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5 Cold, Quick Noodle Salads for the Hungry, Hurried & Hot

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If I could, I'd eat a bowl of cold noodle salad every noon and night till the fall winds cometh.

Noodles are the softest, squiggliest landing pads for a variety of summer vegetables (not to mention all sorts of cubed cheeses and salty fridge accessories, like capers, olives, and anchovies). Add a heap of noodles to July tomatoes slicked with olive oil and suddenly, you've got a meal, not a snack. (Add a spoonful of chili paste and suddenly, you're a little chef.)

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The beautiful people.
The beautiful people. Photo by Julia Gartland

Plus, you can make a noodle salad out of, well, almost anything. Just think of a sauce you'd happily slurp cold—peanut, sesame, pesto—and then the noodle that befits it (soba? ramen? rice? linguine?). Brainstorm the vegetables you'd like to add, then go through your ingredient lists and figure out what's missing: something salty (soy)? something sweet (currants)? something sour (pickle)? something creamy (yogurt)? Add and subtract until you've got the noodle salad that suits your mood and your pantry.

We're giving you five new-dle salads (there! my contribution to the big world of terrible noodle puns) with different levels of cooking commitment. Use these as models for constructing your own recipes, or mix and match their components to create hybrid salads that are better than any we've imagined. As long as you've got most of these categories—noodles + sauce + vegetable + protein, doodads—, you're naggin' to noodle.

Organized, generally, from easiest to most involved:

(Click the links to jump around!)

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  1. Antipasto pasta salad: comes together in 10 minutes if you make the orzo and buy or prep-ahead the rest
  2. Spicy soba, cooling cukes: fiery yet refreshing, ready in 25 minutes (or less!)
  3. Margarita pizza disguised as pasta salad: a hands-off tomato sauce for when you have time (2 hours' worth) but no energy
  4. Peanutty ramen with crispy tofu, shaved roots, and fried shallots: permission to eat any extra peanut sauce with a spoon granted
  5. Sour-spicy-sweet rice noodle salad with shrimp, peas, and corn: we like to top this one with wasabi peas (go ahead and call us crazy)

Antipasto Pasta Salad

Like the best Italian appetizer plate, in one bowl

Photo by Julia Gartland

The bits & pieces:

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Antipasto Orzo Pasta Salad

Bb305185 6b66 45c6 ac96 6204c9dd8a30  dsc09796 Sarah Jampel
27 Save Go To Recipe
Serves 4 to 6
  • 6 ounces orzo
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cups pesto, to taste
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped roasted peppers
  • 1/4 cup chopped olives (I like salt-cured black olives)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cups caramelized onions, to taste
  • 1/2 lemon, zested
  • 1 handful salad greens of choice (I like baby kale and mustard greens)
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The big picture:

The jars on your refrigerator door have joined forces in a pasta salad that tastes like the best parts of an antipasto platter (or an Italian hero). To bulk it up, top it with folded prosciutto or mix in cubes of salami or Parmesan.

If you have everything on hand, this salad will be ready as soon as the orzo is cooked (10 minutes!). If you're not quite so stocked, you can caramelize the onions in the oven for a hands-free, low-commitment alternative and buy pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted red peppers from the store. (We won't tell.)

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Spicy Soba, Cooling Cukes

Refreshing yet warming, and, if you're efficient, ready in 25 minutes

Photo by Julia Gartland

The bits & pieces:

  • Noodle: soba
  • Sauce: quick chile oil
  • Vegetables: cucumbers (we used Kirby and lemon cucumbers)
  • Protein: soft tofu
  • Doodads: sesame seed
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Dawn Perry's Soba Salad with Cucumbers, Soft Tofu & Quick Chile Oil

Bb305185 6b66 45c6 ac96 6204c9dd8a30  dsc09796 Sarah Jampel
22 Save Go To Recipe
Serves 4

For the quick chile oil:

  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 whole dried chile such as chile de arbol or Calabrian, lightly crushed

  • 1 medium seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • One 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 9 ounces soba noodles
  • 14 ounces silken tofu
  • Quick chile oil (from above)
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • Large handful torn fresh basil leaves
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The big picture:

Often, tofu is manipulated, massaged, and generally manhandled before it goes into stir-fries, soups, and noodle salads. It's frozen, pressed, bread, fried, baked—all maneuvers that take lots of energy—and a hot oven or stove. But here, you'll appreciate silken tofu for what it is, un-messed-with: creamy, cold, jiggly, and welcome company to crisp cucumbers and fiery oil.

