6 articles Articles posted in salad

3 Noodle Salads: Vietnamese Bún, Japanese Chilled Soba, Shaanxi Liang Pi


I mentioned previously that my default lunch during the cooler months of the year is a hot, steaming bowl of noodle soup (see our variations on quick noodle soups here). Similarly, during the warmer months of the year, I default to cold noodle salads. (Well, actually, I eat all of these interchangeably, not always corresponding to outside temperatures. :) Most of the time, what I end up making is a simple Vietnamese vermicelli bowl with whatever I happen to have in the fridge. I like to bulk the bowl up with vegetables, so that there’s at least as much lettuce as noodles, resulting in something that actually is more salad-like.

Lately, I’ve been trying to branch out a bit to try other kinds of noodle salads. From our recent travels to Japan, I wanted to try a cold soba dish. And living in Beijing has also introduced me to one of my favorite Beijing breakfasts, liang pi, or cold noodles (literally “cold skin”) originating from the province of Shaanxi.

Here I wanted to share recipes for these three noodle salads, in hopes that you might have a chance to try one of them before the summer is over. These are all flexible recipes, a springboard for whatever variations you can imagine. Because I usually make noodle salads as a quick lunch, I often don’t bother to add meat or protein unless I have leftovers in the fridge I can toss in. But I’ve made some suggestions below if you wanted to add it. The recipes for both the noodle bowls and the dressings below are for 2 servings, but I actually like to make a large batch of dressing and store it in a mason jar to use throughout the week, so if you intend to do that, please remember to increase the ingredient amounts accordingly. Lastly, I eat these salads more at room temperature, but if you prefer them actually cold, then chill the noodles in a tub of ice water before draining and putting into a bowl. The noodles taste best fresh and tend to harden if refrigerated (like cold rice). But the dressings can be chilled in the refrigerator prior to serving.

Vietnamese Vermicelli Salad Bowl (Bún)
Serves 2

To make this more of a salad, you’ll want to decrease the amount of noodles and increase the amount of vegetables listed. I also like to add some kind of fruit to my vermicelli bowl, for a bit of sweetness, so I’ve included that in the recipe below. Favorites include slices of fresh pineapple, strips of mango, or slices of starfruit. And, of course, you can also top your vermicelli bowl with grilled meat of any kind, like chargrilled pork, lemongrass beef, shrimp, or chicken. Crispy Vietnamese spring rolls also make a good topping. :) But, really, whatever leftovers you have in the fridge (rotisserie chicken perhaps?) will work. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t skip the fried shallots and crushed roasted peanuts on top for that extra bit of smoky flavor.

Noodle Bowl:
5 oz dried vermicelli noodles
2 large lettuce leaves
2-inch piece each of cucumber and carrot, julienned into thin strips
2 radishes, julienned into thin strips
handful Vietnamese herbs (such as mint, Vietnamese coriander, fish mint, etc.)
10 slices of pineapple, starfruit, or mango
handful beansprouts
2 tsp fried shallots (store-bought or homemade)
2 tsp crushed roasted peanuts

Fish Sauce Dressing (nuoc mam cham):
1 garlic
1 Thai bird chili
2 Tbsp raw cane sugar
2 Tbsp lime juice or vinegar
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1/2 cup water

1. Boil a pot of water and add the dried vermicelli noodles. Cook for about 5 minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse the noodles under cold running water until the water runs clear and all the starch has been washed away. Drain well.

2. To make the dressing, pound garlic, chili, and sugar into a paste with a mortar and pestle (the sugar helps create friction as you pound). You could also just mince the garlic and chili with a knife, but I recommend pounding to release all the juices and flavor. Add lime juice or vinegar, and scrape the sides of the mortar to release the paste. Pour all this into a jar, and add fish sauce and water. This will keep in the fridge for about a week. If you want the sauce to keep longer (up to a month), omit the garlic, chili, and lime juice, and add them just before use.

