Thursday, June 9, 2011

soba noodle salad with sweet potatoes and quick-pickled vegetables

yes, i am afraid that is more rhubarb in the above picture. since it's only around for a relatively short time each year, i tend to use it lots when i can get it. this dish is not all about rhubarb, however, and it shows its more savory side here to good effect.

i wanted to make a cold noodle salad and i thought quickly pickling some of the vegetables would add some nice flavors. i cut up four small carrots, half a stalk of rhubarb, and one small spring onion (though you could use whatever onion you have, or even scallions or shallots). i tried to make the carrots and rhubarb pretty thin, since they don't really cook.

then you want to boil some water - maybe 1 1/2 cups or so, add a tablespoon of sugar, a teaspoon or two of black peppercorns, another teaspoon-ish of coriander seeds, and whatever other spices sound good. fennel or mustard seeds would also be nice, i think. also vinegar - i used like 1/3 of a cup or so of rice wine vinegar, but you could use other kinds (though something like balsamic might be weird, cider or white wine vinegar would be good). let the whole thing boil for a minute or so and then pour it over the vegetables. they can just sit there stewing for awhile - you could even make them ahead and put them in the fridge for a few days. it's good to leave them for at least an hour or so, so they get nice and pickley. you can also add more vinegar, if you want them to be more intense.

they would be good in tuna salad or a slaw. but i used them in this soba salad.
soba noodles are made out of buckwheat, which has a distinctive earthy flavor. you could also use other noodles here, but i really like the soba ones. they should have cooking directions on them, so just cook them and then rinse them in cold water and let them dry a little. you don't want them making your sauce all watery.

for the sauce/dressing, i used 1/4 cup tamari (basically like soy sauce), 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar, 1/4 cup (or maybe more like 1/3 - it's to taste) peanut butter (you could also use almond or cashew butter and it would be great), 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon molasses (you could definitely leave this out, but i had it around and i like the dark caramelly thing it adds), juice from 1/2-1 lime, and 1 tablespoon (or so) of sesame oil. i also added some of the pickling liquid - just enough to make it not too salty from the tamari.

then for the rest of the salad ingredients, i used about 2 cups of sugar snap peas that i cut in half diagonally, one jalapeño (or 1/2 or whatever - it's pretty spicy with a whole one), cut as thinly as possible, and two small sweet potatoes.

the sweet potatoes were cut into little 2 inch matchsticks (if matchsticks were thicker and we still used matches for things).
then i cooked them with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until they were browned in spots and cooked through. it took about 6 minutes, and they were still a little al dente. i didn't want them to be too mushy.

it's important to not mess with them too much while they are cooking - just let them sit for a few minutes and brown up a little before stirring them. it's also important not to crowd the pan too much - otherwise they will just kind of steam and won't brown.

then you just mix it all together - the potatoes, the noodles, the dressing, and the (drained) pickled and raw vegetables (this mixing is easiest if you just use your hands, actually), taste it, and adjust whatever flavors need adjusting. this is really just a matter of taste. i also added some fresh mint that i cut into little strips. i think fresh herbs really make this. if you don't have mint, basil (particularly thai basil) and/or cilantro are also good options.

this is a great make-ahead dish that would be welcome at any summer potluck or picnic. it will make all those boring potato salads look like worthless crap.

it could be a side for some kind of simple salmon or chicken thing, or you could get a rotisserie chicken and put some of that in here. you could also add tofu to make it more substantial. the vegetables are changeable as well - it just depends on what you like and have around. i think red bell peppers or tomatoes or green beans would all be great.

this is a refreshing and tasty way to welcome summer. it's also nice since it doesn't require you to turn on your oven.

1/2 stalk rhubarb
4 small or 2 large carrots
1 small onion or 1 bunch scallions or two large shallots
1/3 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 tablespoon sugar

2/3 pack soba noodles
pickled vegetables
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 jalapeño (or other spicy pepper)
2 small or 1 large sweet potato

1/4 cup tamari
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 -1/3 cup peanut, almond or cashew butter
2 teaspoons sugar (or more, to taste)
1 teaspoon molasses (optional)
1/2-1 lime
1 tablespoon sesame oil
pickling liquid (optional) to taste

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