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

Tofu with Chili SunButter Sauce

No-peanut sauce

Regrettably, I am very allergic to peanuts and all things containing them. This means that I have never known the (supposed) joys of peanut butter, peanut butter cookies, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and any kind of Asian peanut sauce with noodles. Being slightly more enamoured with dinner over dessert I have found the latter to be the most disappointing and as I can’t even remain in a room containing peanuts for very long I am left to stare at these spicy sweet dishes on the pages of cookbooks and magazines. I’ve had a jar of SunButter, “faux” peanut butter made with sunflower seeds, in my fridge leftover from sensitive house guests a few months back and I’d been ignoring it until last week when I rediscovered a particularly enticing recipe from the cookbook Great Vegetarian Food released by the Australian Women’s Weekly in Australia. Excitedly, I prepared the recipe using SunButter instead of real peanut butter and with a few minor adjustments (such as omitting the sugar as SunButter is already sweetened) I was able to prepare and eat my first bowl of imitation spicy peanut sauce with noodles and tofu. Ian assured me that the taste was “really close” to the real thing and since I’ll never be able to eat the real thing this is completely authentic in taste for me and anyone else unable to eat peanuts or nuts in general.

tofu with chili sunbutter sauce:

2 Tbsp. canola oil

1 package of extra firm tofu, drained and cubed

1 red pepper, cut into thin strips

1 small head of broccoli, cut into small pieces

1 small bunch of asparagus, cut into 1-inch long chunks

3 cups of spinach, washed and dried

3 cloves of garlic, minced

3 red Thai chilis, minced

2 tsp. sambal oelek

1/4 cup of SunButter or other peanut butter substitute (if unsweetened add 2 tsp. of sugar to the sauce)

1 Tbsp. rice wine

1 Tbsp. hoisin sauce

1 Tbsp. soy sauce

1 Tbsp. mild sweet chili sauce

3/4 cup of water

1/3 cup of roasted pepitas

4 scallions, chopped

Generous handful of chopped cilantro

Lime wedges

Soba noodles, rice noodles or whole wheat spaghettini, cooked according to package directions

1. Combine the sambael oelek, SunButter, rice wine, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, mild chili sauce and water in a blender, blitz until smooth and set aside.

2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Dry fry the tofu by placing in the skillet with no oil and cooking for a few minutes on each side until brown, this will give a wonderful chewy texture to the tofu. Remove with tongs to a nearby plate and set aside.

3. Heat the canola oil in the same skillet and add the minced garlic and Thai chilis, cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add the vegetables and stir-fry until crisp tender adding the spinach in the last minute of cooking.

4. Stir in the SunButter sauce and briefly heat through, the sauce will bubble and thicken quickly as soon as it is exposed to heat. Take the skillet off of the heat and add the noodles of your choice, scallions, roasted pepitas and cilantro. Serve with additional cilantro scattered on top and a lime wedge alongside an almost freezing bottle of Chinese beer.

I love music that sounds lazy. By that I mean music that sounds lazy not in effort but in mood, it’s so much easier to become and then remain relaxed when your soundtrack extrapolates on this sentiment. BrightBlack Morning Light is the answer my lazy music prayers, it’s smooth and dark and feels half-asleep moody continuously as each albums steadily plays as I cook, eat and just lie on my couch in the slowly receding almost-summer dusk.

BrightBlack Morning Light – Everybody Daylight

Easy Green Curry

This is one easy green curry to put together for a meal that is light tasting yet voluptuous with coconut milk and generous amounts of both lemon and lime zest to boost and complement the lovely green of the vegetables. I chose the vegetables based on produce prices this morning; other choices could include zucchini, peas, broccoli, other types of Chinese cabbage, and green beans. I’ve made this green curry with jasmine rice and it’s equally delicious, but rice noodles can simply be soaked in room temperature water for an hour or so before consuming and I realize that many people are experiencing hot weather that doesn’t exactly inspire additional sources of heat. Also, while on the subject of heat, if you prefer a spicier green curry add a minced green chili to the coconut milk with the stock and aromatics.

green curry:

1 400 mL can of coconut milk

2 Tbsp. green curry paste

2 Tbsp. fish sauce or soy sauce

1 tsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger root

1 1/2 cups of vegetable stock

Zest of one lime and one lemon

1 medium-sized bunch of asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 bunch of scallions, the whites and the greens cut into 1-inch pieces

6 bunches of baby bok choy

The juice of 1-2 limes

Cilantro, roughly torn for garnish

Rice noodles, cooked according to package directions and rinsed under cold water

1. In a medium-sized saucepan whisk together a small amount of the coconut milk with the curry paste over medium-high heat; allow to boil gently for a few minutes before adding the rest of the coconut milk.

2. Add the fish oil, vegetable stock, ginger root, sugar, lemon and lime zest to the coconut milk and curry paste mixture and bring to a slow boil for 3-5 minutes. Stir in the asparagus, scallions, and bok choy and cook for 3-4 minutes – they really should remain slightly crispy when being served.

3. Stir in the lime juice and serve over rice noodles with a generous garnish of cilantro.

The American Analog Set has been a constant for me throughout the end of high school and my entire university career. I have the strongest memories of walking around in the rain on campus, looking at the autumn-orange trees against the black dome of my umbrella, feeling slightly more secure in surroundings that often left me feeling invisible. I think of this music as comforting and constant and somewhat sexy, every time I put it on I remember something about why I love it and why it’s important. Tonight I was cooking and I wanted the little pieces of belonging that have always come from the music that I grew into my own self with.

American Analog Set – Gone to Earth

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