Cold Noodle Salad

It’s been hot here lately. Hot and dry.

Nothing crazy (Londoner friends of mine are reporting temperatures in the mid 30s and general inescapable discomfort) but we’ve been having consecutive days of 28 degrees where we decamp to the beach and generally try and stay cool; an idea which has apparently occurred to much of the population of Western Stockholm, judging by difficult it is to find a spot near the water after around 11am.

This kind of weather works against my instinctive method of cooking (though I’m a keen coal-griller, which is all very seasonally appropriate), which is to take a large, cheap piece of meat, pour something over it, stick it in the oven, then remove it five hours later after heat and time have done the hard work for me. This isn’t the weather for Beef and Guinness, and so I have to subvert my instincts and think about what might be palatable to a family who have caught too much sun and need a suitably refreshing dinner to bring them back to life.

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So what does that entail? Nothing heavy; something a bit sharp and zesty; maybe herbs; maybe some chillis. Couple that with the eternal quest to bin as few leftovers as possible and here’s where we arrived.

There is no ‘authenticity’ here (for that you have many resources on this wide, deep internet) but this is an attempt to conjure some of the wonderful flavours my eldest daughter has discovered at her favourite Vietnamese restaurant in town. I strolled through the supermarket and picked up the best-looking crunchy vegetables on the shelf, and the rest came from things that were already in the cupboard and some leftover roast chicken.

I think this recipe would work really well with prawns, rare beef or roast pork, and could be very readily veganiased by replacing the meat with, say, fried tofu (or just leaving it out altogether) and the fish sauce with Japanese soy sauce. The result would be different but, when we’re painting in such broad brushstrokes as we are here, I’m not sure that really matters.

This is a fairly lightly, subtly dressed salad. If you want more punch, make more of the dressing, but I personally like a really well balanced salad that allows every flavour to shine through without being overwhelmed by lime, garlic or salt.

If I were to write a short version of this recipe it’d be “much more vegetables than noodles and a dressing that’s exactly as zesty as it is salty” but, for the nerds, here’s the long version.

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For two people (or for 4-6 as part of a bigger meal) you will need:

For the dressing:

  • 1 clove of garlic, very finely chopped or grated
  • 2tbsp fish sauce (as is a good rule of thumb generally, use a brand made in Southeast Asia if you can)
  • 1tsp sesame oil
  • The juice of 1 lime
  • 1tsp granulated sugar
  • 1tbsp rapeseed or other neutral oil

For the salad:

  • 100g dried glass noodles/vermicelli (as above, use Southeast Asian brand if you can)
  • 50g raw cashew nuts
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • 100g white cabbage, shredded
  • 50g beansprouts
  • 80g French beans, cut into 1″ lengths
  • 5 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 spring onion, thinly sliced
  • 100-150g leftover roast chicken, pulled apart into bitesized pieces

To garnish:

  • A handful of mint leaves, torn up
  • A handful of coriander, also torn up
  • A finely chopped long red chilli, or a few Thai Birdseye chillis (for the brave)

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Whisk together the dressing ingredients until the sugar dissolves.

Prepare the noodles according to the packet instructions (in all likelihood this will be to sit them in hot water for 2 minutes) then drain them and leave them in a sieve til you need them.

Fry the cashews in a dry pan over a medium heat until they brown in patches, then tip them into the dressing bowl, and set aside. They will infuse the dressing with their oil in a very pleasing way.

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Prepare all the vegetables and the chicken, and put them in a large bowl. Add the drained noodles and then, with scrupulously clean hands, vigorously mix everything together. Don’t worry about breaking any noodles or bruising any vegetables (it’ll all help the dressing absorb), the important thing is that everything mixes together as evenly as possible. Tip over the dressing and mix again, making sure everything is lightly dressed.

Tip the salad onto a serving plate, and dole out generous bowlfuls, letting everyone garnish with the chilli and herbs however they like.

If you’re making this as a side salad, I’d recommend it alongside some punchy roasted or barbecued meat or vegetables; pork chops, peppery roast beef, grilled fish or miso glazed aubergines. Something in that vein.

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