ingredients are not strictly Thai-influenced; I call this soup “Thai-Style” from the original recipe, which was was more of a Thai soup that happened to have chicken and noodles (rice noodles, in fact.) I have since produced many versions of the original, eventually evolving to the version shown here. This is a superb remedy for colds and stuffy sinuses, the ginger, garlic, and hot chile paste always result in cleared airways and the steaming broth feels heavenly on a sore throat. I poached the chicken before adding it to the soup because I find that there is little opportunity for the stock to get cloudy if the chicken has been cooked prior to being added to the soup. I like to pile cilantro and chopped scallions as a garnish, but I realize there’s quite a divide between lovers and haters of cilantro so feel free to leave that part out.

THAI-STYLE (SORT OF) CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP:

2 cups of cooked chicken meat, I poached two full chicken breasts with the bone and then flaked it with a fork once the meat had cooled

2 Tbsp. canola oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 inches of fresh ginger root, minced

1 stalk of lemongrass, split down the middle and bruised with a heavy knife

1 lime rind, zested

The juice of 1 lime

1 Tbsp. garlic-chile paste

1 Tbsp. cumin powder

1/4 tsp. turmeric

1 tsp. ground coriander

2 stalks of celery, sliced into half moons

2 large carrots, sliced into half moons

5 cups of chicken stock

100 g of thin egg noodles

2 cups of spinach

2 scallions, minced

1/2 cup of cilantro, cut loosely with scissors

1. Heat the canola over medium heat for 2 minutes before adding the garlic, bruised lemongrass stalk, and ginger. Sauté for 30 seconds before adding the carrots and celery, cooking for another moment longer. Add the spices and heat through for 1 minute before adding the stock, lime juice and rind, and hot chile paste.

2. Bring the soup to a rolling boil and allow to simmer for 15 minutes at which point the chicken and noodles should be added. Cook for 1 minute and add the spinach, making sure to stir and allow for the spinach to wilt into the soup.

3. Remove the lemongrass stalk before serving. Mound up the chopped scallions and cilantro to form a beautiful green garnish atop the soup; at this point I usually add some extra heat with some excess hot chile paste mixed into the soup (this isn’t necessary, I just love incredibly spicy food.)

The Field Mice are a band I wish I could see more than almost any other because they’re often such a sad band but will sometimes break out a really poppy or dancey song, they make me want to go to a concert and just sway by myself and feel introspective. Have you ever been to a concert by yourself? In some ways it’s my favourite way to see music because I always feel so free when I’m by myself in a large crowd. For now I can listen to them in my kitchen while I make soup and dance by myself. And to anyone who is reading this post: Happy Valentine’s Day! I will follow up with a post about the food I’m making tonight over the next couple of days, let’s just say it involves homemade ice cream, risotto, and a caramelized balsamic salad!

The Field Mice – It Isn’t Forever