3. Line the bottom of two bowls with the shredded lettuce. Add the noodles. (If the noodles have started clumping together, you can loosen them in a bowl of cold water, then drain well.) Then top the noodles with the cucumber, carrot, radish, fruit, beansprouts, and herbs. Lastly, sprinkle fried shallots and crushed roasted peanuts on top.

4.  Serve the noodles with the sauce on the side. To eat, drizzle sauce over the bowl and toss lightly.

Japanese Chilled Buckwheat Noodles (Soba)
Adapted from Elizabeth Andoh’s Washoku and Takashi Yagihashi’s Takashi’s Noodles
Serves 2

Individual serving-size katsuobushi flakes are really convenient for this recipe. As a shortcut, you can use store-bought ponzu sauce as the dressing here, but if you have time, I do recommend the homemade ponzu below from Washoku, which is like dashi with soy sauce, sugar, and citrus juice (if you already have dashi on hand, then simply add the soy sauce, sugar, and citrus juice to a jar and shake). For added protein, try a raw quail’s egg (or raw egg yolk), which was part of the original recipe from Takashi’s Noodles.

Noodle Bowl:
6 oz soba (buckwheat noodles)
3-inch piece daikon, peeled and grated to yield about 1/2 cup
1 scallion, cut into 2-inch pieces and thinly sliced lengthwise
2 small (snack-size) sheets of roasted nori, cut into thin slivers with scissors
1 (0.1 oz) individual packet katsuobushi flakes
2 shiso leaves, cut into thin ribbons (chiffonade)

2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup water
2 square inches kombu
1 (0.1 oz) individual packet katsuobushi flakes
2 Tbsp fresh lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice
1/4 tsp grated lemon zest (optional)

1. Boil a pot of water and add the soba noodles according to the package directions. (If using fresh noodles, cook for about 1 minute. If using dried, cook for 4-5 minutes. In both cases, you want it just al dente.) Rinse the noodles under cold running water until the water runs clear and all the starch has been washed away. Drain well.

2. Divide the noodles among 2 bowls. On top of the noodles, add small mounds of the grated daikon, sliced scallions, shredded nori, and katsuobushi flakes.

3. To make the dressing, combine the soy sauce, sugar, water, and kombu in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and add the katsuobushi flakes. Cover the saucepan, and let it stand or 2 minutes. Strain through a fine-meshed sieve into a jar. Add the citrus juice and (if using) lemon zest. Sauce will keep in refrigerator for 1 month.

4. Serve the noodles with the sauce on the side. To eat, drizzle sauce over the bowl and toss lightly.

Shaanxi Sesame Cold Noodles (Liang Pi)
Serves 2

There are different versions of this dish, and this recipe is based off the version I get from a local street vendor just down the street from where I live. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that I got the noodles and wheat gluten from the vendor for the purposes of recreating this here — it was just a lot easier than tracking the ingredients down around town!) There are also different versions of the liang pi noodles themselves, but I find that the versions I eat in Beijing are quite similar to Cantonese ho fun, so that is what I suggest using in this recipe (ho fun is also what our family uses to make Vietnamese banh uot, which I find to be very similar to liang pi!). To make this more salad-like, decrease the amount of noodles and increase the amount of cucumber listed here. That’s actually how our street vendor serves this dish, with equal parts cucumber and noodles.

This dish traditionally involves a baked spongey wheat gluten known as kao fu or bran puff. It is similar in texture to tofu that has been frozen and then defrosted, which takes on a spongey consistency. Fried tofu puffs are also similar, but fried tofu probably doesn’t taste very good cold. Wheat gluten may be sold along with tofu at Asian grocery stores, but if you can’t find it you can substitute frozen-then-defrosted regular tofu or a medium-firm regular tofu.