This recipe comes from the latest edition in the Short Stack collection, Cucumbers by Dawn Perry. You'll find a three-ingredient chile sauce you can turn to again and again, whether you want a spicy hit over ricotta, pizza, or a bowl of white rice and steamed broccoli—along with a smart tip for making cucumbers their best selves: Take the time to salt them. A fifteen-minute salt treatment will draw the water out of your cukes so that they'll be crunchier and more flavorful.

But don't throw that cucumber liquid down the drain—it's where fresh flavor lives. Dawn strains the liquid, then whisks it into the dressing, for "big, fresh flavor against the cold, buttery tofu."

Dawn Perry's Soba Salad with Cucumbers, Soft Tofu & Quick Chile Oil

Dawn Perry's Soba Salad with Cucumbers, Soft Tofu & Quick... by Sarah Jampel

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just call me pizza pasta

A saucy, no-cook tomato sauce, plus toasty pine nuts and irresistible mozzarella blobs

Photo by Julia Gartland

The bits & pieces:

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Bow Tie Pasta Salad with No-Cook Tomato Sauce

Bb305185 6b66 45c6 ac96 6204c9dd8a30  dsc09796 Sarah Jampel
27 Save Go To Recipe
Serves 6 to 8
  • One batch of Michael Guérard's Sauce Vierge (link in headnote)
  • 1 pound bow tie (farfalle) pasta, cooked to al dente and drained well
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced or cubed
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1 splash red wine vinegar, or more to taste
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh basil, for garnishing
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The big picture:

This salad's here for you when you have time but no energy (so, the weekend). To make the largely hands-off tomato sauce, you need only patience: For Michael Guérard's Genius Sauce Vierge, all you have to do is chop some tomatoes, smash a couple garlic cloves, snip herbs, douse with olive oil and lemon juice, and wait.

The only component to "cook" is the pasta. As soon as the tomatoes have turned to sauce (after about 2 hours), boil the pasta, toast the pine nuts, and slice the mozzarella. Mix it all together, add more basil and a splash of red wine vinegar, and you've got the flavors of a margarita pizza, pasta salad-style.

Also a good home for cubed or shredded chicken, the salad will get even better over time. Just try not to fish out all the mozzarella pieces before you've served the leftovers.

Michel Guérard's Sauce Vierge

Michel Guérard's Sauce Vierge by Genius Recipes

Poach Your Chicken, Win at Dinner All Week

Poach Your Chicken, Win at Dinner All Week by Amanda Sims

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Good Old Peanut Noodles

Chewy, springy ramen noodles with a slick of barely-sweet peanut sauce

Photo by Julia Gartland

The bits & pieces:

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Peanut Noodles with Seared Tempeh and Fried Shallots

Bb305185 6b66 45c6 ac96 6204c9dd8a30  dsc09796 Sarah Jampel
33 Save Go To Recipe
Serves 2 to 4

For the peanut sauce:

  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup tamari or soy
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 squeeze lime juice, or more to taste

For the noodle salad:

  • 8 ounces tempeh, cut into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes or triangles
  • Neutral oil, for cooking tempeh and shallots
  • 1 or 2 thinly sliced shallots
  • 13 to 16 ounces ramen noodles, cooked according to package instructions
  • An assortment of carrots, radishes, and beets, thinly sliced
  • Julienned ginger, for garnishing
  • Roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped, for garnishing
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The big picture:

Take that package of instant ramen and throw away the soup flavoring (or stash it for another day). Instead, boil the noodles like pasta, then coat them in a tweak-able peanut sauce (fine-tune the levels of honey, Sriracha, soy, and lime to your taste), and enjoy their chewy elasticity, sans soup. (If you haven't had instant ramen since teenage years, you can seek out fresh—and exceedingly delicious—ones.)

