Here is proof that “salad” can be so much more than a pile of greens and some chopped vegetables. What you’ll discover with this recipe is a bowl bursting with refreshing ingredients that won’t bog you down during these hot summer months. The vegetables keep fresh for at least several hours without refrigeration, so take the salad outdoors and revel in the sunbeams! The sea vegetables, cucumber, and lettuce will help cool, hydrate, and re-mineralize your body.
Every bite is an adventure in contrasts, showing off crispness and crunch from cucumbers and shredded lettuce, salt and tang from tamari and brown rice vinegar, plus the chewy tangle of buckwheat soba noodles. Don’t let the list of ingredients daunt you; it comes together very quickly. The tofu is a completely optional addition for extra vegetarian protein, but leaving it out will cut down on the total time to make this dish. For efficiency, the best plan is to first soak the arame and prep all the vegetables before starting the recipe, while waiting for the noodle water to boil.
Summer Soba Noodle Salad
1/2 cup arame
1 package 100 percent buckwheat soba noodles
2 cups snow peas, ends trimmed and sliced into long 1/4–inch strips
1 pound extra-firm tofu (optional)
1 tablespoon olive or sesame oil
6 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
1 lemon, zested and squeezed for 1 tablespoon juice
1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 large cucumber, seeded and cut in 1/4–inch slices
3 cups thinly sliced romaine hearts
1 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
1 cup unsalted, roasted peanuts, chopped roughly
- Cover the arame with cold water in a small bowl and let it soak for 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt to the water and cook the soba noodles according to package directions (see Beginner’s Tips). Important: during the last minute of cooking, throw the sliced snow peas in with the noodles. When the noodles are completely cooked but still firm, drain the pot in a colander and rinse everything thoroughly in cold water until noodles are completely cool. Set aside to drain well.
- Sear the tofu (optional, if using tofu): cut the block of tofu into 4 rectangular slabs. Warm a large skillet over medium-high heat and coat with 1 tablespoon of oil. Cook each slab of tofu until golden brown on one side, about 4 minutes, and then flip to sear the other side just the same. When cool enough to handle, cut the slabs into 1/2-inch by 2-inch slices and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the brown rice vinegar, lemon zest and juice, tamari or soy sauce, mirin, toasted sesame oil, salt, and cayenne pepper. Add the noodles and snow peas and toss to coat thoroughly. Drain the arame and add it to the noodles, along with the cucumber, romaine hearts, cilantro, and tofu. Gently toss to combine. Reserve the peanuts to garnish just before serving so they keep their crunch. Refrigerate to chill before eating (or packing!).
- Soba Noodle Salad with Soy Protein. Replace tofu with 2 cups of cooked chickpeas or mung beans.
- Peanut Sauce Noodle Bowl. Use your favorite peanut sauce recipe as a welcome change to the tamari-vinegar sauce.
- Soba Noodle Salad with An Orange Twist. For a sweet change, substitute orange juice and zest for the lemon.
Whole grain noodles can pose a higher risk of stickiness, but a cooking method known as the “shock method” can ensure perfectly cooked noodles every time by making sure the inside of the noodles cook at the same rate as the outside.
- Make sure the water has reached a rolling boil before tossing in the noodles. Once the water’s good and boiling, let the noodles fall separately into the water and then give them a good stir to prevent clumping.
- Wait until the water comes back to a full boil before starting your timer. As soon as the water starts boiling, pour in 1 cup of cold water and wait for it to come to a boil once more. Repeat 2 more times, pouring in 1 cup of cold water when the water reaches a rolling boil.
- Finish cooking the noodles as usual during the remaining time; the noodles will still take the normal amount of cooking time, no longer.
- Lastly, if the noodles will be sitting around for a while after draining, toss the noodles in a light coating of oil to keep them separate.
Sea vegetables have an impressively unique nutritional profile that’s given them the rightful reputation of a natural fountain of youth. Rich in over a dozen minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and selenium, sea vegetables boast ten to twenty times more minerals than land plants; this mineral source from the sea is especially crucial with the depletion of our soils. Sea vegetables also contain alginic acid, a sticky substance that traps toxins and expedites natural elimination from the body. Furthermore, they are rich in complex carbs that stabilize blood sugar, contain a high concentration of plant protein, and nourish hair, skin, and nails thanks to their richness in vitamins A, B, C, D, E, and K, as well as essential fatty acids.
All of these impressive nutritional benefits can be received with one serving just one to two times per week!
Traditional Chinese medicine divides food into three thermal categories according to how they are said to affect the body’s temperature: warming, cooling, and neutral. In the summertime, when outside temperatures are sweltering, our bodies naturally crave those cooling foods to counteract the external heat. It’s no accident that I filled this July-inspired salad to the brim with ingredients that fall under the “cooling” category: sea vegetables, cucumber, buckwheat in the noodles, tofu, and lettuce.