Noodle Bowl:
12oz fresh wide rice noodles (ho fun – you can these precut as noodles or in sheets you can cut yourself)
7 oz spongey wheat gluten or tofu, cut into bite-size cubes
1/2 English cucumber
1/4 cup bean sprouts
2 Tbsp cilantro leaves

Sesame Dressing:
2 Tbsp sesame paste (or Tahini)
4 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
dried chili flakes and chili oil, optional

1. Peel the rice noodles (or if you bought rice noodle sheets, cut them into wide noodle strips, then peel). Divide the peeled noodles among two bowls, sprinkle a bit of water over the noodles, and microwave each bowl for about 1 minute or until the noodles are soft and a bit translucent. (You can also steam the rice noodles in a wok or a bamboo steamer if you wish.) Let noodles cool.

2. To make the sesame dressing, combine all the dressing ingredients in a bowl and stir. [Update: Depending on how dense your sesame paste is, if the sauce ends up too thick you can thin it out with a bit of water.]

3. Top each bowl of noodles with the wheat gluten or tofu, julienned cucumber, bean sprouts, and cilantro leaves.

4. Serve the noodles with the sauce on the side. To eat, drizzle sauce over the noodles and toss lightly.

Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad with Shrimp and Pork Belly (Goi Du Du)

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This green papaya salad is a great warm-weather dish with its crunchy, cool papaya, plenty of fresh herbs, shrimp, and pork. In fact, the first time I had this dish was at a quiet, riverside hut with my cousin in Vietnam. We were at a daytime retreat center just about a half hour outside of the city. Each hut came with a beautiful view, a table, chairs, and the best part, hammocks! They had a full menu, so you could order everything from an entire hotpot meal to fresh coconut waters. We picked a few things off the menu and spent the day lounging and relaxing by the water. All the makings of a perfect, lazy summer afternoon.

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My mom and I set out to recreate this simple dish back at her home in Portland, Oregon. It doesn’t require any fancy ingredients, so it was a cinch to put together. The only thing you may need to hunt down is a green papaya. These should be available at any Southeast Asian supermarket or even at a Chinese grocery store. While you’re there, be sure to pick up some shrimp chips too. I prefer the long, rectangular ones that my mom brings back for me from Vietnam (for maximum load), but you can use the little, round ones that are available at any Asian grocery store too.

_MG_0884 copyVietnamese Green Papaya Salad with Shrimp and Pork Belly
Serves 6-8 as an appetizer, 4 as a light meal

1 large green papaya, shredded (about 6-8 cups)
1 bunch thai basil
1 bunch mint leaves
1/2 bunch cilantro
1 /2 lb. medium or large shrimp
1/2 lb. pork belly
nuoc cham dressing
crushed peanuts
fried shallots
shrimp chips

1. Wash and peel the papaya with a vegetable peeler. Cut in half and remove the seeds inside. Julienne the papaya with a knife, or use a mandoline or julienne peeler to get thin strips. I find that the julienne peeler is the best tool for this job since it is quick, easy, and produces the perfect thin-yet–still-wide-enough-to-be-crunchy papaya strips.

2. Boil the shrimp for a minute or two until just cooked.  After the shrimp have cooled, lay them flat and slice through them horizontally (butterfly them). This should produce two pieces of shrimp that make for a more attractive salad and an easier bite to eat!

3. Steam the pork belly in a small pot with about 1/2″ inch of water or in a steamer until just cooked. Let it cool and then slice thinly.

4. Wash and dry the thai basil, mint, and cilantro. Next, you’re going to chiffonade all the herbs by picking off all the leaves, stacking them, rolling them up, and slicing into thin strips.

5. Time to fry those shrimp chips! See directions here for frying.

6. Finally, assemble the papaya, herbs, shrimp, and pork together. You can either mix them up or layer them like I did for a more attractive presentation. Sprinkle the crushed peanuts and fried shallots (I forgot them in these pics) on top and serve with nuoc cham dressing. You can always dress the salad and mix it all up for your guests, but you’ll have to finish the whole salad in one sitting. If you think you’ll have leftovers, I’d suggest serving the dressing on the side.

