My first CSA of the season arrived yesterday, confirming that despite months of gray, rainy skies and bone-chilling temperatures, spring is, in fact, here. The usual harbingers—radishes, scallions, tender red leaf lettuce, basil, and kale—tied in bundles, brightened my sunless world.
I knew instantly where most of this crisp, fragrant produce would land. Inspired by a recent Bon Appétit article, which offered a formula for making “colorful, infinitely riffable cold noodle salads,” I set a pot of water on top boil, and began prepping the vegetables: I ran the radishes down the mandoline, thinly sliced the scallions, plucked the basil leaves, and chopped the lettuce. After cooking the noodles, I tossed everything with the recommended coconut-lime dressing, which tastes like a creamy nuoc cham, the Vietnamese dipping sauce made with fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chilies. Though the addition of coconut milk and oil give this dressing some body and richness, it remains thin in consistency and tastes light and refreshing.
With the season of no-fuss meals upon us, I imagine relying on this formula all summer: cooked and cooled rice noodles + dressing + raw chopped vegetables. And while I’ve yet to break out the grill this year, I foresee this salad being a welcoming bed for any charred protein emerging from the grates, the warm meets cool often a nice combination, the juices from the meat adding another layer of flavor to the salad. Grilled shrimp sounds particularly good, but if you, too, have yet to kickoff your grilling season, baked or pan-fried sesame-crusted tofu works well here, too.
A Few Tips
As the Bon Appétit article notes, cold noodle salads are infinitely riffable. Soba or udon noodles can replace the rice noodles, and the dressing can vary, too: Sesame-peanut, carrot-ginger, and miso-lime would all work well here. As the summer progresses, thinly sliced or spiralized cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, roasted beets, and/or sweet potatoes can replace the tender lettuces, radishes, and scallions.
Go big on the herbs and greens: Not only do a heap of herbs and greens look pretty against the white noodles, they add flavor and transform a relatively small amount of noodles (6 ounces) into a dish that will comfortably feed four. In place of or in addition to cilantro, use mint, Thai basil, basil, or chives. In place of lettuce, use kale, spinach, or thinly sliced Swiss Chard.
- Protein: Any grilled seafood or meat—shrimp, skirt or flank steak, boneless chicken thighs, pork tenderloin, salmon—would work well here. Having yet to find my grilling rhythm this season, I've been loving this crispy sesame-baked tofu. It bakes for 40 minutes, so when I'm pressed for time, I pan-sear it instead.
- 6 to 8 ounces dried rice noodles
- 6 tablespoons unsweetened, well-stirred coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 1/4 cup grapeseed or olive oil
- pinch sea salt
- 6 radishes thinly sliced
- 1 cup snap peas, membrane removed, thinly sliced on the bias
- 1 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 6 scallions thinly sliced
- 1 jalapeño, thinly sliced, seeds and all if you like heat, seeded if you are sensitive
- 1 head Romaine, thinly sliced
- protein of choice, optional: crispy tofu, grilled shrimp, chicken or beef, chopped nuts, see notes above