As the weather turns from long, cold days which were grey and dull to longer, sunny and warm days to herald the arrival of Spring, my diet and cravings suitably change too; From wanting something dense, warming and comforting like a casserole, I find myself craving lighter foods that aren’t necessarily full of sustenance and will sit like a brick in my stomach keeping me warm, or giving me the strength to muster through the day. The change in the season also means exciting new seasonal produce – The first asparagus of the season, spring lamb, purple sprouting broccoli.. Lighter, fresh ingredients that don’t require too much cooking (or slaving over the stove). You can’t help but be inspired 🙂
One of my favourite dishes to cook on warmer days are noodle salads inspired by flavours of South East Asia. When I was younger, I would never have dreamt of eating cold noodles, let alone with herbs or in a salad. I think it’s a reflection of how far we’ve come in culinary tastes in this Country and people are more used to the flavours of Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam (amongst others). I particularly love how the dishes are light and can be low in fat meaning not only is it very tasty, but it’s good for you too.
Firstly, I soaked some rice vermicelli in hot water for about 20mins until they had separated and softened in the water. I’m slightly old-fashioned in that I like to make sure they’re cooked through because I still have a slight issue eating raw noodles – I feel like it’s eating a scouring pad, but that’s my personal preference so cook/soak them until they’re soft enough to your liking. I never cut my noodles, but that has more to being Chinese and thus superstitious when it comes to these things (the word for noodles sounds like the word for life, so to cut short your noodles would be like cutting short your life), but if you feel the need to cut the noodles into shorter, more manageable lengths, then shorten away.
Whilst the noodles were soaking, I got on with what I call the “base ingredients” of the salad which are essentially the vegetables. In this case I managed to get some beansprouts and finely shred some carrots and spring onions then chucked them all into a large bowl (make sure it’s large enough to not only hold all the ingredients, but that you have enough room to mix everything together later, too).
Next up are the herbs; I got some coriander (which I consider to be essential) and some mint. My absolute favourite herb is Thai Basil but sadly on this occasion, I wasn’t able to buy any from my usual grocer. The coriander stems were chopped into roughly 1.5 inch lengths and the leaves more finely chopped. As for the mint, it was torn in a rustic fashion and both herbs were added to the base ingredients. The noodles I had been soaking were now ready, so they were drained and set aside until I was ready to mix into the salad. With the noodles drained and the base ingredients ready, I moved onto searing the beef (Vegetarians can obviously leave out). I chose beef purely because I had some steak that needed using up but this salad would work equally well with some cooked shredded chicken or even some pan-seared fish of some sort.
Whilst the steak was resting, I got working on the all important dressing; I squeezed the juice of 1 lime into a small bowl, added about 4 tablespoons of fish sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar and finely sliced a chilli (leave the seeds in if you like a bit of a kick) and whisk together until the sugar has melted and everything has combined. What you’re trying to achieve is something which is still fairly salty but sweet at the same time, with a hint of sour and finally heat from the chilli.
With the meat rested, I was into the final straight now: The noodles were added to the base ingredients and herbs, then the dressing was poured over. I’d resist adding all the dressing in one go as you don’t want to overpower all the flavours from the herbs and other ingredients at once and you have to remember that the ingredients aren’t particularly absorbent so you don’t want a big pool of dressing at the bottom. Once the dressing is added, I got stuck in and mixed everything together until well combined and every part of the salad has been coated in the dressing, adding more if I thought necessary. Once everything was thoroughly mixed, the salad was plated up and topped with the steak (which by now was well rested and sliced). I sprinkled some sesame seeds (again, because they needed using up) but you could always crush some peanuts and sprinkle those all over instead for added textural crunch.
If you haven’t already figured it out by now, there are no real rules when making this salad – It can be easily done without the noodles if you want. The main thing is the dressing really, but so long as it is both salty and sweet, along with a sour tang and (should you wish) a punch of heat from the chilli then you have the main flavour profile covered – Everything else is pretty much what you fancy or what you can get your hands on. I assembled this salad based on what needed using up and/or what I could get my hands on but you don’t need to follow this exactly – Add whatever vegetables and herbs you fancy or can get your hands on. Whatever you use, the end result should be light, refreshing and ideal to cool down on warmer evenings but be warned, it is deceptively filling (as shown in the picture below where I had to admit defeat..
All photos from this set can be viewed on my Flickr