The tempeh is crisp outside, chewy within, and together with the root vegetables, earthy and a tad bitter—a welcome contrast to the barely-sweet sauce. Peanuts offer crunch and salt, julienned ginger adds zing, and crispy shallots... well, we'd eat them by the palmful.

Because you'll need to put time into searing the tempeh (we do this in hot, neutral oil and a high-sided pan) and frying those shallots, don't cook the vegetables: Instead, slice them very thin, using a mandoline if you have one, and let them relax under the slick of peanut sauce. Keep that sauce in the fridge for 2 weeks (if not more) and use it to marinate chicken, dunk summer rolls, or drizzle over bowls of rice.

Homemade Gluten-Free Peanut Sauce

Homemade Gluten-Free Peanut Sauce by PhoebeLapine

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All About Tempeh (plus a Mizuna Salad with Miso)

All About Tempeh (plus a Mizuna Salad with Miso) by Gena Hamshaw

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Bring on the funk

A balance of fiery, fishy, and fragrant—and you don't even have to boil the noodles!

Photo by Julia Gartland

The bits & pieces:

  • Noodle: rice noodles (thick, thin, or even vermicelli)
  • Sauce: coconut nuoc cham (we whisked 6 tablespoons of coconut milk into nuoc cham, then emulsified it with about 1/4 cup of oil)
  • Vegetables: corn and peas (we added them to the bowl of noodles before pouring the hot water over top)
  • Protein: cooked shrimp (boiled, roasted, sautéed)
  • Doodads: toasted coconut flakes, lime wedges, mint and basil, bean sprouts, wasabi peas
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Vietnamese-ish Rice Noodle Salad with Shrimp, Peas, and Corn

Bb305185 6b66 45c6 ac96 6204c9dd8a30  dsc09796 Sarah Jampel
37 Save Go To Recipe
Serves 4

For the coconut nuoc cham:

  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • 6 tablespoons coconut milk, mixed well
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed or olive oil
  • 2 Thai chiles, thinly sliced

For the salad:

  • 6 to 8 ounces rice noodles
  • 1/2 cup corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup peas (frozen peas are fine)
  • Lime wedges, for serving
  • Bean sprouts, for serving
  • 1/2 pound peeled, deveined, cooked shrimp (boil, broil, sauté)
  • Wasabi peas, for serving (optional)
  • Fresh basil and mint, for serving
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The big picture:

We're only considering this recipe the most complicated of the group because it asks you to make nuoc cham (which is, in reality, very easy: Just whisk and wait). Double the nuoc cham recipe so that you can use half of it for this chicken and rice salad, then be like Alexandra Stafford and mix the remaining half with 6 tablespoons of coconut milk and 1/4 cup of grapeseed or olive oil until it's creamy and emulsified. The coconut milk will mellow out some of the nuoc cham's fire and add richness, while still leaving just enough funk.

As the nuoc cham develops flavor (about thirty minutes), cook the shrimp any way you'd like and soak the rice noodles. For even more efficiency, you can blanch the peas and corn at the same time. Simply add a handful or two of the vegetables to the bowl with your noodles before you pour the hot water over top; the kernels and peas will perk and plump as the sticks hydrate and flop.

Toast coconut flakes, then sprinkle them over the noodle bowl along with fresh herbs, bean sprouts, and—if you're kooky like us—wasabi peas (or toasted cashews). Serve with lime wedges and extra dressing.

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Noodles, now!

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Tell us your favorite noodle salad variation in the comments below. Salami, pine nuts, raisins, and tomato paste?! Feel free to be as weird as you'd like.