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smashed cucumbers (pai huang gua 拍黄瓜)

Cucumber has become what I associate with summertime in Beijing. During these oppressively hot months, you’ll often see street vendors selling not popsicles (ok, you can find those too) but, yes, cucumbers — on a stick!

Last summer, when Becca visited and we went to the Summer Palace, we came across just these cucumber street vendors and couldn’t resist giving it a try. For a couple kuai you can have the cucumbers peeled and attached to a stick to make for easier munching as you stroll through the Long Corridor or climb up Longevity Hill.

It’s convenient that cucumbers are considered cooling in both American and Chinese cultures, so it’s not too hard to accept this as a good and healthy snack in hot weather. But on top of that, I should point out that the cucumbers in China are just plain delicious. None of the waxy skin, none of the watery, bland flavor. They’re of a variety that is long and skinny, with a somewhat prickly skin. But the most distinctive characteristic of these cucumbers is that they are wonderfully, satisfyingly crunchy. They beg to be taken up in your fist and munched on right on the spot. Those street vendors really have the right idea!

We are fortunate to get an organic CSA-type delivery here, and during the weeks of summer, the cucumbers have been really plentiful. I think at one point I had something like 10 cucumbers in my fridge at once. I tried to make cucumber soup, very cucumber-ful Greek salads, very cucumber-ful Vietnamese noodle bowls… But on many nights, the most efficient preparation of all has been this classic smashed cucumber dish, which you can find at just about any restaurant in Beijing.

Traditionally, this dish is made by actually smashing the cucumber with the side of a cleaver until the cucumber breaks into chunks. This not only helps release a lot of the cucumber juices but also gives the pieces nice ragged edges, all the better for holding the garlic vinegar dressing. After trying a couple different methods, I’ve decided that the easiest for me is actually to smash the cucumber with my heavy stone pestle. I’ve found that keeping the cucumber whole (rather than first cutting it) before you smash it makes for much easier smashing. That way, the cucumber skin is still firmly gripping the surface it’s sitting on, and you also have the benefit of the cucumber still containing most of its juices. After smashing, I roughly chop the cucumber into chunks.

Smashed Cucumbers (pai huang gua 拍黄瓜)
Serves 4-6 as a side dish

If Chinese cucumbers are not available, substitute with crunchy kirby cucumbers. English cucumbers would also work. For a simple, quick version, this dish can just be dressed with just some chopped garlic and a splash of Chinese black vinegar.

2 Chinese cucumbers or 4-5 kirby cucumbers
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt

1. Using the side of a cleaver, the handle of a large knife, or a large pestle, smash the whole cucumbers until they begin to crack open and release juices. Chop the cucumbers roughly into bite-size chunks.

2. Toss the cucumber with the remaining ingredients in a bowl until well dressed. Let the cucumbers marinate for 10 minutes to soak in some of the sauce. If desired, chill before serving.

Yunnanese Cuisine and Mint Salad

I really hadn’t heard of Yunnanese food until I came to Beijing, where it is incredibly trendy these days. It seems like I’m always learning about yet another Yunnanese restaurant around town. But I’m definitely not complaining — Yunnanese food has quickly become one of my favorite types of Chinese cuisine.

Yunnan (云南 or 雲南) is a region in southern China that borders Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, and its food reflects some of the influence of these neighboring countries. (Ok, now you understand why I am biased toward this cuisine. :) Also influential are the many ethnic minority groups — more than in any other region in China — who live there. Yunnan is also a mountainous region with more temperate weather, so it has diverse plant life and is rich in natural resources. In fact, this is where the fictional paradise Shangri-La is supposedly located.

I hope to give more details on some of my favorite Yunnanese restaurants around Beijing in the future, but here I just wanted to highlight some of the characteristics of Yunnanese food. I think, like me, you’ll quickly find that it is very different from the Chinese food we’ve come to know abroad!

