June in the Midwest is a month for outdoor bands playing late into the evening while people dance on the grass, for watching fluffy white puffs of cotton from cottonwood trees float through the air, and for lunchtime picnics on warm green grass. One of my favorite parts about living in a small town is that it doesn’t take very long to drive anywhere. If I plan ahead and our schedules align this makes it possible for Mr. B and I to occasionally meet in the park for a lunch-time picnic. If our picnic is spontaneous I will swing by a local sandwich shop and pick up a turkey on pumpernickel to go. However if time allows, nothing tastes better at a picnic than a cold noodle salad (well except for a cold beer, but we save that for the weekend!).
Since June also marks the official start of swimsuit season, I have been burying my nose in every health cookbook I own, trying to find inspiration and virtue to combat our inevitable summer cravings for homemade ice cream
. I stumbled across a recipe for a cold soba noodle salad with a spicy peanut sauce and knew it would be perfect for a lunch-time picnic.
Buckwheat soba noodles
provide a heart-healthy whole grain base in this quick cooking recipe. Judicious use of sesame oil and a slurry of cornstarch and water create the thick velvety sauce which makes Asian noodle dishes so tempting, while also keeping the calories and fat to a minimum. A sprinkle of chopped peanuts, fresh green onions, and sweet red bell peppers brighten up the flavor and bring a delightful crunch to the sticky noodles. You can make your own peanut butter
as the base for the spicy peanut sauce, or save time and reach for a store-bought jar. Either way, the result is a nutty, spicy, and satisfying cold salad, perfect for outdoor eating. With only 330 calories per serving, you’ll even be able to pack a few cookies for dessert!
Do you have a favorite cold salad recipe? If so, I’d like to hear it! I’ve been on a serious cold salad jag and would love more ideas!
Spicy Peanut Sauce (Also excellent as a dip for satays or spring rolls)
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup unhomogenized smooth peanut butter (store bought or make your own
2 Tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon dark sesame oil
4 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (less if you don’t like spicy food)
Soba Noodle Salad
10 ounces dry Soba Noodles (4 cups cooked)
1 1/2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
1 cup spicy peanut sauce (recipe below)
1/2 cup chopped scallion tops, for garnish
1 red bell pepper, diced, for garnish
1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped
Make the Spicy Peanut Sauce
Place a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Combine the cornstarch and water in the pan, whisking until the cornstarch is completely dissolved. Bring the mix to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and whisk constantly until thickened. It should resemble the consistency of egg whites when finished. Turn off the heat, and set the pan as
ide to cool to room temperature. The mixture will continue to gel up while cooling.
Meanwhile, combine rice vinegar, peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sugar, and red pepper flakes in a blender. Blend until all the ingredients are smooth and well combined. Transfer the puree to a medium bowl and whisk in the cooled cornstarch mixture. Cover the bowl with a lid or saran wrap and keep in the fridge until ready to use.
Make the Soba Noodle Salad
Cook the soba noodles according to the package directions until they are al dente. Drain the noodles and rinse them with cold running water until they are cool. Drain the noodles again, then place them in a bowl. Drizzle the sesame oil on top of the noodles, and toss to coat all of the noodles with the oil. Cover the bowl with a lid or saran wrap and place it in the fridge to chill slightly. When you are ready to serve the salad, place 1 cup of noodles on each serving plate and pour 1/4 cup of the spicy peanut sauce on top. Garnish with chopped scallions, diced red peppers, and chopped peanuts. Serve cold or at room temperature. (Note: Sauce and Noodles can be made 1-2 days ahead of time and assembled just before serving.)