One of the features of Yunnanese cuisine is the use of the province’s variety of mushrooms that come in beautiful, strange, and intriguing shapes. (Even the controversial Chinese truffle can be found in this region.) They are used in soups, stir-fries, salads, and stews. You can find a helpful guide to Yunnanese mushrooms over at Saveur.

Like Vietnamese cuisine, Yunnanese food makes use of fresh herbs, even some of the same ones like fish mint! There are herb salads, like the one I share below, and sometimes the herbs come fried and crispy in a stir-fried dish, similar to the fried basil you might be familiar with in some Thai dishes.

You can find flowers in Yunnanese cuisine…

… as well as bugs! Often it’s bees and worms. We sampled some at the Yunnanese provincial restaurant in Beijing and concluded that they mostly just tasted crunchy. As you can see, the dish here mainly consists of a huge pile of bugs. Maybe it might be a bit more interesting if the bugs were incorporated better into a fuller dish?

A little more tasty is Yunnan’s famous dry-cured ham made with salt from the region. It is often used in stir-fries and also lends a nice, deep flavor to soups.

I also noticed rice noodles make an appearance in Yunnanese food, which for me is a nice change from the wheat noodles up here in the north. Here is Yunnan’s famous crossing-the-bridge noodles, which is a noodle soup supposedly named for how a wife delivered the dish to her husband. Traditionally, it is served with all the components on separate dishes, and the noodle bowl is composed at the table, so that everything tastes as fresh as possible. Legend has it this serving method came about when the wife realized the dish would taste fresher when assembled on the spot, after crossing the bridge to deliver lunch to her husband.

If you are a cheese lover, like I am, you will love the goat cheese that is one of the specialties of Yunnanese cuisine. It is most popularly served fried and resembles haloumi.

These are just some of the characteristics I’ve noticed about Yunnanese food from some of the restaurants in Beijing. I can’t believe this regional cuisine has not caught on yet in the US the way Sichuanese or Cantonese has. I really think it could become as popular as it has here in China, especially since it features more fresh produce and is lighter than some other Chinese foods. If you live Stateside and are curious about this cuisine, there does seem to be a couple Yunnanese restaurants in the more heavily Chinese-populated cities in the US. I have not had a chance to try these, but those in New York might want to check out Yunnan Kitchen, and those in southern California may want to try Yunkun Garden or Yunnan Garden in Monterey Park and San Gabriel — and then you’ll have to tell me what you think!

If you don’t live somewhere where Yunnanese food is available, here is a super easy dish you can try at home that will give you a taste of Yunnanese flavors. I have yet to visit Yunnan myself, so this is just an approximation of the mint salads I’ve had at various Yunnanese restaurants about town. I am thoroughly intrigued by this cuisine, so you can be sure to hear more about it here in the future!

Mint Salad
Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Don’t be shy with the dressing in this herb salad. The mint can get overpowering, so the key is to make sure the leaves all get coated, even drenched, in the tangy dressing. As with many Southeast Asian salads, you can tell it’s been well dressed when you can see a pool of dressing at the bottom. :)

2 cups (packed) mint, or one large bunch
1 clove garlic
1 Thai bird chili
2 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
2 Tbsp lime juice
1/4 tsp salt
a pinch sugar
1/4–1/2 tsp chili oil
a few drops sesame oil

1. Wash and spin dry the mint leaves. You’ll want to leave the mint leaves on the stem, which is edible and has some of that minty flavor. This will help give the salad some heft. But if there are any particularly thick and tough stems, go ahead and pick the leaves off, but try to keep the leaves in clusters.

2. Pound the garlic and chili with a mortar and pestle. Alternatively, you can mince the garlic and slice the chili with a knife.

3. Mix the garlic and chili with the remaining ingredients.

4. Toss the mint leaves well in the dressing, making sure that the leaves are well coated.

5. Plate the leaves and pour any leftover dressing over top.